Adventures in karaoke

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I sang karaoke last week.

Okay, maybe sing isn’t quite the right word. I could look for a better verb but I think just knowing that the correct verb is not sing should give you a pretty good idea of how it all went down. This is not an activity I often do. In fact, it was only the second time in my life that I did it. The first time I was drunk, didn’t know the song and couldn’t even come close to keeping up with the words on the screen.

Over ten years has passed since that performance. In that space of time I have slowly changed from the sort of person that gets up on a stage in front of a group of people to the sort of person who is constantly analyzing everything I do and say to make perfectly sure I’m not being ridiculous or foolish.

See, I have this person inside of me. I call her my Gollum and she is a vicious, angry little thing who watches everything I do and passes judgment on each action. Sometimes, her judgment is instantaneous, a running commentary in the back of my head. She’s like those old men in the muppets, just a lot meaner and not very funny at all. Sometimes, she wakes me up in the middle of the night to go over a list of everything I said and did during the day. Maybe, you have a version of her. I hope she’s nicer to you.

Anyway, this time, when I got up to sing, I told her to take a few minutes off. That yes, I knew exactly how I was going to look and sound up there and I didn’t need her to remind me. She sulked, but she was blessedly quiet and for the space of a song I didn’t worry about how I was going to look or what I was doing.

It was scary and exciting and fun.

Here’s the important thing I learned: Most people don’t want to see you fail. They want to see you get up on stage and give it all you got. They want to see the triumphant smile. They want to clap at the end. If there happens to be a person or two rooting for your failure, you can immediately disregard their opinion because obviously they are monsters and you should never care what monsters think. If you’re like me, that also goes for the biggest monster of all, the one inside of you.

I’m not saying that you should do karaoke and if you don’t, you’re missing out on something. What I am saying is do the things you want to do without worrying about looking ridiculous or failing. Put yourself out there. Instead of being so sure what it is you can’t do, maybe see what you can do without that inner critic stopping you.

It’s going to be scary and exciting, but hopefully it’s going to be fun.

Later, when Gollum wanted to tell me just how bad I was, I just laughed at her, which seemed to shut her up for a little bit. I also asked my husband not to ever show me any photos or video he might have taken. Gollum doesn’t need that sort of ammunition.

The fraud in the mirror

notes-514998_1280Over the weekend I applied for a mentoring program. It’s for unpublished YA authors with a complete manuscript and it gives them an opportunity to pair with authors who are in the process of publishing a book in the next year or have already published. The published writers will help the unpublished writers polish their manuscripts and help them with their query letters. If I get in, it could be an awesome opportunity for me. If I don’t get in, my plan is to continue moving forward. Work on my book until I have it where I think I need it and start querying for agents on my own.

No big deal.

So, I put together a query letter, and emailed it along with the first ten pages of my book. As soon as I hit send, the anxiety began to build inside of me.

What was I thinking? Why did I think that my book was going to be good enough to submit to this? Why did I let anyone convince me that it was good enough to send? They were probably just being nice. It’s like when your kids draws a picture and you have no idea what it is but you tell them it looks good anyway and you hang it on the fridge. That’s probably what everyone was doing. And I fell for it. I bought into this idea that I was going to be some published writer. What do I know about writing? I have an associate’s degree in graphic design. I don’t even have a bachelor’s degree. Before a few year ago, I hadn’t written any fiction since high school. And what? Now, I’m a novelist?

Oh my god. Now, they’re going to know. They’re all going to know, what deep down, I’ve always known. I’m a fraud. A fake. There is a part of me that has always known it and has tried desperately to convince me.

It’s that voice in the back of my head. Sometimes, it is friendly. At times when I’ve struggled with writing, it gives me a sort of verbal pat on the shoulder and says, “It’s okay. You tried. Writing probably isn’t your thing.”

Sometimes, it is mean. It mocks. It urges me to give up because I’m just embarrassing myself. “Everyone feels sorry for you. You’re delusional.”

My fear is always based around the fact that I’m never going to be good enough and that everyone is going to find out. I don’t have to listen to that voice in my head when I’m sitting alone at my kitchen table writing. No, I hear it when I hand my manuscript over for someone to read. I hear it every week when I write my blog. When someone tells me that they enjoy my blog or they liked my book, I want to hug them and thank them but I also want to narrow my eyes and let them know that I’m onto whatever scam they’re running.

I find myself wondering when it will go away. Is there any level of success that would make me believe in myself? I was a graphic designer for three years and it never went away. I always felt like a hack. I still contend that I was. Will I always feel that way about my writing and my painting as well?

impostor-syndrome-cartoon-823x1024I know what it is. It’s called imposter syndrome and knowing it by name helps. It also helps to know that a lot of people have had it at some point in their careers. I wonder how many people will read this and nod their head. Everyone? It’s prevalent enough that there are tips on how to overcome it. Talking about it is supposed to help. Imposter syndrome expert Dr. Valerie Young says, “It’s also a matter of changing your thoughts, slowly over time, and taking risks in spite of the inner voice telling you you’ll fail. Do the thing that scares the heck out of you, realize you survived – or maybe you fell flat on your face. But you gave it your best shot.”

So, I think we have to just keep working. Keep moving forward.  My writing isn’t actually some destination that I’m working to get to. It’s the never-ending road, the eternal journey. This feeling that I’m never going to be good enough can be the wind at my back, always pushing me forward, motivating me to do and be better. If I’m going to think of myself as a fraud, then I’m going to put my heart and soul into fooling everyone, especially myself.

For days when I’ve taken the risk and failed, when I’ve fallen flat on my face, there’s whiskey. And after that, a new day to dust myself off and got started again.

Maybe, I’ll get into this mentoring program. Maybe I won’t. Maybe, I’ll have to go a different way. This isn’t that song, “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. There isn’t just one shot. We have a lot of chances and a lot of ways to get to the same place. There are also a lot of ways to mess up and a lot of ways to feel rejected. There are countless ways to fail. The only way to avoid that is to never do anything at all. The problem with that is, then you never do anything at all. No dreams. No plans. No goals. I just sit at my kitchen table and write stories that no one reads.

Just like “‘Tis better to have loved and lost: Than never to have loved at all.” Tis better to have tried and failed : Than never to have tried at all.