If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of “Imposter Syndrome.” It’s something that affects many writers, even really successful ones – that nagging feeling that you aren’t good enough, that you are just fooling everyone, and sooner or later someone will call your bluff.
But there’s another thing that happens to writers that can be just as devastating and difficult to deal with – let’s call it “Void Syndrome.”
It used to be enough to write a decent book, and then send it off to your publisher, letting them take care of everything publication and release related while you got started on your next one. Maybe they set up a book tour for you, sending you off to stores across the country. Or maybe they just get you into bookstores where you could proudly point to your book on the shelf.
The publishing world has changed. Even the big publishers often don’t offer much support to their writers unless you happen to be one of their top earners. And if you are publishing on your own, it all falls on your shoulders.
The Internet has been a boon for independent writers, but it comes with a cost. Writing is a crowded field, filled with wannabe best-selling authors. We are all competing for the same readers, and there are algorithms that are designed to force us to spend money in order to make money. But even this is not guaranteed. Things that worked a few years ago – placing book ads on certain websites , for instance – may no longer work the same way. And don’t give me started on all the costs..
So often as writers, we feel like we are just shouting into the void, spending so much energy and spinning our wheels to little result. Hence I name thee “Void Syndrome.”
I’ve talked to a few friends of mine lately who are close to giving up. It’s not because they’re not good writers, and it’s not because they haven’t poured their hearts and souls into both their work and into getting it out into the world.
But nothing has caught fire. None of their efforts have resulted in even a modest best seller, and it wears on them day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year.
It’s enough to make you want to hang up your writing quill for good.
I’ve had my moments struggling with this. I’ve now been doing this writing thing for nine years. I’ve had some successes – nothing off the charts, but I’ve sold a bunch of books and made a few fans along the way. But I’ve never reached the level of success that I dreamed of – to be published by a NYC publisher and to see my books in bookstores all around the world.
Will I ever get there? Who knows.
But I’ve discovered something important along the way. I am happier when I’m writing. Not necessarily in the moment – that shit is hard. But when I am working on a story, especially a new one, it changes my whole perspective on life.
It comes down to this: writing is an important part of my life, and part of who I am. I write not because I think it will make me rich and famous, although that would certainly be welcome.
I write because I need to write, and because writing fuels my soul.
So when things seem bleak, when I am afraid I will never achieve my goal, I remind myself that this is what I was meant to do. I will reach those whom I’m supposed to reach.
It has to be about the writing, not about the rewards.
So to my friends who are standing at the edge of the void – ask yourself why you write, and try to remember when you were happiest doing it. Then bring it back down to just that – the work.
Maybe you need to write something different. Or maybe take a break. Perhaps you just need to write for yourself for a while, and not for publication.
I am constantly juggling the things I try, looking for a better way forward. I’ll be announcing something new here in the next week or so.
In this new publishing world we find ourselves in, there is no certainty, but there are many paths for us to try.
I write because it makes me feel like the best version of myself. And I write for those who love what I do and celebrate it with me. And so I turn my back on the void, sit back down at my keyboard, and write.
To my writer friends, how do you deal with those moments when you are staring into the void and just want to quit? How do you find a new path forward?
3 thoughts on “Point of View: Void Syndrome”
I just wanted to tell you that I enjoy your emails and columns. Science Fiction is not my favorite genre but I do enjoy your shorter non sci-fi stories – I really liked Flames – and you’re right there are so many authors out there and even the most devoted and speedy reader can’t hope to keep up. The other thing that an author may not realize is that there is no real way for a reader to tell good from mediocre or just plain bad any more. There used to be bookstores and devoted booksellers that would be happy to chat with you about what you may like and alert you on what was coming out but you’re on your own as a reader also not only as an author. Even libraries have changed. So I feel bad for all the authors out there and often think how can they all hope to be noticed and I feel bad for me because I’m probably missing tons of good books but there are only so many hours in the day and they can’t all be devoted to a hobby. I hope your arm is better. And yes the void is real. Every author wants to be on your email list but you can’t hope to read them all – you just have to hope that seeing your name on their list reminds them of you and reminds them to check out your work. They don’t have to read all the emails in order to remember you.
Thanks for the great comment. I think you hit the nail on the head here. We all try to connect to readers, but it’s so much harder even with all the tools we have now. You might enjoy the River City Chronicles if you have not read it yet. 🙂
“So I feel bad for all the authors out there and often think how can they all hope to be noticed and I feel bad for me because I’m probably missing tons of good books but there are only so many hours in the day and they can’t all be devoted to a hobby.”
You have written almost the exact thing I wanted to say. I read about so many books I would like to try. I fortunately can afford to purchase them, or make the effort to get them from the library. I can even get in two or three hours of reading per day. I am still not even close to making a dent in my ever-growing TBR list. It makes me sad for my author friends who work so hard.
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