What do you believe? About yourself? About your work?
I had a story accepted this month (October). This makes three in the past four months. Death at the Door was accepted into an anthology that I didn’t even submit for! Consider the Possibilities was accepted into a stand-alone digital short series that should be published in 2023. The Wish Artist was selected for an online magazine with a professional-level rate ($0.10 / word), my first ever fiction publication of such status. (I have had other writing pay me more, but that’s a different category altogether, so I’m not including it in the mental gymnastics involved here.)
And yet, even with that relatively successful few months (versus the past five years), I still find it hard to get excited about these acceptances.
One of my fellow writers asks me, whenever I’ve got something like this to announce, “And how are you going to celebrate?”
I struggle with celebration. I struggle to accept that my story has been selected, published, that I got paid for doing it. I mean, intellectually I know that that’s exactly why I’m submitting, rather than just writing and either keeping it to myself or publishing it on my own site, but, still, I don’t exactly feel like it’s real.
The spiral of negative, self-sabotaging thoughts goes something like this:
How are you going to celebrate?
Well, see, I can’t exactly celebrate yet, because though they accepted my story and I’ve signed the agreement, they haven’t given a publication date and haven’t paid me and haven’t offered any suggested edits or anything, so I’m still quite skeptical that it’s going to actually go through.
How are you going to celebrate?
Well, see, I don’t really know if I should, because it was in an anthology that like nobody is going to read, and it was such a token payment anyway that it doesn’t really mean anything, and it’s kind of hard to find anybody who’s going to care, so, it’s not really something to brag about.
How are you going to celebrate?
Uh, for this one, mostly by disbelieving that it’s real until it’s actually out on the interwebz, despite the fact that I’ve gotten a contract and had correspondence with the editor and been paid, and yeah, this one is a “professional” level rate so it’s harder to ignore, but still, I’m going to keep thinking less of myself until it’s really out there, and, even then, I know that celebration is going to be hard to come by, because celebration and self-promotion and “Hey, look what I did!” isn’t really my thing.
God, typing it all out is rather disheartening. It’s sad to see that I think so little of my achievements.
But it’s typical of my whole personality, not just in writing. I disbelieve my work in virtually any area where I pursue. For example: I recently ran a half-marathon. 13.1 miles, took me over 2 and a half hours, and when I finished I was hella proud of myself for going farther than I have in nearly a decade. But you know what one of my very quick follow-on thoughts was? “Oh, sure, but there were people who ran marathons that day, too! Your half isn’t really that special.”
It’s like there’s this part of my psyche that just doesn’t accept that I can have good things too.
Like, it’s all well and good for other people to be happy about new stories coming out or sold, but, for me, it’s really hard to do. [Yes, I’ve forced myself to do it some, but it’s just not a natural feeling like I somehow think it should be.]
So why don’t I believe it? Why do I still feel like I’ve not “arrived” or I’m not “worthy” or I’m actually just sort of “pretending” to be writing these things? (Or running, or getting a certain professional qualification, or whatever…)
Is it the fact that it’s been such a long road for me to get here, something like 38 years between my first story in 3rd grade and now? When other writers I’ve admired have had stories, poems, even whole books published at 17, 23, 30? Am I just jealous or petty? Maybe.
Is it the rather harsh rebuke I received from another well-established writer when I pitched him a collaboration and he basically told me to Fuck off, if that’s the way you think about writing, you’ll never be a writer? I admit, I did let that bother me for the first couple of months, but it was years ago now and the idea only pops up in my head like once a year, so that’s probably not it.
Is it the fact that I’ve spent my last two decades treating writing as a thing for me only, a hobby, a pastime, rather than a craft to be honed with feedback, as everyone says it must be, because everyone says it’s really hard to write a story and make it the best it can be, and I don’t like that editing process, I really just want to write a first draft, maybe tune up a few paragraphs in the second draft and get it out into the world, and because I am ignoring the rules of developing writing skill and just sort of hoping to luckbox into publication I’m kidding myself that my stuff is any good, and so when things like acceptances come along I feel like I’ve somehow tricked the editors into accepting my story?
Or is it possible that I’ve been so spurned by the historical pattern of rejections, so burned and so jaded and so expectant that it will simply be more of the same, that I don’t actually believe the acceptance? That I distrust that it’s real? That in my subconscious, I’m self-preservationally holding back my excitement at this positive development, so that when things return to “normal” I’m not so scarred by that future state of everyone hates everything all the time, why bother? Maybe. Hell, that’s probably the surface of a really deep insight my therapist ought to help me unpack.
Point is, I don’t know why I don’t believe it. But I do know that it’s a consistent tendency within myself to discount my accomplishments, because they’re somehow never enough. I probably have some kind of “achievement complex”. I once complained that I was going through my mid-life crisis pretty early, like before 40, and my mother commented, “Well, you’ve always been an over-achiever.” Like I couldn’t even wait until a normal time to disintegrate my life, I had to make it happen extra-soon. Ugh.
There’s no way I’m going to figure it out right now. Maybe not even in the next year, or five, or ten. By the time I’m dead? Probably. Fat lot of good a new mindset will do me then, eh?
So I guess the only thing left to do is, just keep doing it. Faking it. “Fake it till you make it,” right? Because in faking it, you trick your body and mind into understanding what it means to “make it”. And then, when you actually do it, you won’t be faking any longer. And your subconscious won’t have to be so damn skeptical all the time.
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