Please welcome Alethea Kontis, bestselling author, princess, and all around awesome person (the tagline on her website is "optimism is the true resistance"), to Once and Future, where she offers us some wise words on that dreaded beast, Imposter Syndrome.
Earlier this year, I met the only student Katy Kellgren ever had. He told me he just about had to bully her into being his teacher. This amazing, multiple award-winning voice actress with hundreds of audiobooks under her belt truly didn’t believe she knew anything that anyone would want to learn.
And yet, I totally understand why. Because I felt exactly the same way.
As writers, we tell everyone that “Impostor Syndrome” never goes away. It’s true, in a sense. The more we work, the more we learn to recognize it when it pops up—and then we tell it to go away. I mean heck, I winged my fairy tale talk at the Library of Congress. Sure, I wrote up an outline and jotted down a few notes, but fairy tales are something I’ve studied my whole life and genuinely love to talk about. The “OMG WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU IDIOT?? THIS IS THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS!!!” didn’t hit me until about 3/4 of the way into my talk…and by then it was time for questions.
Where that Impostor bugger really loves to rear its ugly head is when you’re starting something new and different. Who are you to think that anyone will follow you down this path your forging? Sure, you’ll make it to the top of that mountain, but what if you turn around and they’re all laughing instead of cheering? That’s right, show up on [Famous Author]’s doorstep, hotshot—she’ll either love you or hate you! And teaching? I mean seriously! Who the heck are you to think that you know anything that anyone wants to learn?
Well, you might be Katy Kellgren. Or you might be me.
In the last few months, it seems like every time I check in on social media, another friend has made a movie deal. Or a TV deal. Or comic book. Or they’re writing for a property I would give my left arm to be part of. Or they sold foreign rights in twenty countries. Or they just shared a picture where some super famous performer is reading their book to his/her kids.
We all reach an age at some point where everyone around us is getting married or having kids, right? Well, when you’re a writer, you reach the age where everyone around you is suddenly Announcing Big Deals. And YES I am happy for them. Immensely! And YES, I get that comparison is the thief of joy. My time will come! But when I posted the link to my online writing workshop for teens, that Impostor voice seeped through the cracks.
Who are you? the Impostor said. Your bestselling book was published 12 years ago. No one remembers you. You haven’t walked a red carpet. No movie stars retweet your posts. Where’s your coloring book? Where’s your HBO series? No one wants to learn from a Nobody.
I could lie and tell you that voice wasn’t constantly in the back of my mind, poking at my ego with its malice. But I won’t. No, I heard that voice loud and clear. But you know what? I did it anyway. And not a ton of kids signed up, but that’s okay. Because SOME DID.
Besides, I told myself, smaller groups are better. Fewer students to forgive me if I screw up, so less pressure for me to put on myself. I’ll feel more comfortable. Stretch my legs. Work the kinks out.
By the end of the first online session (of four), I could feel the magic. I missed working with kids, yes, but more importantly, I had never worked with young writers before. And I don’t ever want to stop working with them for the rest of my life. You know how some teachers say that they feel “a calling”? I do believe I’ve found mine.
AND HERE IS WHY:
—Writers are always asked “If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?” (When I asked Anne McCaffrey this, she said, “To have more sex while I’m young and beautiful.”) My answer is always: Write more. Never stop. And finish what you start. Now…until they invent the TARDIS, I can’t actually go back in time and tall my teenage self this. BUT I CAN TELL THEM. I can tell them all of that, and more!
—I was a teen writer. Would you believe that I actually forgot this would make a difference? I remember what it’s like to have parents who tell you to “major in something that will get you a real job.” I remember form letters from editors telling me never to use a pseudonym. I remember staring at that novel and KNOWING that I wasn’t old enough to write it. Knowing that I just didn’t have the experience yet to tell the story the way it needed to be told. Knowing that I had not known enough pain and hardship and broken hearts and death. I remember how the stories still wanted to be told, regardless, and how my friends wanted me to write them all, no matter what.
—I had that Cinderella story. I peaked early, both as an actress and a writer. Of course, I didn’t know it at at the time—that’s the curse of peaking early in one’s career. You don’t know how to handle it until it’s too late. But if writing is what you want—if it’s what you really want—nothing will be able to stop you. In the meantime, you lean the hard way how to buckle down and teach yourself a work ethic. You watch friends come up from beneath you and rise above you in record time. Sometime they stay your friends. Sometimes they don’t. You begin to recognize which projects are wort spending time on…and which people, too.
That last bit came directly out of all that vile nonsense the Impostor voice had been spewing. It made me laugh to think that all those reasons I was telling myself I had no business teaching young people was exactly the reason why I should be teaching….especially young people.
It’s true. The Impostor never really goes away. But my teens will learn its tricks, and they will learn them far earlier than I did. AND THEN THEY WILL RULE THE WORLD.
Want to know more about Alethea Kontis's upcoming classes? Follow her on social media (Twitter @AletheaKontis, Facebook @AletheaKontis) and check out her Eventbright profile here: https://www.eventbrite.com/o/alethea-kontis-16376673838
New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a voice actress, a force of nature, and a mess. She is responsible for creating the epic fairytale fantasy realm of Arilland, and dabbling in a myriad of other worlds beyond. Her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. Host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con, Alethea also narrates for ACX, IGMS, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. Born in Vermont, Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and the magic, wonderful world in which she lives here: https://www.patreon.com/princessalethea