If you’re a writer, or if you’re friends with any writers, there’s a good chance you saw this Atlantic article published last week, “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators” by Megan McArdle. I found it uncomfortably familiar for a number of reasons, this bit being the biggest one.
“This fear of being unmasked as the incompetent you “really” are is so common that it actually has a clinical name: impostor syndrome. A shocking number of successful people (particularly women), believe that they haven’t really earned their spots, and are at risk of being unmasked as frauds at any moment.”
It’s wrapped up in beer writing because I started writing about beer before I knew much about it. On my first assignment I brought a printed out BeerAdvocate guide for how to taste a beer to the bar. I credit most of my success to that being at the right place at the right time–that an editor gave me an assignment, that there were so many breweries opening up that weren’t being covered yet, that I could have the gig if I asked for it (and I did). But I also know that if I can trust anything, it’s my instincts for a good story and craft beer is full of them.
I’m approaching three years of writing about beer, which is longer than I’ve stuck with most things, but a lot less than many others out there. Writing about beer and beer culture has, at least for me, gotten a lot noisier in those last three years. It’s also much more complicated since I left for this weird adventure I’m on. Leaving a job and a city and having no plans beyond a few weeks or a few months out calls everything into question. If I can go anywhere, what am I doing here? If I can write about anything, should I be writing about beer?
I think I’m mostly drained from the noise of craft beer politics, of Twitter and blogs and forums and lists. I can’t tell if craft beer culture has become more insular and insufferable or if I’m just getting burnt out. I do know that the best stories never come from sitting on your computer, which, as a full-time freelancer, is what I’ve been doing between days of phone interviews and e-mails and late nights of writing. I often wish I could delete my Twitter and Facebook, but they too have become intertwined with work and networking. I know I’m not writing as much as I could be, and I’m not writing nearly enough of the stories that I want to write–even if no one will publish or pay for them.
“What a jackass,” you’re thinking. “This lady is complaining about writing about beer.” I know writers are notoriously hard on themselves, but the loathing I feel for anything I write feels unusually unhealthy. I often think of this quote that my friend sends me every time I whine about hating what I write. It’s from an interview with Lawrence Weschler in The New New Journalism.
The most important thing is to not allow myself to hate myself. When I first started journalism, I just despised myself during these periods. I’d think, ‘I’m lazy, I’m a fuckup, I’m an evil person. Other people are working and I’m doing nothing.’ It is very important to teach yourself that this malaise is part of the process.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean you won’t panic anyway. And it may well be that the panic turns out to be part of what gets you going again later on. You can’t completely help hating yourself, I’ve found. But if you can’t get over that self-loathing at all, it is best to stop being a writer. Because nothing is worth that kind of self-hatred.”
And as McArdle writes for The Atlantic:
Writers who don’t produce copy—or leave it so long that they couldn’t possibly produce something good—are giving themselves the perfect excuse for not succeeding.
‘Work finally begins,’ says Alain de Botton, ‘when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.’ For people with an extremely fixed mind-set, that tipping point quite often never happens. They fear nothing so much as finding out that they never had what it takes.
In conclusion: hate yourself less and get to work earlier. #writing