Leaning into the Fraudian Complex

canstockphoto17112100I’m a writer.

I speak several languages.

I am fit and active.

I love my family.

I believe love is the right choice.

But, but, but…

What about the fact that I’m none of these things consistently or expertly?

What about the fact that I don’t spend each and every day honing my writer’s craft? And that despite working on a novel, 80% of my reading is nonfiction?

What about the fact that if you ask me any question in the languages I know well on paper, I’ll have a blank look on my face?

What about the fact that I don’t look like an athlete? Or that I eat enough for four athletes…of the Sumo kind?

What about the fact that on Monday morning, I’m glad to see my family out the door?

And for all the love I purport to feel, to advocate for, why am I repeatedly calling fellow humans jackwads and dipshits while driving?

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I had the good fortune of hearing the author Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge, 2009 Pulitzer Prize), give a lecture last week. She talked about the value of fiction and why it’s important to readers. She spoke about how fiction gets to the truth of characters and in turn, to the truth of ourselves. I took notes and all I could think was – as a writer, I’m a complete and utter fraud. This is a bad thought to have a week before I’m scheduled to pitch my novel to three literary agents. But it’s bad in a way I have learned to value.

*****

When I started tutoring English learners, one of the students asked me in front of the class what languages I spoke. Ever eager to sound like I knew something of value, I muttered “I speak a little Spanish, German, French and Russian.”

It was, to my knowledge, true – if you wanted me to count to 10, list the colors of the rainbow or ask you where the bus station was. I’m proficient in asking for another beer in German or talking about military tank positions in Russian. I can accurately describe cows or the children at the swimming pool in French. In Spanish, I have a terrific food vocabulary, because Mexican food is the bomb.

So, in the back of my head, I really felt like I was telling a lie, even if I’d get off on a technicality. Lies bother me. Especially my own. I intone Jean-Luc Picard in my head Make it real. Since starting tutoring a few months ago, I’ve been relearning or building up languages. I start off every day on DuoLingo. It takes canstockphoto993916me about 20 minutes, but in the last two months, my language skills have improved exponentially. I started enjoying it so much that I’m ramping things up a bit with workbooks and online websites in those languages. I frequently wander the house repeating nonsensical phrases, sometimes mangling all four languages in the same sentence. International incident, here I come.

*****

I have never in my life looked like an athlete. I’m solid, but short and round. All my life I’ve been fairly active. I look in the mirror and it never reflects back at me who I think I am. This disconnect between how I feel and how I look frustrates me to no end. Years of martial arts, running, tromping around in combat boots hauling packs, endless numbers of push-ups, weight training, and in the end, I still look like a disheveled hausfrau. This time my body is a reflection of the lie.

canstockphoto2201991I’ve only ever dealt with half the equation – exercise. The reality is that I eat like a horse. A horse who could eat its own body weight in mashed potatoes. I eat well – really, really well. From my twenties on, I’ve resisted dieting, mostly to my benefit. But as my income grew, so did my access to all the foods I loved – foods that I didn’t get growing up and foods that I generally couldn’t afford or have access to during my Army and college years. Simple foods, even some that are quite healthy, I eat in large quantity.

My truth is that if I want the outside to truly reflect how hard I work, how much training I’ve done, I have to come to terms with the mentality I have, that whatever is in front of me now might be gone tomorrow, so I better get while the gettin’s good. I went through an absolute culling of personal belongings and clothing over the winter and found the same mentality at work. If I liked something, I bought two or got all the colors, because tomorrow it might be gone.

I want the reflection in the mirror to look like how I feel inside. I want to make it real. So I’ve begun doing that most mundane of dieting tasks – tracking calories and setting a target goal that I get all my servings of fruits and veggies. I just started Week 6 of an 8 week 5K training program. I’m starting to see results. My humble brag is less about the particular goals than it is about the fact that the lie had become untenable for me to sustain. It has simply become easier to make a lie the truth, than deal with the angst of wishing it to be so.

*****

Elizabeth Strout said it’s the job of the writer to be bring honesty to the reader, because it helps us get in touch with our own truths. That’s been rolling around in my head the last few days. My own truth is that despite all my experiences as a human, I am not an experienced writer. I have not, like Ms. Strout and so many working writers, spent my days and nights learning the craft.

Next week, when I sit in front of my first literary agent ever, I will be out of my depth. And that is the truth.

canstockphoto6167076Somehow, even confronting that truth head on, I find it invigorating. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Because when that conference is over, when I’ve gushed out the verbal vomit that will be my pitch, I will return home knowing that I need to make it real. I’ll spend my days and nights learning what other writers already know. My path is one of retroactive truths, but truths…eventually.

37 Comments on “Leaning into the Fraudian Complex

  1. I am also trying to write a novel. It is taking for ever. I pick it up, put it down, pick it up, put it down. I really should be more focussed – but I’m not. But, thinking about my yet to be written words takes my mind off other stuff. Life isn’t perfect and, I’ve come to realise, nor am I!!!

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    • I wrote the first draft of my novel in 2012 during NaNoWriMo and have been whinging on about it ever since, so it’s been awhile in the making. I’m very tired of it and feel like I need to make a leap forward or dump it. This conference will help me determine my next steps, but I never want to be this unprepared as a writer again.

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  2. I will be holding you in my thoughts between now and your novel-pitching. I will see you, both in your element and feeling out of your depth, certainly out of your comfort zone — and if you should happen to hear a tiny, faraway sound like a small family of mice two fields over roaring? Know that that’s me leading your virtual cheering squad!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Alice. I’m already framing the failure, but that’s just the way I roll. If nothing comes of it, I will have learned how to talk about my work under pressure and get a better idea of what I need to do going forward. Thanks for cheering me on – I’ll take all the good vibes I can get!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hey! There’s LOTS of ways to think about taking on big, new-to-you, and/or scary-to-you challenges that let you frame them as successes. Did you set yourself a goal of meeting with an agent and follow through with the steps to get you there? Do you actually then make it to the meeting? Do you speak, maybe/maybe not not your most eloquently, but in complete sentences that are recognizably English? Do you complete the meeting without EVEN ONCE nervous-vomiting on your shoes? Or the agent’s shoes?? SUCCESS!

        Also, whatever does or doesn’t come directly from this first meeting, you will never again be doing it for the very first time. Which is one helluva accomplishment, right there. πŸ™‚

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  3. How did you get an appointment with a literary agent, if I might ask? I’m just curious because you say you’re not a writer yet you’re seeing an agent… so someone somewhere must think that you’re a writer! πŸ™‚

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    • They have these writers conferences with one of the features being the opportunity to pitch to agents. It’s like speed dating for writers – you get three 8-10 minute sessions to sit down with lit agents from different agencies in between workshops and breakout sessions.

      I paid a hefty conference fee, researched the agents available at the conference and picked my preferences. I’ve never been to any writing conferences, much less done a pitch, but when I saw one would be in town, I decided to jump in. I’ve read mixed reviews about these things being a waste of time to being very valuable. I have the right mindset so it will be valuable regardless, since I have so much to learn!

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      • Thanks for explaining that to me. I’ve always wondered about how one stumbles across a literary agent. I’m sure you’ll do great in your “speed dating” experience– and look forward to reading about how it all went. This all sounds way cool to me.

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        • I signed up for it in November and was very excited about it up until this week. Now it’s all prep and anxiety, but I keep repeating over and over that just as long as I learn something, it won’t be a wasted effort.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Exactly! I don’t know anyone who has done what you’re about to do, so I’m excited for you– and I agree, it’s all about the learning experience. You go girl, as they used to say!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. It is the feeling of “out of depth” and non-familiarity in your environment that will keep you going. That keeps all of us going, isnt it? The day we feel we have known and heard and learnt everything, feel that complacency, is pretty the day we should begin a whole new circle. Because we all will be mostly lying at that moment still.

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  5. One good thing from all of this fraud is that your attitude has proven useful and rewarding. It seems you will try anything, or rather, try to improve anything whether it be your physical, mental, or emotional self. You can’t go wrong with that type of thought process. I am wishing you the best in your conference. May the agent be as genuine and compassionate as you are determined and hopeful.

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    • Thanks, Eric. That’s kind of what I’m hoping. I’m going with low expectations for interest in the manuscript, but high expectations for all there will be to learn. For an introvert, a 2 day conference will be a challenge, but I’m hoping to meet some other writers and hear about their experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wishing the best for you, Michelle. My son is an introvert. I understand your challenges. Don’t push yourself…..too hard. Above all, have fun. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I am so enamored and fascinated by this concept of the truth and glad to see you focusing on it yourself Michelle. Good luck next week and good work on all you’ve got going. Bill

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    • Thanks, Bill. I’ve never forgotten the story that Neil Gaiman told in a 2012 commencement speech. To get jobs early on, he’d lie to editors about where he had been published. As his career progressed, he made it a point of honor to get published in every publication he’d lied about. He jokes that he was chronologically-challenged.

      My dishonesty is not quite so blatant, but it’s enough to instigate a sense of shame. And a sense of determination to invalidate the lie by making it a truth. If I were to dig deeper, I’m sure there’s all kinds of dysfunctional reasoning at the root of it, but I start where I’m at.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Will you forgive some pitching advice–keeping in mind that I’ve never had to pitch a book in person but have worked in publishing and been on both sides of the desk? Take a deep breath and remember why you love this book you’re trying to sell. Don’t think you have to big it up. You do have to understand what you have and why it’s worthwhile–which isn’t easy, and I’ve gotten it wrong about my own work more than once, so give it some thought ahead of time. Then go in there and, as much as possible, think of yourself as talking to an equal, someone you hope will be as excited about this as you are.

    It’d be simple if it weren’t so damn hard.

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    • All and any advice is welcome, Ellen.

      I’ve been reading a zillion articles on pitching, but you have neatly put a pin in it. All of the agents I will be meeting with have represented stellar authors, but I’ve read their interviews and what I learned is that they’re earnest readers – they want you to tell them a good story. I think I can do that.

      The hardest bit is learning how to take a sprawling story and condense it to the main themes and character arcs. The whole elevator pitch. I’m still working on that. It turns out, I do my best work under pressure. It makes my stomach turn a bit, but wow, does it give a person clarity!

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  8. Wishing you enthusiasm and equanimity, Michelle. I made my living as a writer for 20 years, and you’re the real deal. Don’t forget it, friend.

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  9. Writing is hard, finding the time, finding the motivation, not succumbing to the feeling that you’re shit, and no one would read what you’ve written anyway. At least, that’s the way it works for me. But when we get it right, it’s an incredible feeling. I wish you the best of luck for your interview next week, I’m sure you’ll ace it.

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  10. But you are prepared writer-wise, Michelle, and in the best possible way. Your inner truth antennae are on full alert. The interview will be good because you can use it to clear up or clarify the doubts you may have about your novel. The point is, you have the wit to know that even if it is accepted, there will always be more work to do on it – to make it the best possible ‘real’.
    It is a big step along the road. All power to you, and bloody good luck!

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    • Thanks Tish. Sometimes I wish those inner truth antennae would retract – they’re exhausting, but I know they are also part and parcel of the writing thing. I believe in never-ending revisions, both in writing and in life. Unfortunately both are accompanied by deadlines! Still, I am glad to be making a step forward, even if it’s a shaky one. Thanks for the good wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Next week, when I sit in front of my first literary agent ever, I will be out of my depth. And that is the truth.

    Knowing nothing about the process, I would wonder, why is literary agent interested in the spoken rather than the written word?

    I could think of several reasons and perhaps pondering them could help you with the interview. The first question for you might be, “what are you looking for in an author?”

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    • I think it’s just this particular format of being in a conference setting, but you’re right, that’s a good approach to think about.

      I have referred back to the Neil Gaiman 2012 commencement speech often and one of the things he said you needed to be successful was 2 out of 3 of these: 1) Be on time 2) Be the kind of person an editor or agent is happy to hear from 3) Have stellar work. In an interview format, at least two of those things can be verified, hopefully leading to an interest in the third.

      I’m assuming that much of it will be conversational and if I could stop freaking myself out, I might come away with a very good experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Honest as ever … read an article by Elizabeth Strout in which she said she takes things that are currently pressing on her – could be quite mundane – and puts something like them into a character’s experience, she says it avoids the writing being wooden … quite impressed with that! I’m going to post something about using the random stuff that comes to hand …

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  13. You’ve earned the right, you’re eager to share, and you’re enthusiastic. There’s a little Dale Carnegie encouragement for ya. Good Luck!

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    • Thanks, Honie. I think I’d like to punch Dale Carnegie right about now. That’s my usual mode of prepping for anything challenging. Enthusiasm is replaced by gut-sinking anxiety. But I don’t have much to lose at this point…except my dignity and self-delusion.

      Liked by 1 person

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