‘Imposter syndrome is an ailment familiar to many writers, yet it’s not exclusive to us’
Today I am delighted to welcome blogger, writer and soon to be published author, Maura McElhone, to #IrishWritersWed. Maura is the face behind the very popular Irish Blog www.fallingforafarmer.com and her book of the same name is due out Autumn 2018 with Mercier Press.
Maura has written a fabulous post today entitled ‘A Very Writerly Affliction’, where she describes her feelings of sometimes being an imposter in the world of writing.
I’ll hand you over to Maura now…
A Very Writerly Affliction
It was author Sinead Moriarty’s tweet that caught my eye. “Any writers who are free on Monday – do please consider coming.” I clicked on the image attached; an invitation to writers who supported a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment to attend a photocall in Merrion Square at 1pm on May 21st.
Initially, I wasn’t quite sure where I stood with regard to this referendum. I didn’t condone abortion, but neither did I believe it right to force a woman to stay pregnant. It should be her choice, I supposed. And in that reasoning, I found my answer. As May 25th approached, however, what I hadn’t yet found was “my tribe.” I wanted to get involved, but I was looking to do so as part of a group or movement that had some additional significance to me – people with whom I had something else in common, beyond the “Yes.” I felt I might draw courage from that, find a louder voice amongst kindred spirits.
#WritersForChoice was it.
On Monday morning, I searched the hashtag and noted the names of those who would be attending. Sinead Moriarty, Liz Nugent, Tara Flynn, Mary O’Donnell, Marian Keyes . . . and plenty more besides. These were women whose reputations preceded them, writers whose work I had read and enjoyed. These were women I admired. These were, by anyone’s definition, “proper writers.”
At my desk, I shifted in my seat, trying to dodge the cloud of insecurity and self-doubt that I felt closing in.
Yes, the invite was to “writers,” but just how broad a term was that? Could someone like me, with no book in the bookshops (albeit one coming in September of this year), really go along and stand shoulder to shoulder with bestselling authors? Even the fact that I would be leaving from the office, that I had a “day job,” gave me cause to question my “eligibility.”
Imposter syndrome is an ailment familiar to many writers, yet it’s not exclusive to us. I know pharmacists, journalists, solicitors and accountants who all battle the affliction. All of us people who, despite exercising our knowledge on a regular basis, despite repeatedly proving our aptitude for the profession, practice, or craft, still harbour that irrational fear of being “found out” and exposed for being a “fraud.” We draw comparisons and come up short, question, over-analyse, and down-play, oftentimes to our own detriment and with the result that we can no longer see ourselves for who we really are, or the truth for what it is.
A few years back, when I lamented the fact that I was about to turn thirty without having yet “become” a writer, a good friend admonished me. “What are you writing at the moment?” he asked. I shrugged and told him that I was thirty thousand words into something that may not ever see the light of day. “Good,” he said. “You’re writing. Therefore, you are a writer.”
Margaret Atwood takes a similar view.
“I wrote a poem in my head and then I wrote it down, and after that writing was the only thing I wanted to do. My transition from not being a writer to being one was instantaneous, like the change from docile bank clerk to fanged monster in ‘B’ movies.”
She wrote, therefore she was a writer. Simple.
But surely there are levels to it, a “credibility-gradient” of sorts? I put the question to those following the hashtag; “are there any restrictions on how “writer-y” you need to be to attend? My first book isn’t out ’til September, but I’d love to be a part of this”
Within moments, I had responses from Sinead Moriarty and Marian Keyes.
“No restrictions,” said the latter. “Come!”
At 12:30pm, I pulled on my jacket emblazoned with the “Yes” badge, and headed for Merrion Square. As the photographers rounded up the assembled writers, unsure of my place, I loitered in the back. The woman beside me introduced herself; “Hi, I’m Monica,” she said, smiling. Monica McInerney. I returned the introduction and then, Monica asked me what I wrote. Feeling the need to justify my presence, I was midway through a rambling explanation about how my book wasn’t actually out yet before I realised that she hadn’t asked me that.
She’d asked simply, what I wrote.
It was a question echoed throughout the hour as I chatted with various writers, most of whom, themselves, needed give no introduction or background on their work – though many still did. Not one asked how many books I’d written or how many I’d published.
Because it didn’t matter. That we were there at all was evidence that we had that practice of writing in common. It was clear that identifying, or, indeed, being recognised as a “writer” had little to do the volume of books you’ve written or how well you are known. Instead, it has everything to do with putting pen to paper, fingers to keys, and participating in the practice that fuels our fires and wrecks our heads, that excites, invigorates, frustrates and exhausts us. On that day, to be accepted as such, to be welcomed into the fold by those I looked up to and to share their platform for a cause about which I’d grown deeply passionate, was for me, both empowering and inspiring.
Bestsellers and awards are nice, I imagine, and I see little harm in entertaining dreams of either. But they are not integral to the definition of what it is to “be a writer.” The transition from non-writer to writer is not dependent on such frills. The transition from non-writer to writer happens when we put pen to paper. It really is that simple.
We write, therefore, we are writers – each one as legitimate as the other.
Another mighty “Yes!” to that.
“I’m a writer, daughter, sister, friend, and, in recent years, girlfriend of a young Irish farmer.
Born and raised on the beautiful North West coast of Ireland in a small seaside town called Portstewart, I now live in Dublin, where I also work as a content and community manager for a growing tech startup.
After leaving Portstewart at 18 to study at Stirling University in Scotland, you could say that I took the long way home. Between graduating in 2006, and “unemigrating” back to Ireland in 2014, I spent time living in San Diego, California; Galway Ireland; Santa Monica, California, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
It’s been said that writing makes sense of life, and I’ve certainly had plenty to make sense of over the years. I’ve chronicled some of my experiences on CountryWide (RTE Radio 1), in the Irish Times, the Independent, on Kildare FM, and in the Irish Farmers Journal / Irish Country Living, where I have a column on the laughs and lessons that ensue when the worlds of a “townie” and a farmer collide.”
Maura’s debut book, Falling For a Farmer, will be published in Autumn 2018 with Mercier Press
Twitter ~ @maurawrites
Website ~ https://fallingforafarmer.com/