Saturday, 9 November 2013

Walking on thin ice

I always feel like I'm walking on thin ice.

No, I'm not some sort of ice-skater. Hey, I live in Australia, where ice is actually in short supply. We have a couple of skating rinks, but believe me there's no risk of falling through into freezing water below.

I'm talking more about the general business of life. I always feel that as I go about my day-to-day business, I'm that close to stuffing up big time and making a big mess out of everything.

It feels like that in all aspects of life. My work. My relationships. My writing. I often feel like I don't have any competence in any of them. I'm just living a complete sham, constantly covering up and trying to hide the fact that I have no idea what I'm doing.

And I always feel like I'm about to be found out. The next thing I do at work, or the next thing I say to a family member or friend, or the next thing I write, will finally reveal my secret and I'll be well and truly revealed to all the world.

For some strange reason, it hasn't happened yet. Occasionally, there'll be near misses. I'll say or do something that will make people give me funny looks. Or something I do will create some sort of ruckus. Sometimes I'll quickly take responsibility and fix things up before they get out of hand. More often, I'll cover up, or just get myself out of there before I can be blamed.

But I know my luck can't last forever. Eventually, I know all will be revealed. Then the ice will crack and I'll fall down into the freezing water (metaphorically of course).

Hope I'm wearing something warm.

Have a great week -  and please don't tell anybody.


  1. I think you’d be surprised—perhaps even comforted—to learn that that’s how most people feel. The reason is very simple: we allow ourselves to be duped by appearances. And they are deceptive. Online I rarely put a foot wrong. I take time writing even a short comment like this, reading it over and over again, tweaking it here and there, so it conveys what I want and part of what I want it to get across is that I know what I’m talking about. I write with an air of authority and so people assume that authority is real. I remember talking to an old couple some twenty years ago and I happened to drop a couple of Greek words into the conversation. “Oh, he knows Greek!” they said. No, I knew a couple of Greek words but they assumed I was dipping into a vast trove of knowledge rather than using up everything in a single conversation. Mostly I’m good for one or two conversations on any given subject. Anything more than that and I risk getting rumbled. I’m not a fake, I don’t make up stuff—what I know is what I know—but I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable as people imagine me to be. I am intelligent which is why I can do what I do but a guy with a 150 IQ can be as incompetent as any guy you drag off the street, hand a ukulele and say, “Play something for me then.” Odds are the man in the street might even do better than the genius because geniuses tend to specialise. Allowing people to make assumptions is one thing. Deliberately trying to pass yourself off as something you’re not is another thing entirely. As long as you don’t do that then no one can accuse you of false representation. Self-deprecation is often shrugged off by people—“Go on, you’re just saying that!”—but better that than overselling. Yes, you may well find you can deliver more than you expected and fine if you do but that’s better than disappointing people. In that respect honesty really is the best policy.

    1. Thanks Jim,

      If you have any of that air of authority to spare, I'd happily take some.

  2. "The problems of success can be harder [than failure], because nobody warns you about them.

    The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It's Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.

    In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don't know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn't consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don't have to make things up any more." ~ Neil Gaiman

    "Psychological research done in the early 1980s estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds and other studies have found that 70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another." ~Wikipedia on Impostor Syndrome.

    I just want to ask you one thing; what exactly about your process do you consider fraudulent? At which point while writing Doodling and Scribbling did you cackle madly and rub your hands together while wiggling your jagged handlebar moustache? "Those fools will never know what actually conspired this night," you said, trying to keep your top hat on while laughing. "I will have committed the world's biggest scam!"

    I'm going to put a lot of confidence on the idea that you write stories like I do. We sit down in front of a computer, put our hands on the keyboard, and make stuff up. Okay, so there's preparation involved. Some planning, some character design, some overall outlining. But none of that makes anything tangible or even readable. The real meat of the operation is when we sit down and pretend that one person is talking to another. Then we make these pretend people fight, argue, or sometimes even kill one another. We make up stuff that these pretend people say, and have them act out what we will them to act out.

    So what if your photo appears in the front of the newspaper tomorrow, with you hunched over a keyboard? "Jonathon Gould Worldwide scam," the headline would say. "Indie author Jonathon Gould has been caught *making stuff up* as he sits by his computer to write his new book".

    We don't pluck our stories off of trees. We don't go to the Land of Tales and frolic with the Pixies of Plot Points and Seraphs of Subplots. We don't meet shady cultists down dark alleys and exchange our ever-dwindling life essence for a blessing from Kul'Daan, Bringer of Novels. We sit down, make stuff up, and show people them. Sometimes they like it, sometimes they don't. That's all there is to it, really. No scams. No fronts. No smoke and mirrors. Just a mad imagination and an equally mad desire to inflict it on the world.

    And if it really is that bad, then hey; I'll be sure to say sorry in the prison van.

    1. Thanks Simon,

      Gee, nice to think this is a sign I might be successful at something.