Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Fraud Phenomenon

I had a very, uh, "interesting" time (as we like to say here in Minnesota) at WorldCON this year.  I spent a lot of the con feeling like a complete fraud, partly because of the nature of being a writer and because of the star-power that WorldCON attracts. 

Many years ago, I was on a panel at a different convention, WisCON, about the phenomenon of "feeling like a fraud" that a surprising number of writers experience at all levels in their careers. 

Of course, there's the "I haven't published anything yet, I feel like a fraud" problem, which I was reminded at this convention because my friend Naomi and I had a terrible Baltimore WorldCON when we were in that position.  It involved always feeling one step behind all the cool kids, and a crazy story in which we were escorted out of the Hugo Losers' Party feeling like the biggest losers on the entire planet (we weren't trying to crash the party, honest!  We were locked in the stair well.)

Then, there's the next step on the fraud ladder: "I've ONLY published [one short story, one small press novel, etc.], I feel like a fraud."  This is also kind of just a stage in your career, but a lot of people have a harder time here than in almost any other.  There's a lot of judging by others at this stage.  You're active enough in the business to get ON panels, but then you have to sit there will people who rattle off a list of accomplishments a mile long and, with each one, you feel smaller and smaller and smaller.  This can actually happen at any stage.  When I'd had my first book out, I had the pleasure/misfortune of being on a panel at CONvergence with Neil Gaiman. It's difficult not to feel like a turd at the foot of a giant in a situation like that.  He, of course (like many other super-pros), was massively gracious.  But, sometimes you run across those who sneer, "Oh, I see, small press..." etc. 

Fraudness continues as you move up, no matter how much you publish or how many awards you win....

In fact, what's tough about the "feeling like a fraud" phenomenon is that Neil Gaiman probably feels it, too, sometimes.  I know that, after fifteen published novels, I really should have no cause to feel like a fraud, but I still do.  This has a lot to do with the nature of our business.  As soon as the contract ends (and often long before the book hits the shelf) a person can feel like an out-of-work layabout.  If, god forbid, the next contract isn't instantly forthcoming it's VERY EASY to imagine that your career is over, if only because there's always someone you know in this business for whom that happened.  Hence, there's this sense that when I'm not actively writing on a project, I'm some how no longer a "real" writer.

The feeling of not being  a "real" writer was intensified for me at WorldCON because all the luminaries of science fiction/fantasy are there (or at least a whole boatlaod of them, at one point, literally--as I was on a boat with a bunch of much more famous writers.)  Plus, it's *just* outside of my Fandom.  Enough of the Chicago concom folks intermingle with the Minnesota concom types that I got on panels, but most of the people I ran into at WorldCON not only didn't know me from Adam, but also didn't know how to pronounce my name (not Tate, the other one.)  That just left me feeling like a complete dope. 

HOWEVER, I did manage to have a good time.  And, there's a weird thing about me, which is, the more under pressure I feel, the more I perform.  So, feeling like a nobody has actually inspired me to get cracking again.

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