(Aka please don’t feed the banshee).
I’ve been pondering this topic for a while, but when I woke this morning to the You’re-a-Fraud banshee shrieking in my ear, I knew today was finally the day to write this blog post.
Have you met the You’re-a-Fraud banshee? She’s the inverse patron saint of writers. I first heard this term (or one close to it) from my friend Heidi Boynton who teaches confidence to girls using athletics (it’s an amazing program called Mini Mermaids). In that program, Heidi refers to our harsh inner critic as The Siren, which is that voice in your head that confirms all your worst beliefs. You can’t get published, your work isn’t good enough. Other writers are real. You’re a fraud. One day you’ll be found out.
In my case at 7am this morning it was:
“Oh my God all these real and talented writers are going to this conference I’m headed to. I’m just a fraud who dropped out, lives in Colombia and tweets on social media, and yes, maybe I wrote a book, but it’s not like I’ve found an agent yet and I’ve barely added any words in the last month, and I’m not even sure book two will be as good as book one … and … and..”
At that point I jumped out of bed and told my banshee what’s what (more below on how I learned to do that).
It’s not a coincidence that most people in creative fields have met our not so friendly banshee and in my opinion it’s directly related to this “aspiring” writer description. That’s why I want to make a case that it’s time to get rid of the term.
Recently the pervasiveness of this “I’m a fraud” thought among my writer friends sunk in when I saw my two most popular tweets and retweets below.
Been trying to find this quote for a while.— Lainey Cameron (@lainey_cameron) January 21, 2018
Some of the best writers I know are wildly self-conscious about whether they deserve to call themselves writers at all. They do. We all do.
Thx @byMorganWright for the reminder 🙂#writerslife #amediting https://t.co/tYeSXlfuiD
Every author you respect was told no. Their email alert dinged and it was bad news. They entered their work into a contest and heard crickets. They cried buckets over a bad review. They felt inadequate.— Erin Hahn (@writer_ep_hahn) March 25, 2018
But they didn’t stop writing and you shouldn’t either.#authormentormatch
So what’s the correlation between calling yourself an aspiring writer and learning to quiet the You’re-a-Fraud banshee? If you’ll allow, let’s take a side trip for a moment to my career before writing, when I was a marketing executive.
For twenty years I worked in Vice President of Marketing and Chief Marketing Officer roles in technology companies ranging from massive Fortune 50 companies to startups. And not once in twenty years did I call myself an aspiring anything. Not even when I was starting out and clueless.
Not when I was an intern with almost no skills other than making coffee (I’ve never even heard of an “aspiring intern”). Not when I was a newbie in my first job, a junior product marketer who learned how a spreadsheet worked at the same time as she struggled to price 200 products and promotions into 20+ different currencies (pre-Euro). And yet, I’ve never heard of an aspiring marketing manager, either.
So what’s the difference? Did I come with ready-made competence in the jobs I was thrust into? Hell, no. And yet I never once called myself aspiring, because the very term implies you aren’t able to do your job. You aren’t capable. You aren’t completing marketing tasks for your company on a Monday morning; you’re just pretending. And I might not have been perfect, but I was darn well doing the job as best I could. Every day. Just like you are writing, not just hoping to maybe to write something one day.
Aspiring doesn’t just mean you are not an expert, it means you are aren’t capable. And I know you are. You are writing. You’re already a writer.
Recently I’ve started to wonder why I get infuriated when I see aspiring in someone’s social media or hear them introduce themselves that way at a conference. My honey is a woke guy and he likes to say that if something triggers you, it’s time to look inside to find the answer.
So, why do I want to slam something through a glass table every time I see that word on a twitter profile? The answer is the banshee. I’m ashamed of her.
I’m battling the banshee every day, and I’m begging you to pleeeeease stop feeding her.
A year ago I heard the amazing Cynthia Whitcomb (screen writer) give a talk at Willamette Writers Conference and deviate into a side-bar on writer doubt. What she taught me has immensely helped. The siren doesn’t listen when we tell her to just shut up. As proof, have you ever tried saying “Just for ten minutes, I won’t think about that thing that’s worrying me.” How did that work out for you?
The only way to silence the banshee is to feed her facts. That’s what I did this morning when I jumped out of bed. For me it’s facts like:
I’m part of a supportive writer community. They’ve read my stuff and they believe in me.
My book reached the finals in two awards.
I got requests for full manuscripts, so the idea must have merit.
My beta readers said it’s a page-turner.
A writer I respect read the first 50 pages and told me to stick with this manuscript, because it’s so close.
When you label yourself as an aspiring writer, you’re also feeding the banshee facts, just the wrong ones. You’re telling her she’s right, you’re not really a writer. You’re just an aspiring one. Not yet capable. Not yet ready to actually do the job. In the future, one day, you might become a real writer, but not now. Not today.
And the banshee squeals in return:
“See, I’m right. I told you. You’re a fraud!”
So please do me a favor and don’t feed her by calling yourself aspiring any more? She’s already fierce enough.