Friends often send me texts: “I want to apply for this job, but I don’t fit the qualifications. Do you think I should go for it?”
That’s really similar to, “I want to write this book, but I don’t think anyone will take me seriously.”
A few years ago, I went to New York City for the first time (as an adult). I was there to celebrate my 10th anniversary with my amazing wife, and we were on our own dime. We couldn’t afford to take cabs, so it was time to learn to use the subway. We’d never done it before. Without asking anyone, we started trying to get around, checking maps and cross-referencing. Before long, we ended up in Brooklyn as we tried to hit Times Square.
For those who know New York, that’s a Super Subway Fuck Up™.
Thing is, we kept at it, never calling a cab, rarely asking for help, and within two days, found the whole MTA to be a breeze. I can now capably navigate the city,* much to my agent’s delight. (I think he was tired of meeting me in Manhattan.)
*New Yorkers will disagree with my assessment of our abilities.
Two years ago, I was asked to help my sister move home. She’d rented this gargantuan moving truck, and for some reason, it fell on me to operate it. For reference, most of my decade has been spent behind the wheel of a 2006 Saturn Ion–not exactly a truck. So, I jumped behind the wheel and started driving. It wasn’t hard; I just had to take it slow and watch for jackasses. I quickly found my patience made me adept with a large vehicle.
And this year, I got a tie-in novel and a three book deal. I’ve never written a tie-in, nor have I ever written a sequel to any of my books. Those deals came, in some part, from my first book sale: a book written in a literary style I’d never tried before.
I’m not saying this to be self-congratulatory. Keep reading.
By the same token, I’ve entered countless contests, written music more than a few albums, written games, worked on failed games and scrapped four novels. I’m sure there are more novel scraps in my future.
Writing a tie-in turned out to be tons of fun, and my writing style worked well inside the Alien universe. I now feel like I should’ve written more fanfic in high school. (I did write some. I am never telling you what.)
I’m working on my first ever sequel now. I’ve found that it’s surprisingly challenging, and I want to scream at my novel every five seconds or break down sobbing. Here I am on the world stage, finally given a shot at a nice, fat book deal–and I have no idea what I’m doing.
The only thing I can have is intent and effort. Sometimes the rest falls into place. Sometimes it doesn’t. Hopefully, readers will love both upcoming books, and people worldwide will adore my writing and we will all toast to my success, huzzahs and wonderment for all.
But I don’t get to choose how everyone feels about my writing. I just get to make it, work with some terrific editors… and shove the book out of the nest, to hope it flies before it’s eaten by cats. I can choose the work. The results are whatever they’ll be.
If you’re feeling that impostor syndrome, repeat after me, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” Then look around you: no one else knows what they’re doing, either. You cannot truly know how to do a job before you’re doing it. People can claim all the credentials and training in the world, but when it comes right down to it, experience is the only credential that matters.
And conversely, remember this: the only way to become an expert is to stagnate. If you stop moving into uncomfortable territory and redo the same thing every time, you’ll get good at it.
So yes. Go get that job.
Write that book.
You have no idea what you’re doing, and be excited about it!