Imposter syndrome is so common amongst poets that I’m even in an (excellent) Facebook group named after it, where artists encourage each other to apply for opportunities etc that they normally wouldn’t consider themselves for.
I am also very public about the fact that I am neurodivergent and (acutely) mentally ill. So I guess its a surprise to literally no one that, in the weeks following the news that I would be receiving a Developing Your Creative Practice grant (called DYCP grant for short), imposter syndrome came for me.
It didn’t happen the way I expected it to. I knew that my initial meeting with C.B. would be difficult for me, and I would have to manage my anxiety and my nerves, until the initial triggers (new person, new format, one on one meeting etc) passed. I thought that my imposter syndrome would focus in on that terrifying new professional relationship. I have, after all, had very few professional relationships in writing so far, and the ones I do have mostly come from my Creative Writing degree (where my brain can tell me my lecturers had to be nice because I was one of their students).
In reality, it was sneakier than that. I got an email from Stuart (my publisher at Verve Poetry Press) asking me to think about a book title. I came up with a longlist (about 90 odd), a shortlist (about 13), and even felt that tug inside of which one I hoped people would say they liked best to validate my draw towards it.
And when my favourite title for my collection wasn’t in anyones top three from the short list, I started to feel the full weight of this project and the book.
You only get one debut collection. And most people have it after their debut pamphlet. If I don’t produce something amazing, my subsequent works will not be eligible for a bunch of prizes and competitions restricted to firsts. I’d have wasted it.
Suddenly things like book titles, and descriptions, and covers seemed too massive to comprehend. I haven’t even started the mentorship yet! And whilst I have a good chunk of the book’s contents written (far too much in fact) I am struggling to know which poems to include, which to edit, and which to tuck away in my secret file called ‘Poems that MUST die’. There are so many variables in the air right now. So much possibility for failure, or perceived failure. Lots of times when people are going to have to tell me no. And I’m going to have to wrestle with rejection sensitivity dysphoria on top of a (currently) shaky mental health foundation.
But I am not entirely despairing.
I feel excited, and still completely disbelieving that I would receive this amazing grant. That someone I don’t know believes in my career, my vision or my poetry, or some mad combination. That they think I’m worth investing in, in a way.
As the guy at the Apple store said today, ‘They gave you money to write poems. You must be pretty good!’. Is that true? It still feels like I’ve pulled the wool over everyones eyes and people are going to be so disappointed. And I’m not sure which is closer to the truth. So I’ve decided to focus on the point of the book. The whole damn purpose. Which isn’t to blow the literary world’s mind… it’s to help some one feel less alone with their brain demons. It’s to stop them having to feel how I did, when I was housebound and suicidal 24 hours a day without support, or mental health services, or hope.
If I can remain focused on what I wanted to write this collection for, why I wanted the world to have it, then hopefully I can find a way to not disappoint myself.
We’ll see how that turns out.