Building an Imposter’s Life

My intention has been, over the last few years, to build a writer’s life. I had to figure out what it meant to me, beyond all the myths I’d built up in my mind.  It is important to establish from the outset that I will never feel like what I’ve always imagined a writer to be.

canstockphoto2656709It occurred to me that how I feel about what it means to be a writer or not is completely irrelevant to what I do as a writer. The drill sergeant within says Write, dumbass. But writing is what I’ve been doing. How do I get beyond my computer? How do I improve my skills? How do I feel like writing is woven into my day?

Writing Out Loud

Over six years ago, I began to write blog posts. I felt sick to my stomach each time I hit “Publish”. I got over that, got hooked on and unhooked from Stats, and eventually hit a pace with which I was comfortable. I’ve spent hours writing and re-writing blog posts. The key lessons I’ve learned from that are:

  • Keep it in perspective. It’s an unpaid labor/writing practice and that is important to remember when setting writing priorities. As I have ambitions towards publication of a novel and short stories, writing blog posts cannot account for all my writing time. It seems logical, but it’s easy to rationalize any writing as being productive, regardless if it actually gets you closer to a personal goal or not.
  • canstockphoto56234840Building a community requires generosity, patience, and boundaries. I like to share links of other people’s work, but I generally don’t re-blog or write guest posts. Since I read other blogs because I like the writer’s voice, it sets the expectation that when I go to a blog, I’ll hear the writer’s voice. I also learned after the first year, that blog awards, while flattering, are chain letters with homework. The biggest lessons are that patience and courtesy are the name of the game – and don’t obsess about stats.
  • Review, re-commit, and sometimes, just take a break. Burnout is something I’ve experienced about 263 times in the last six years and a few times I considered giving up blogging altogether. But I’m still here. I regularly review why I blog (firm up that mission statement), recommit to better writing, or take a break. The first year, I took the summer off. Since then, I’ll take 2-4 weeks off at a time, with a notice on the blog of when I’ll return. Too many blogs drop off and never return – I’d like to stay on your reading list!

Taking Chances

canstockphoto15646582In my experience, there is no growth without fear, so I’ve been doing things I’m scared to do. I’m an introvert/perfectionist/procrastinator – so yeah, the things I’m scared to do as a writer comprises a very long list.

  • I wrote a novel over 5 years ago during NaNoWriMo, revised it over and over, and then let it go. I’ve started a second novel.
  • I went to a writer’s conference and pitched my first novel to agents.
  • I went to a book club. That really didn’t work out, so I’m trying to start an online one of my own.
  • Another writer/blogger contacted me, asking if I’d be willing to mentor her. Me? She had a great plan and caught me on a day when I was feeling confident. I said yes. Thinking about what she needs as a writer has reminded me that I know things, some of which are useful.
  • I submitted my first piece of work, despite making myself panicky-ill and mangling the submission. I’m not waiting 50 years until the next submission.
  • This month I’m applying for a highly competitive writing fellowship. My stomach tightens into a pit at the thought of it. My odds are slim, but they’d be zero if I didn’t apply.

Each step is practice for taking the next step. Failure is victory, because it means I’m doing something.

Improving Writing Skills

canstockphoto10374745I wanted to be a writer because of what I read, so it seems logical that if I wanted to elevate my writing, I needed to elevate my reading. I started digging into more challenging works and learned to take assiduous notes. I subscribe to World Literature Today which diversified my reading lists, as well as learning about translated works at Asymptote.

My reading is more directed and less whimsical. Sometimes it’s hard to read great writing and not get that sinking sense that I may as well be writing with a crayon in a dark corner somewhere. But that’s the nature of reading above one’s level of skill. Skip over the discouragement and the negative litany, right on over to practice, practice, practice.

The Absence of Motivation

I’m rarely ever inspired or motivated, in the moment, to do what I need to do. It’s this magical thing that other people apparently experience. Accepting this fact has been very useful. I can’t wait until I’m in the mood to write or exercise or until the stars have aligned to create a zen time and space for me to work.

Inspiration and motivation come in small ideas. This week, I’ve been thinking about the Mel Robbins TED talk I listened to – the idea that productive impulses are often overrun by autopilot because we don’t act on them right away and our habits take over.

canstockphoto6297403I’ve been practicing, acting on that annoying “should” dialogue. I am trying two things: 1) re-framing the should into a want. I should workout = I want to workout because I know it will make me feel better. 2) Practicing the five second rule. Positive impulse? 5-4-3-2-1…do it. I’m not giving myself time to stomp down that change in behavior, in favor of habit/autopilot.

The little habits are a great place to start. I should have herbal tea instead of coffee = I want to have herbal tea, because I’ll feel better with less caffeine. 5-4-3-2-1…grab an herbal teabag. It seems silly in the scheme of things, but as I’ve learned over the last year, the smallest components of a life, the minutiae at the margins, shape our lives and it is in those places that we have the greatest ability to make changes – to be what we’re pretending to be.

35 Comments on “Building an Imposter’s Life

  1. I’ve been blogging since 2008. My first blog was a way to keep in touch with a host of friends and family during a month long trip to India. I found I enjoyed blogging and it was a great antidote to the writing I do for a living — advertising copywriting.

    Blogging, I discovered, was a good way for me to find and hone my own voice, because my day job involves writing in whichever brand voice I’m working on at the time. After I returned from India and obviously stopped writing that blog I started several others — on advertising, on being a film festival junkie, and on a host of other topics. I’d start off like a house on fire and eventually inertia or boredom (or both) would set in.

    Then in 2012 I came up with the bright idea that I was going to blog every day for 1 year on whatever topic popped into my mind on any given day. To my surprise I kept it up for the year and I’m still at it, albeit only once a week now. I keep at it because I enjoy the interaction with my fellow bloggers and because I’m a better writer than I was when I started. Writing is like exercise and everything else, be it baking, skiing, knitting or whatever — the more you do it, the easier it becomes, the better you get and the more you challenge and push yourself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The reason I blog has changed over the years. My writing has improved, but not exponentially for the kind of writing I do offline, so my priorities are shifting. This post was sort of a progress check for me, reminding myself of what I actually have accomplished, on a day when I am struggling.

      Your blogging history is interesting and it also demonstrates that different milieus of writing require different skills (Blogging vs. copywriting). You also wrote for Huffington Post which is another venue that required some skills (and thick skin).

      Thanks, too, Fransi, for being such a longtime reader and commenter. The community here on WordPress is a much kinder variant than other kinds of social media. After my forays into Twitter and Facebook, this is not a small thing in a world that seems determined to be abrasive. I’ve rarely had a negative interaction here.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You bring up an interesting point, Michelle, and one I haven’t thought of. The blogging community IS so much kinder than other forms of social media. I, too, have experienced so much support, encouragement and kindness here. And as for being a longtime reader and commentator, you’re welcome — I am a huge fan and look forward to your posts; and thank you for being a longtime reader and commentator of mine. It’s much appreciated.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Michelle,

    I started blogging in 2015. When I started, I searched for a few established bloggers to follow and learn from. Yours was one of the first I found—can’t remember how I stumbled upon you, but I was glad I did. I was immediately impressed by both the quality of your writing and the depth of your thought. Over the last three years, I’ve added a lot more blogs to my “follow” list (many thanks to your introduction). There’s something I can learn from all of them—wisdom, inspiration, humor, vicarious travel and photography, and even occasionally a reminder to always spellcheck and proofread (multiple times) before I hit publish. Every once in a while over the years, I would read a blogger’s post and say, “That’s a keeper!” So I created a folder to move those blog emails to … creating a place where I could revisit superlative writing, well-reasoned premises, and original thinking. There aren’t a multitude of posts in the file, but a sizeable number of them are yours.

    I’ve started to get a little bolder about sending out articles and essays for consideration to publications, and even to a few contests. Each rejection becomes easier and the few (very few) acceptances/publications/ribbons encourage me to keep trying. There’s one writers’ contest that I try to submit an essay or story to every year, mostly because they give entrants the very comprehensive comments of two judges who read and scored the work. These comments have helped me to see my work through other eyes, improve it, and eventually get those essays published. The eye-opener, though, was that the judges often had absolutely opposite views of what worked and what didn’t. In one case, one judge said my ending left her cold, while the other said the ending was absolutely perfect and made the whole essay brilliant. Other times, a judge has cited something they really liked, while another judge specifically said that exact element was weak. At first, this frustrated me, but it also made me aware of the subjective nature of getting our work accepted or published. What one person loves another might consider “meh!” at best. So, it’s easier to accept rejection, to write for me, and to hope that eventually a piece that I think is good will connect with someone who sees it the same way. Not sure why I’m droning on about this, but your post today made me reflect on my own writing journey and also on how much I have appreciated that you are sharing yours through The Green Study. Glad I found you back in 2015. Sorry for my verbosity today!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like hearing about your journey. When I see my fellow bloggers getting published, while delighted, I still get that ego pinch. I write these nostalgic posts to remind myself that I’ve made progress – from literally feeling ill when posting, to pitching a novel to agents and now, applying for something I’d never even considered doing in the past. Every journey is different, with a different set of obstacles and advantages.

      Your lessons from the writing judges are similar to what I’ve been thinking about in regards to readers. Just as we write from our own perspectives and experiences, readers bring their own to any text. And we have no idea what those perspectives are. It’s a good lesson in remembering what we, as writers, can control and what we have to let go of – I found that after submitting something, I was fine and didn’t care about the results. For me, the challenge is always getting across the line. After that, it was no longer my responsibility.

      Thanks for your kind words about the blog, Donna. I think that’s one of the nice aspects of blogging. We write into a vacuum so frequently, that getting feedback is encouraging.

      Liked by 2 people

    • They’re not particularly useful unless you plan on building your blog based on stats. Most bloggers just want to do their thing, pick up some readers, and not be beholden to numbers. Once I realized that I wasn’t going to do anything different, regardless of the stats, it seemed pointless to read them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thoughtful musings as always Michelle!

    Keep submitting because, you never know when your work ‘ll draw the lucky number!
    I have a stack of rejections from last year counteracted by a few recent
    spectacular publications so…all the no’s just make the yes’s that much sweeter when they come!
    Sending good vibes for the fellowship too!

    Like

    • There does seem to be a strong correlation between quantity and getting published! I need to up my stats in that regard. I tend to drag myself kicking and screaming across finish lines, so there will be a lot more of that. Thanks for the good vibes and congrats on your recent successes!

      Like

  4. Thanks for reflecting on your own experience when it comes to you writing and blogging over the years. I’ll be at three years since I started my blog very soon and I know I’ve definitely improved since I started.

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    • It’s nice when you can recognize your own progress. I can get frustrated when I feel like I’m going nowhere, but a run-down like this post reminds me that I’ve come some distance. Congrats on your upcoming 3rd blogging anniversary. I think the average lifespan of a blog is somewhere between 30 days and 18 months (depending what research you believe), so you are officially above average!

      Like

      • Yeah, I’m really excited about making it a third year of blogging. Sometimes it can be a little discouraging, but I enjoy it so much that I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.

        Wow, I actually didn’t know that. Not too much of a surprise because some people aren’t cut out for it or just find themselves not enjoying it as much and just decide to leave for good.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Part of it is what people think blogging means – you just don’t gain readers overnight and can end up writing into a void for a long time. It can be disheartening.

          Like

  5. Yeah, that’s true too. I sometimes look at the stats because I’m curious as to what they look like. But I’m honestly thankful to every person who decides to follow my blog. Even if it’s not a lot of people, I’m still thankful for the people who take the time out of their day to read and comment on my posts. I’d rather have a small group of followers who read, comment and enjoy my content verses thousands of followers with very little amount of comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have lost count of the good suggestions you’ve made from which I have benefited. Thank you again!

    Like

  7. I took a break for a few years because of the motivation factor – but I prayed about it and it’s time, even if just for myself – to write about what’s important to me as a small part of a larger piece of a life’s purpose. Gathering ideas and preparing is crucial to the work I want to do in ministry and visiting the young and elderly and sharing the gospel that has transformed my life.
    Great Insights!

    Like

  8. Hi Michelle. I stumbled across your blog in my reader’s pane. Great reading. I’m new to WordPress and trying too hard to make my site perfect. I’ve been writing on and more off for years and always enjoy reading how other writers have gotten off the fence and put words down on paper. Looking forward to more good reads!

    Like

    • Congrats on dipping your toes in the water. Eventually you just have to leap. Six years later, I still fuss with and tweak things on the site and learn things about blogging that I didn’t know before. I look forward to seeing your first blog post!

      Like

    • I’m glad that it can be encouraging. I often think writing down what we’ve actually done is more useful than writing down a “bucket list”. It reminds us of our ability to grow and change.

      Like

  9. Michelle, I’ve been following you for a very short time. But each post I’ve read has inspired me to be a better writer and to think a little deeper about something. I appreciate your honesty and the valuable info you share. I, too, miss bloggers I follow when they disappear! Maybe I have attachment issues:) The Mel Robbins TED Talk is one of my all-time favorites. I’m really glad I saw your comment on Luanne’s Writer Site. So many great blogs to read!

    Like

    • Thanks for your kind comment. I think there’s no “issue” when we miss bloggers’ voices – what a world it would be if we didn’t care about our connections. Sometimes I get the same feeling of sadness at the end of a book – when I’ve connected with characters and the writer’s voice.

      I’d never heard of Mel Robbins. She’s quite a compelling speaker and I got some great ideas from the video.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Good advice! I’m rationalising my time and some days, my only job is to read and learn from other blogs, or read books and think about them, and others I write 🙂 i really want to write a book, but haven’t quite got there yet… I like having lots of projects on the go, but you’re so right – it can lead to burn out!

    Like

  11. Just found your blog today and this post is great to read for someone just starting out. Thank you!

    Like

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