Sometimes, I feel like an imposter. Like I’m not a writer at all; I’m a pretender, a charlatan, a fraud. There’s actually a name for this: Imposter Syndrome.
When writing an essay, nine times out of ten, by the time I get to the part when I’m about to hit ‘submit’, I truly hate everything I wrote. “Boy I’m really posting a piece of shit today,” I’ll mutter as I wait for the page to refresh, bringing my latest creation to its virtual life.
Keep in mind, I can’t read my stuff the way you will. I learned as a standup comedian that the entertainer and the entertained never perceive the art the same way. That’s why a comic has to go through a process of ‘polishing’ their material, which is just another name for bringing it to the stage over and over again, making slight changes to it until it’s reached its full potential. The polished joke works best, but it’s rarely the comedian’s original concept of the bit. It’s not what they envisioned. It’s just what eventually works on stage.
Sometimes the comedian will stumble on something the crowd loves, but the comic doesn’t understand why. I once wrote a bit where the first time I brought it on stage, the audience exploded with laughter during the setup. The punchline itself landed with a thud. I eventually rewrote the bit to take advantage of the earlier laughs, never fully understanding why it was funny.
Conversely, I wrote a bit in my first year that I swore was absolutely hilarious, but it just didn’t work on stage. Over the next three years, I rewrote it, changed its structure, rewrote it again, practiced it different ways, changed the point-of-view, and it still never fucking worked. I eventually, finally, mercifully gave up on it. I still laugh about the concept to myself. I have no idea why no crowd ever liked it.
Now, as an essayist, I try to write the way I talk. Let me go ahead and admit to you, God, and everybody right now that I’m full of shit. I’m pretending to write the way I talk. Every conversational-type writer does. I write, go back and re-read, edit, and then ask myself, “would I say it like that?” I have to, because I can’t possibly type as fast as I think. And, I don’t think in complete sentences. Nobody does.
But when I’m editing, I can’t possibly read it the way you will. You’ll read it with fresh eyes. I’m constantly re-reading it as the creator, stumbling through it, getting sick of it, actively hating it more with each run-through. Things I wrote that at one point seemed funny, or at least lightly humorous, at five re-readings seem almost somber. Like the kind of thing you might say to a friend after he lost his whole family in a helicopter crash.
Weirdly enough, when I go back and read something I wrote a year or so ago, I usually love it. I’ll have “fresh” eyes. Or more accurately, a terrible memory. Those are the only times I enjoy my own writing: when what I wrote has completely left my brain, and I get to read it as a reader, rather than as an editor. Those are the only times I say to myself, “holy shit, I’m pretty good.”
And that’s what helps combat Imposter Syndrome for me: My shitty memory.
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