The amazing Neil Kleid posted on Twitter recently about how finding it easier to deal with imposter syndrome as he gets older and it set me off thinking about my own experiences with this terrible thing. So I figured I’d try putting it down in writing.

Let’s start with the great news! My latest novel, a prose adaptation of Benjamin Percy’s amazing audio drama, was announced and the cover released over the last couple of weeks. Look at it. Look at how lucky I am to have been gifted the most incredible cover by the effortlessly awesome Steven McNiven. Look at how lucky I am to have been given the opportunity to write something for Marvel – whose comic imprints I have been reading since I was thirteen. Look at how lucky I am to have been given the opportunity to do this. And how lucky to have been involved with the scripting in Darktide. And how lucky I am to have written stories for Twilight Imperium, Wild West Exodus, Warhammer, World of Warcraft…

How lucky I am. Also, it’s here.

So I find myself thinking – and if you know me at all, you’ll understand how big a leap of faith this next statement is – that I’m not lucky at all. I’m capable. These people – Games Workshop, Warcradle, Marvel (freaking Marvel), all of them, have trusted me to represent their intellectual property and that’s not lucky – it’s an honour. I’ve always written stories for the same reason and that reason has been to entertain people. I have a very vivid memory of my first teacher – so I was 5 or 6 years old at the time – asking the class to write and draw their own version of a Mr. Men story. I chose to write a story about Mr. Happy planting an acorn and standing in the garden waiting for it to grow.

“He’ll be there a long time,” laughed Mrs. Chapman, delighted by the image I’d drawn (badly) on the page of Mr. Happy with his watering can and a huge, beaming smile on his face (he is Mr. Happy). “What a lovely idea!” From that moment, I wanted nothing more than to see people smile after they’d read something I’d written on the page. For me, it’s the single most rewarding thing about being a writer. I love to tell stories. It’s genuinely as simple as that. That all these people have given me the chance to build castles in their sandboxes is glorious and I adore it.

And yet…

And yet.

I’m not good enough, my brain tells me. There are people whose standards I’m never going to reach. What am I doing? How did I get here?

I had a lot of this writing the Star-Lord book. Not only was it writing for Marvel, which was a burden in and of itself to someone with a brain like mine, but it was handling a well-known character. I focused harder on writing this book that I think I’ve focused on anything else. I thought like Peter Quill for several weeks while writing it. I found little things: gestures and quirks that I dropped in. I heard his voice whenever I wrote one of his voice lines. It was a project of complete passion and devotion. The whole time, I was telling myself this is fine. This is all fine.

Then I sent the manuscript off to my wonderful editor. The second it left my mailbox, I went into a quiet anxiety meltdown. Would it be good enough? Will it be OK? Is the fact the first draft ended up nearly 10k words over the agreed total but I managed to edit it down to only 5k over be OK? Will she like it? Will she hate it? She’ll hate it. Oh my word, what am I doing?

Then Christmas happened. Then the manuscript came back to me with eloquent and thoughtful edits – none of which were huge and/or major and which all served only to make the story even better. So I did the edits within the allotted timeframe and sent them back. Everything was fine and then it was time to send the manuscript to Marvel.

To actual Marvel.

Well, given everything I’ve said here, you can imagine where my poor, overthinking brain went at this point. It packed a suitcase and took a long vacation in Paranoia City. From the moment it was sent to the moment it came back, I was certain that it’d be rejected. That the excitement bubble would not only burst, it would explode, sending shards of bitter shame and disappointment flying over a large area. I refreshed my inbox about twenty times an hour. When it did come back, it was on a Monday. I saw my editor’s name flash up on the email notification and I think my heart stopped for a good minute.

I opened the email.

I opened the attachment.

I looked through the edits back from the Marvel editor.

I emailed my Aconyte editor.

“Hi,” I wrote, because I’m a writer and I know how to start an email. “Just wanted to check that I’ve got the full thing back? Because there’s like… less than a dozen changes here and…”

It was the right thing. There were barely any changes and two of them were slight tweaks to stuff on my acknowledgement page.

My own imposter syndrome practically throttled me over writing this story and yet, everything was fine. Everything was more than fine. Everything was great. And for perhaps the first time ever I realised that I’m more capable of this writing thing than I give myself credit for. Imposter syndrome is a real thing when you’re writing stories, it absolutely is, and it’s a many-headed monster with a metric fucktonne of sharp, pointy teeth. But then you take a step back and it turns out to be a fluffy kitten. Sure, the claws can be sharp and they can lacerate you quite badly, but you know what? You get better.

And that’s lucky.


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