When Lily asked me to be a guest on her blog this week, after the initial squeak of excitement, I started to panic. What on earth was I going to write about? Why had she asked me? What do I know about anything? It may seem silly – after all, I write regular articles for my own blog and I never worry about what I write on that. I do book reviews, I write about my own life, I write about my writing in all its guises, so why was this different?
Psychologically, I suppose I see guest blog posts as something ‘proper’ writers/bloggers do i.e. people who actually know what they’re doing, people who know that someone else will actually care enough to read what they’ve written. In my head, none of that applies to me. On one level I know my blog posts get read (even if it’s not always by very many people) because I get responses to them, but a huge part of me feels like a massive fraud. I’ve only been writing my blog for just over a year, I rarely have any kind of plan in mind about what I’m going to post throughout the coming months, other than my regular features and often will write a blog about whatever has occurred to me at that moment. I’m not a ‘real’ writer.
I used to think that this was primarily to do with the fact I’d only ever self-published my work. I had no idea whether any of it was any good, it was just something I enjoyed doing. However, over the last couple of years I’ve learnt that this feeling of inadequacy is something that plagues so many writers. Many of my fellow students shied away from describing themselves as ‘a writer’ because they felt it was a fraudulent claim when they hadn’t had anything published.
And apparently it doesn’t change even when you get that magical contract. I’ve had several conversations about this with my friend, the author Jenny Kane. She’s written books in multiple genres, audio dramas and runs successful writing courses and retreats. I’ve read several of her books and loved them and I’m in awe of her versatility, so it was a huge surprise when she said that even after 30+ published books, she often feels like a fraud as well.
It even affects the rich and famous. In his keynote address to the University of Arts in 2012, Neil Gaiman said, ‘The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It's Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.
In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don't know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn't consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don't have to make things up any more.’
Even the great Maya Angelou agreed, stating, ‘Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.’
Currently, I’m deep in preparations for the launch of Makarelle and at one of our early editorial meetings we raised the question of whether we could give feedback to people. Each of us questioned whether we were in a position to do that. What made us so special or so knowledgeable that we could suggest to someone else how to improve their work? Obviously, we’ve all done it before – anyone who’s done a writing course has – and we can always see changes that could be made to a piece of writing, so why were we so unsure? It basically boils down to Imposter Syndrome. However, one of the things preparing to launch the magazine has made me realise is how subjective anything creative is. We’ve all had pieces we loved and others we were less keen on and these weren’t always the same pieces. Did that mean we were wrong? Of course not – it’s personal preference and personal responses.
Ultimately, this also applies to that moment when you finally describe yourself as a writer. When I raised this question in conversation with Jenny, I explained that I got embarrassed when a mutual friend introduced me as, ‘My author friend, Ruth’ because it felt like a fraudulent description. In response, she asked me a very simple question.
‘Take yourself out of the equation. What is the definition of a writer?’
‘Someone who writes stories or poems on a regular basis.’
‘Then by your own definition, you are a writer.’
And do you know what? She’s absolutely right. This is my response when anyone else expresses doubt about their own status, so why can’t I apply it to myself? I spend a good proportion of my time writing, therefore, I AM a writer. I’ve just got to accept that.
All images belong to author.
Ruth was born in Saltaire, West Yorkshire but grew up in Cleveleys, Lancashire. She graduated from Exeter University in 2000 and qualified as a Religious Studies teacher in 2001. Having met her husband at university, they got married and moved to the South East - him to do his MA and her to start her teaching career.
She worked full time as a teacher, writing odd bits here and there whenever she found the time, in between the job, the dogs, the husband and the small boy who was added to their family in 2005.
In 2014 Ruth gave up teaching to become a full time writer, but after a few months, life decided it had other plans for her and she went back to running around after another small boy. At the same time, the family moved to the Essex coast and started building their family life in a new town.
The only writing she was doing at this point, was a travelogue style Facebook page, run on behalf of their youngest son, which kept friends, family and a few strangers abreast of all the weird and wonderful things he was getting up to. When the littlest member of the family started pre-school, it was time for Ruth to dust off the fountain pen and notebooks and start writing again. She decided to study for an MA in Creative Writing with the Open University and in December she graduated with a merit.
Since then Ruth's finished the novel she started during the first year of the course and she is now looking for an agent to represent that. She have also completed the first draft of a second novel and is now doing a Novel In A Year course to work on the third.