Feeling like a fraud

There is something that has been gnawing at the back of my mind for the past couple of days.  I am sure many can relate.  Nevertheless, I fear it may be holding me back.  Here goes: I am afraid that I am a big, fat writing fraud.

First of all, this feeling like a fraud is really nothing new to me.

I went through almost all of grad school this way.  In my experience, it is rare to find graduate students (or professors, for that matter) who are open and honest about who they are and how they feel.  It is all a big charade.  We prance around, spouting off bullshit, pretending like we have everything together.  (I believe this is also an apt description of what we call “life.”)

“Aw man, I didn’t get a chance to read the articles for this week.” 

This statement may or may not be a gross exaggeration, but a proper translation would read,

“I want to know how prepared you are for class, so I know I won’t be the only one bullshitting my way through discussion.”

“Oh, that’s rough,” accompanied by a pitying look. 

Translation:

“Oh, good, I won’t be the only one bullshitting my way through discussion.  And thank you for saying it first because now no one has to know that I didn’t read any of the articles either.”

Of course, “not reading any articles” usually means just reading the introductions, the conclusions and skimming the rest.  What no one tells you – they let you figure it out all on your own – is, that is reading the articles.  In academia, anyway.  None of us reads the whole article or the whole book, or very rarely.  When, in one week, you have four books and twenty articles to read, along with the 60 papers from your undergrads that you promised you would give back to them in a timely fashion for once, it is nigh near physically impossible to read the whole books or articles.  Unless perhaps you don’t need any sleep, only get hungry once a week, don’t have any hobbies, and have absolutely no social life, but even then I imagine it would be a stretch.

So, when a grad student comments to another grad student,

“Aw man, I didn’t get a chance to read the articles for this week,”

what he really means to say is,

“Am I doing it right?”

To which the response is usually,

“No.  I am doing it better than you.”

But this is only because no one wants to admit that they are stumbling along, just like everyone else.  Successfully convincing other grad students that you are reading all your articles, not writing your papers the night before, and finishing grading in a timely fashion, all while cooking healthy meals, exercising on a daily basis, hanging out with friends twice a week and managing to find time to attend local concerts on a bi-weekly basis, allows you to feel good about yourself.  But it is all bullshit.  No one can manage all that unless she’s Wonder Woman.  There are a couple of Wonder Womans in grad school, but the vast majority of us are just plain Janes pretending we’re Wonder Woman.

It does not matter that I figured this out, I still felt like a fraud most of the time.  Like, I got where I was by pure accident, that someday someone will finally notice and I’ll kicked out of the club.  I am almost done and I still feel like this sometimes.

All that to say, I am familiar with this feeling.

So, when I start to hear myself thinking,

“You can’t do this.  It has been over 20 years since you’ve had a creative writing class,”

or

“You can’t do this.  All those other people – authors, other people who blog about writing – they write all the time.  You don’t deserve to be called a writer,”

or

“You can’t do this.  You waited too long.  Any creative juices you had wasted away while you were in grad school,”

I try not to listen.  I know these things do not have to be true.  It doesn’t always work.  Recently I’ve been feeling like a fraud when it comes to writing.

I’ve said this before, but I started this blog to document my journey back to creative writing.  In part, it is my way to stay excited about the prospect.  In part, it is my way to continue fostering the desire while I finish up my dissertation.  (So tired of the dissertation!)  I have also realized that, without knowing it, it is also a way for me to be connected with other writers, which is mostly a source of amazing encouragement.  Just being able to read about other people’s experiences ensures me that I am not alone.

Although, sometimes this makes me feel like I did when I first started grad school: overwhelmed and underqualified.  And in some ways, the journey is like a new beginning.  In some ways it does feel like I am starting something new, because it has been so long.  But instead of being excited about the journey, I just see a long, long road.

I will read about something someone learned in their creative writing class and feel like I have vague memory of learning something similar.  I will start to sweat and think

“Oh, no, I can’t start writing yet.  There are so many things I have to learn and re-learn.”

Or

“I have to be deliberate about how I write.  I can’t just write.”

Sometimes I will read about someone who writes prolifically and I will especially like a fraud then, because, well, I don’t.  I think about writing all the time, but I am not writing all the time.  Sometimes I go for days without writing anything at all.

These feelings tell me that I have no right to have a blog about writing.  I need to feel like a writer before I can write about writing.  Then I remember that I never claimed anywhere that I was an awesome writer who wrote perfectly all the time.  I started this blog so that I could document my journey to becoming a fiction writer.  And these feelings are part of that journey.

I have the sneaking suspicion, though, that these feelings are trying to prevent me from writing.  That’s not cool.

Learning how to construct an engaging, well-written story involves a LOT, and there is no doubt that there is a LOT I need to learn, or re-learn as the case may be.  But I cannot let any of that prevent me from just writing already.  Even if it I think it sounds stupid.  Even if it does not seem to be flowing.  Even if I start to not like my main character.  I will learn all these things, but not if I don’t write.

I was about to say that just writing is especially important for the stage I am at, but this is probably true no matter what stage a person is at.  Also, I will probably have to remind myself of this over and over again.  I hope I don’t end up sounding like a broken record.

I am not a fraud, I am just inexperienced.  That will come with time, as long as I write.  And write.  And keep writing.  Write without looking back.  I’ll pick up my lessons along the way.

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Categories: Miscellaneous | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Feeling like a fraud

  1. Sometimes I feel like a writing fraud, too. I do not have a degree in writing, nor do I have any publishing credits. Instead, I write and hope someone will read. 🙂 May we all be so lucky.

    • I am pretty sure we all feel like frauds at some point or other. And I’m right there with you: Let’s just write – if someone reads what we write, well, that’s a bonus.

  2. I’m a graduate student in English lierature as well (or at least I think you’re in English, not sure now that I skim back over the post), and I know exactly what you’re talking about with the experience of being in graduate school. I’ve recently gotten back into jotting down some fiction here and there, and it’s been very helpful. I think the other thing that you’ve gotten correct here is to bypass obsessing about qualifications. Writing is so much more about doing than learning. Even blog posts like this one (which can be immensely gratifying) shouldn’t get in the way of the creative writing itself. So good work and keep going!

    • It never occurred to me to clarify, but my graduate degree is not in English, it is in Mass Comm. But I’m pretty sure grad school is grad school regardless of the department. Yeah, I need to stop obsessing about what I feel I lack and just write. If I wait to learn how to do it properly, I’ll never get down to the the “doing” of writing. Thanks for the encouragement!

  3. I think everyone feels like a fraud every so often, even prolific, published authors. I feel like a fraud quite a bit, especially since I’m attending a literary creative writing program surrounded by all these writers with gorgeous, poetic prose, and mine is…functional. Almost brutal with its lack of poetry. We just have to keep telling ourselves we’re not frauds, and that what we write is valued. After a little while of writing, you learn to get used to that voice and tell it to shut the hell up and sit down, you’re writing right now and its comments aren’t wanted. And no, I don’t think you’ll sound like a broken record.
    Also, the difference between being prolific and not is practice. Writing is like any other skill or muscle. The more you write creatively, the more you will produce in a given time. It used to be a huge struggle a few years ago to write 200 words in a sitting. Nowadays, I can crank out 5,000 words with a big enough cup of coffee nearby and nowhere to be for a few hours (though, like exercising, doing that much is draining and I usually veg out playing video games for the next day or two), and I’m only able to do that because I’ve practiced. You’ll get prolific, just give yourself time and have patience.
    Remember that every writer is different. Some writers write every day. Other writers write only when their publisher has given them a deadline, and some of those writers don’t write until the day BEFORE the deadline. Some writers get spurts of energy and write a ton in a short amount of time, only to write nothing for the next week. Everyone is different, so you can’t compare yourself and your method to another writers without keeping in mind that this is something that works for them and quite possibly, there’s something totally different that works for you.
    I think you’re on the right path, and you’ve already acknowledged the feelings and doubts for what they are, which is something that many of my fellow creative writing undergrads haven’t, and it drags them down. I wish you all the luck in the world and hope that, one day soon, I can pick your book up in a store and say, “I know who this is!”
    Also, little tip if you’re having trouble motivating yourself: write for someone else. If you’ve got a friend or family member who you can sort of “address” your writing to and write for, it’s easier to sit down and write, because now, you kind of have to.

    • That was really encouraging. Thank you! So nice to know that I’m not just fooling myself. And that’s another great idea – writing for someone else. I am going to have to give that a try.

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