But I Play One On TV

A Possibly Good (but currently secret) Thing happened to me recently, writing-wise, and it kind of scared me. This was a surprise, because I have been waiting my entire life for Good Things to happen to me, writing-wise, and expected to be more “jumping for joy” than “cowering under a duvet” about them if and when they did.

I outlined this baffling situation to a wise and excellent friend, and our conversation went something like this:

Friend: “I think this is just imposter syndrome. I’ve always thought you have imposter syndrome when it comes to your writing.”

Self: “Yes, I wondered about that, but how can you have imposter syndrome if you’re not actually good or successful?”

Friend: “That is literally what someone with imposter syndrome would say.”

Self: “…Oh.”

It’s often said that writing is a lonely profession. When it comes to actually doing the writing, this has never bothered me. I never feel lonely while I’m writing, because I’ve got a headful of characters to hang out with. But what marks out writing from most other careers—particularly when you self-publish—is that there are very few opportunities to find out whether you’re doing a good job. I don’t have a manager to assign me work and give me feedback on it. I don’t have coworkers to chat/compare notes/commiserate with. I don’t even have a job title to give me some idea of where I rank in my industry. My entire writing career (I’m struggling hard against the urge to put quotation marks around that!) has been me sitting at my computer in my pajamas, making it up as I go along.

And, until now, it hasn’t felt real. Victoria Leybourne isn’t my real name. I am a different person with a different job, and very few people from that life know about Victoria Leybourne. Sometimes I mention that I write in order to explain where my time goes, but I get all squirmy and uncomfortable if there are follow-up questions. I’m not embarrassed about being an author but I feel very weird about calling myself one in real life when I am demonstrably a Something Else, so I keep that identity separate from my “real” one, even in my own head. All of this—my books, this blog, the indie author forums and online groups I belong to—could have been some kind of elaborate online roleplaying game.

And then I went to a party.


Clockwise from front: Heidi Swain, Jean Fullerton, Jenni Keer and me. Photo by Alison French.

I joined the Romantic Novelists Association back in March. I was faintly surprised that I was eligible to join, given how well-known many of their members are, but I met the threshold (number of sales) to be an Independent member. I thought it would just be a good way to keep up with industry news, and maybe complement the research I’ve been doing into UK agents and publishers, since I’m planning to try for traditional publication with my next book. I didn’t really see myself going to any in-person events, so I was surprised by how jealous I was of the people attending the RNA’s annual conference in the summer. Nice people! Writing chat! Books!

I felt like I was missing out on something, so I booked a ticket to the Winter Party in London. That part was easy. So was getting on a train and checking into a hotel. Actually leaving that hotel and heading to the event to hang out with a large number of total strangers? Not so much, even after I wasted as much time as possible inexpertly applying makeup and taking selfies.

But I did leave, and I did go to the party.

Reader, I had a wonderful time. The picture of me with Heidi, Jean and Jenni was taken at a pub beforehand, where there was a meet-up for new people and numerous established members were very kind to me. Then we headed over to the venue, which was a truly stunning library. I didn’t get any good pictures of it, so here are some mediocre ones:

collage of pictures of a beautiful, wood-lined library

I didn’t stop looking around and saying “Wow!” for several minutes after entering the room so… apologies to anyone who witnessed that.

There, lots more people were also very kind to me. I’ve never felt so welcome at an event that size—and, considering that I knew literally no one there before I arrived, that’s really something. I was completely unprepared to be asked thoughtful questions about my books (uh, what do I write?) and hesitated for a long time whenever anyone asked my name (it’s weird to have to check your own lanyard for that, right?) but, if anyone noticed I was having an identity crisis, they were very nice about it, and I eventually started to feel more comfortable.

The strange thing is, I still feel more comfortable. I spent an entire evening being Victoria Leybourne, author, and nothing terrible happened. No one laughed at me. The god of writing failed to descend from the leatherbound heavens, pronounce me an IMPOSTER and condemn me to death by a thousand papercuts. I just had a lovely time being welcomed as a colleague by other authors.

Whether this “thing” I have about my writing is imposter syndrome or not, it certainly hasn’t gone away, nor do I think it will for a long time. But now it’s going to have to fight for space in my head with the knowledge that a roomful of professional authors treated me as though I belonged there, and maybe I did. If you were one of those people: thank you, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated it. 💖