The Phony Police--(or what Nathan Bransford calls the "Am I Crazies?")


Mylene's post below so resonates with me, and if you're a writer and haven't read it yet, you should. You'll see yourself. But what I want to talk about is what I think is the crux of the problem, what some people over at phinished.org (a support group for people endlessly finishing their dissertations) call "the phony police."

What struck me about phinished was that not only was I not alone, but that writers in EVERY discipline go through this. Sociologists, occupational therapists, literary scholars, historians, philosophers, as well as us creative writers. It boggled my mind that psychologists could be worried about the reliability of their data exactly the way we fret over plot and character. And regardless of the discipline, when it comes down to the actual act of writing, the issues are all the same. The conversations in the head may be different, but it all comes down to the same question--"Am I a real writer?" or "Am I a real writer today?"

This is what Mark calls my "existential writing angst," and I've found few ways to defeat it, except, as Mylene suggests, to talk back to it and do the writing anyway. When I was having my crisis of being early on in the research process for the novel, those voices manifested themselves in many ways. "You don't know enough to write about this," they said. "You won't be able to make it resonate." And then the genre wars began. I heard the voices of those of my classmates, the ones who always said I was "too commercial" and compared me unfavorably to Stephen King. The professor who shook two pages of a story in my face and said "These pages are beneath you." I could hear a ringing chorus of all those naysayers in my head, calling me a fake, a phony, a fraud. Until one day I had a moment, when I was walking down my street, enjoying the breath of the wind on my skin, and I looked up at the trees and thought, "So what?"

So what if I'm not a "real writer?" So what if this doesn't work? Okay, worst case scenario, it doesn't work. Worst case scenario, I am a fraud. But is all of that going to make me stop??? That was the moment when I began to rise up; that was the moment when I finally just said "no." No, you are not going to make me feel like I am lesser than I am. No, you are not going to get in the way of what I want to do. And (in my case), no, I am not going to compromise my aesthetic and let you sanitize my voice, just because you consider what I write not literary.

It was at that point that I felt a door open inside my head; I physically felt like something clicked. I walked home that day empowered and stubborn and more than a little bit angry, because I realized I'd let a lot of other people try to define who I was. It was at that point that I began working on the novel in earnest, not caring about what anyone thought or what anyone said, and even (gasp) whether or not I would get the PhD. Only then did I begin to move forward, in shifts and fits and starts. Only then did I reclaim my voice.

I wish that I could say that was the end of the "phony police" for me. I wish I could say I fought that battle and won it right then and there, on the middle of a small town, Texas street. But the truth is, I still fight it, although not as often and not in the same way every day. And like Mylene says at the end of her post, every time, I still look into that floating, pointing accuser.

And I say no.


Painting: Mikhail Vrubel, "Six Winged Seraph (Azreal)
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Comments

Joy said…
I can so relate to the phony police! Not just in writing but in some other areas of life too! You have your finger on the pulse of life and you express it so well! Thanks for helping us feel normal.
Nancy J. Parra said…
This is a fabulous post and one I needed to read. Thanks!!
Anonymous said…
Well said! Here's to more doors opening inside our heads.

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