I once heard one of the most talented people I know say, unironically and in all seriousness, “I don’t think I’m qualified to be on a panel abut imposter syndrome.”
Let that sink in for a minute.
Some of the smartest, most talented, hardest-working people I know often express to me (usually in private, so no one knows) how doubtful they are that they are really good at what they do. I’d say this is mind-boggling… except that I totally get it. My mental issues aren’t a secret, but they absolutely include being afraid that everyone who is impressed with me or my work has just been fooled, and at some point the “truth” is going to come out and I’ll never be able to sell game material or my writing ever again.
When I had just a few magazine articles to my credit, maybe that made sense. But now, after 20 years of this being my career? It just doesn’t jive with the facts in evidence. But even knowing that, I struggle with it on a regular basis.
That struggle has forced me to build coping mechanisms, many based on my pop-psych opinions on why imposter syndrome is an issue for me, and maybe why it is for other folks as well. In case any of that is useful to someone else (and, you know, why would it be given that I clearly have no idea what I am talking about), this article outlines some of those mechanisms.
Fake It Even After You Make It
A little humility can help you be likable and relatable. Too much humility gets you less work, less money, and less respect.
So, even when you have your own doubts, you may need to move forward on the premise that you actually can do the work, well, and are worth being paid for it. And paid well.
Sadly, no one else is likely to come along and be a great advocate for you. If you don’t stand up for yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. So when someone asks you your rate, or your qualifications, or your value, you tell them what you think an actual expert with all your achievements and credits would say, rather than equivocate and undercut yourself.
In my case, I often lean on the idea that I owe it to *other* people to have a good career, and to be compensated for the work I do. I can think about the impact of my being underpaid on my family, friends, and even society as a whole more easily than I can think in terms of what I am worth.
Luckily as a roleplayer, I can often think about how someone is confident in their value might act, even when I completely lack that confidence.
Trust the Mentors in Your Life
As I mentioned, I know a lot of amazingly smart, fantastically talented people. Some of them are mentors to me, varying from those who are better and more experienced in everything I do to those who are willing to give me guidance in one specific area where I’m lacking. While those people are often underwhelmed with their own accomplishments, they generally reinforce the public perception of my skills.
Even when I tell them all the reasons that perception is an illusion.
So, if I know these people are smart and wise and great, and they are telling me I’m not an imposter… there’s a logical conclusion there. Now, often my brain tells me the conclusion is “I have them all fooled, and when they figure it out they’ll never talk to me again.” But, since these really ARE people smarter than me, that just doesn’t make sense.
No, if I value their opinions, and I do, that has to include their opinions of me. Intellectually at least, even if I still reject the idea emotionally.
Good mentors can also be a great resource when trying to decide if you are terrified to take on something slightly different because you are your own worst critic, or if it’s a legitimate concern about something that needs skills and/or experience you lack.
Be A Mentor to Others
Obviously mentoring others is a good act for the industry as a whole, and if you have mentors, it’s only fair to pay it forward by providing the same service for other.
And that’s the best reason to become a mentor. But it’s not why this is a good coping mechanism for imposter syndrome.
Nothing proves to your subconscious that you actually have value like helping others find their own value. You may well end up convinced the people you are mentoring are smarter, more talented, and better-liked than you are (that often happens to me), but being part of that process is still helpful to fighti8ng off feelings you are somehow getting by with less skill than people think you have.
Analyze Failure Fairly
This one is particularly tough, and I’m bad at it. But it’s also crucial, so I feel I have to mention it, at least as something to work on.
When you fail, and everyone fails sometimes, you have to analyze that failure in a fair, even, and balanced manner. Otherwise, it just becomes one more reason to not trust or believe in yourself.
For me personally, that means waiting a bit from point of failure to analysis, because until I get some space from the frustration, anger, and embarrassment of failing, I can’t possibly do a balanced analysis. This doesn’t have to mean letting yourself off the hook if you made bad decisions, but it does mean giving yourself some benefit of the doubt on how circumstances played into things going wrong. Since I am bad at giving myself the benefit of the doubt, I try to focus on identifying what I want to do differently in the future to prevent a similar failure, and what signs I should look out for to try to identify potential failures before they happen. By framing my mental efforts in ways that seem useful in the future, I am more likely to be fair to myself.
That DOES mean that when I am done analyzing a failure if the answer I come up with is “I was stupid, this was entirely my fault,” it stings. But that pain can also help me prevent being stupid in the same way ever again, and that knowledge—that I have learned from the experience—can help fight feelings of total incompetence.
Don’t Compare Your Secret Apples to Other People’s Public Oranges
I am personally convinced one major cause of imposter syndrome is the tendency to take all the things you know about yourself—your struggles, your doubts, your dissatisfaction with what you produce—and compare it to only the public, successful face of other people. After all, if you know you could have done better on a project, and no one else ever talks about how they could have done better on any of their efforts, that means you’re worse than them, right?
But it doesn’t.
Especially as social media has become ubiquitous and especially in creative endeavors where having a reputation as a smart, well-liked, talented, successful creator can mean better opportunity and more pay, most people you are comparing yourself to have no incentive to air their doubts, problems, or failings. So if you take the sum whole of all the problems you know you have, and compare that only to the public face of other people, you’re not making a fair comparison.
Everyone has problems now and then. Most people have doubts, and the ones who don’t are honestly often assholes and/or people suffering from the Dunning–Kruger effect. But since such things are often taken as weakness, not a lot of people discuss their problems in depth. And even those who do often frame their doubts and struggles in a positive way, or hold back the truly painful or embarrassing things they’d rather not be well-known.
That means that when you look around at your peers, you are certain to see their achievements much more clearly than their letdowns. If you try to compare that to everything you know about yourself, including all the things that aren’t obvious from the outside, you’re grading on a negative curve. Of course all of your reality doesn’t compare to the curated public appearance of other people. Especially since you are most likely to [ick people with the highest visibility to compare yourself to, and those are the people who do the best job making themselves look good.
This is another place where having a mentor, or even just a trusted peer, can be extremely helpful in maintaining perspective.
Celebrate Every Achievement
Ultimately, I think imposter syndrome is more about fear and gut feelings than rationality and logic, and as a result all the well-reasoned efforts to talk yourself out of it in the world can only go so far. For the emotional component, you also have to make sure you celebrate your own achievements.
Every publication. Every interview. Every review—even bad reviews mean you impacted someone enough for them to take time to write about it. Abso-damn-lutely every award or honor, even the ones you think are dumb or should have gone to someone more deserving. You celebrate all of it.
I recommend celebrating it publicly, because private celebrations often seem less impactful, but you do you. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but you DESERVE to be proud of everything you make. The very voice telling you right now that no one wants to hear about your new book, or the blog post you wrote, or your review of an obscure fantasy movie from 1973, is the same one that tells you that you aren’t a “real” creative, and that you don’t measure up to other people.
The fight to take the credit you have earned IS the fight against imposter syndrome.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Yes, or course, that’s the entire point of rejecting imposter syndrome. But here I literally mean don’t assume you aren’t monetarily worth the best rate you can get. I have seen people actually undercut the price agreed upon for a project before anyone else mentions money.
Don’t do that.
On very, very rare occasions offering to do a job for less might be appropriate. If it doesn’t meet some aspect of a contract and it’s entirely your fault is the main one… and even then it’s rarely something you should bring up without the other party at least suggesting things need to be adjusted.
Instead, as for raises. See if your per-word rate can be increased. Suggest you deserve perks, like more free copies, bigger credit, more advertising for the project, or opportunities to cherry-pick assignments.
I can’t tell you if you need to fight imposter syndrome. There are people who are legitimately trying to punch above their weight, and for those people this advice could do more harm than good.
But if a lot of your fans, or a few of your peers, or even one of your mentors keeps telling you that you’re more awesome than you can possibly accept?
Then you probably are.
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The Cthoul are horrific creatures that exist as much in higher dimensions of realist as they do the Material Plane. Though their forms can shift and morph depending on the circumstance, their true nature being too foreign to mortal comprehension to ever be entirely perceived or grasped, they are most often encountered as think humanoid creatures, with bulbous heads, long tentacles emerging from their lower face, and spindly, clawed fingers.
The Cthoul are not native to our reality, and much of their power comes from their power to draw rules of operation from their twisted, alternate dimensional extensions to wrap and pervert the natural environment. Their home dimension–a palce so wrong by any reasoned thought it is known only as the Inversity–is not well understood, though it is known it has easier access to the lands of Leng and the FiendWebs than normal space. It is believed to be a reality that was entirely formed from the unconscious dreams of the Great Old One, Cthulhu, and that the Cthouls appearance is a trifle of the cosmic demands that reality made on life which evolved from it’s befouled origins. The Cthoul themselves do not speak of this theory, and while they alternatingly venerate and enslave horrific elder beings, they have no special affinity for, or understanding of, Cthulhu.
Ancient, often mind-shattering histories of long-lost alien civilizations claim that once the Cthoul ruled a vast Empire that spanned all of known existence. But that ur-reality was split, with different gods and other cosmic powers scrambling to carve out alterverses over which they would hold sway, and the Cthoul were cut off from much of the mortal mortal existence. Now they can reach realms conceivable by humanoid minds only rarely, though their banishment was neither complete nor absolute. Their twisted star vessels of indescribable color seem able to invade our reality only when those who crave their secrets summon them, or the conjunctions of planar energies form weaknesses in the weft of spacetime they can violate.
Cthoul’s very presence places pressure on the sanity of those who perceive or approach them and they seem sustained (or at least entertained) by this effect, causing them to also be known as lucidivores or “mind eaters.” They are physcially extremely strong and resilient, though each Cthoul appears to be harms by some substance or energy, but there is no commonality to what that is. They also have powerful psionic powers, and know fell magics that can pervert, twist, corrupt, and blast everything from common matter to the very souls of those who oppose them.
Cthoul plans always follow some horrific, aberrant logic, and often involve steps that occur on alternate planes of reality, making their purpose or goal literally incomprehensible to mortal minds. That said, their schemes and efforts always seem bent on creating horror, fear, pain, and despair, and some appear to take particular pleasure in torture specific species, personality types, or even accursed individuals. to be the object of a Cthouls attention for years, or even generations, in particularly dreadful, for they cannot be bargained with or trusted, and their minds can conceive of ordeals no sane being would contemplate, much less inflict on living beings. And even if driven off, slain, or utterly destroyed in normal space, most of a Cthoul exists in reality beyond the reach of even the most powerful outsiders, and once their multidimensional selves heal, they can return to execute more foul events.
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If you want to find me, here are your best bets (and what metaphysical hat I’ll be wearing at each event). If you want to set up a time to meet or hang… better do it fast! My schedule it already pretty full!
I arrive just before dinnertime. I have a SMOG (secret master’s of gaming) event around 8pm into the evening. If you are a friend or a SMOG and you’re interested in knowing more, ping me. 😊
Seminar: Starfinder 101
Room: ICC 212
A seminar with the amazingly talented Amanda Kunz, Joe Pasini, and Rob McCreary! We’ll have some things to say you haven’t heard before!
Plus, this will be streamed!
Seminar: Starfinder RPG Rules Q&A
Room: ICC 212
You have question about Starfinder? We have answers! Myself, and the spectacularly smart Jason Keeley and Joe Pasini.
Plus, this will be streamed!
I’ll be at a SMOG invitational event.
I’ve got lunches and meetings until 2:30-3.
Green Ronin/Paizo Hat!
8pm to ??
Ceremony: The ENnnies!
Room: Union Station
Industry folks gather in a ceremony to see who wins what. Plus, this will be streamed!
Seminar: Starfinder RPG Design Workshop
Room: ICC 212
Myself, and some brilliant games folk—Amanda Kunz, Joe Pasinsi, and Rob McCreary, will talk Starfinder RPG design with the audience. Ticketed. NDAs. Not streamed. No one in after start time.
Event: GAMERS LIVE: Rise of the Worldbuilders
Room: ICC 500/Ballroom
I have no idea what I am doing here. Come watch the hilarity that brings!
Seminar: Digital Tools – Game System Diversity
Room: Lucas Oil : Mtg Rm 2
Curious about the future of leading tech tools such as Hero Lab, Fantasy Grounds, & D20 Pro? Join me and those company’s founders to learn about the many systems they support & their future plans.
7:30-ish to the wee hours
I’ll be at a Secret Masters of Gaming event. If you are a friend, or a SMOG, and you’d like to know more, ping me. 😊
Seminar: Designing Planets for Starfinder
Room: ICC 212
Myself and the stellar creative talents Lacy Pellazar and Chris Sims! We did this one at paizoCon, and it was a big hit!
Plus, it’s going to be streamed!
I’ll be sequestered until 10 or 11. 😊
My flight isn’t until 6, but I already have a 1pm lunch, and I need to be at the airport by 3 or so.
One of my soft spots is when something I loved as a child is presented as being important.
This is, of course, mostly the case with fictionally important.
The new Godzilla trailer takes something I loved (and am still quiet fond of), and presents it in a way that tells my subconscious “This matters. This is important. Your faith in this is about to be rewarded.”
It’s nostalgia as a form of wish-fulfillment validation. I’m not just reacting to the idea that I get new stories about thing I like, I am enjoying the sense of being *right* to have enjoyed those things before. My personal preferences are (fictionally) affirmed as worthwhile and (within the fictional context) world-changing.
I’m not claiming this is a good thing. Indeed, i suspect it is strongly related to the feelings that can become toxic fandom, which is one reason why in entertainment, I try to focus on things I like, rather than things I don’t.
But to me, it’s an interesting reaction worth analyzing and considering. ESPECIALLY if it is related to the kinds of feelings that can lead to toxic reactions.
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This is the third in my series of Writing Basics blog articles, designed for people who want to write game material (especially tabletop RPGs), and are looking to pick up some insights into how to be better at its weird mix of creative writing and technical writing. These are all lessons I didn’t get in any school or class, or at least that I apply in ways no class ever suggested.
In this entry, we’re going to talk about the all the work you should be doing after you are done writing, but before you turn over the manuscript. This stuff can be a drag, especially since the thrill of writing something may be gone once you are done actually writing it, but these last checks are often the difference between a polished manuscript that gets people’s attention, and a barely-useful mess that requires significant work from your developer/editor/producer/publisher to bring up to their standards.
The Cold Read-Through
Done with your writing project? Great!
Now put it down, and leave it alone for at least a few days. A week is better.
Then reread it all from scratch, beginning to end.
Yes, this requires you have some extra time between the completion of your manuscript and the deadline. This is one of the hardest things to actually arrange for in real-world conditions… but it’s also one of the most useful. One of the reasons I often do drafts of ideas here in my blog is that when I get around to wanting to turn them into full products, I’ve been away from them so long I can look at them with almost-fresh eyes.
It’s amazing, at least for me, how often I didn’t quite say what I thought I did. This is the most reliable way for me to find unclear rules, inelegant phrases, and run-on sentences. Besides, you ought to be shooting to be done well before your deadline anyway, just in case you get kidney stones while a hurricane affects your employer so they need to to work weirdly scheduled extra shifts.
Common Personal Error Checklist
Do you write affect when you mean effect? Do you often capitalize Class and Race names, when that’s not the style of the game you are writing for? Do you forget to italicize spell names and magic items, when that IS the style of the game you are writing for? Do you write x2 to indicate doubling something, when your publisher uses <<TS>>2?
As you discover things you do on a regular basis that are wrong, make a checklist. When you are convinced your manuscript is done, run through that list of common errors, and check for them. And make it a living document—if you stop writing “could of done better” in place of “could’ve done better,” you can take it off your personal error checklist.
Hopefully, we’re all running spellcheck as the very last thing before we turn over our manuscripts, right? Okay, good.
But just running the base program isn’t good enough.
Games often have a lot of string-of-letters that aren’t words any program recognizes off-the-shelf.
Deosil. Otyugh. Sith. Bloodrager. Starfinder.
You need to have a strategy for making sure you spelled all those correctly. If you just skip over these words in a spellcheck, “knowing” that the spellchecker doesn’t recognize them, you risk have a manuscript with a Starfidner ritual for Otuyghs to dance desoil around the Blodrager Circle.
There are two good ways I have found to fix this.
If a word is going to be used a lot in your writing, it may be worth entering it in your word processor’s dictionary. That’s generally not difficult, but when you do it make SURE you are entering the correct spelling of the new/imaginary word or name. Otherwise you can turn spellchecker into an error-generating device, and that sucks.
Alternatively, you can actually take the time to check the spelling of every weird word spellcheck flags for you. Is the god named Succoth-benoth, or Seccoth-bunoth, or Succoth Benoth? You can write down the correct spelling, or have it in another tab, and check it carefully each time you run into it.
If you have some common misspellings you find, you can search for those errors and replace them (one by one—NEVER replace all, it can seriously dawizard your credibility) before you make the word-by-word check for the correct spellings.
Different grammar checker programs have different levels of value, but most can at least be used to help find common writing problems such as passive voice, agreement errors, and sentence fragments. In my experience you can’t trust any grammar checker program, but it’s worth looking at anything it flags and double-checking your own work.
Check you Headers to make sure they still make sense with your final manuscript. If your publisher uses specific text style formatting (as Paizo does, for example), make sure you have the right formatting in the right places. If you aren’t sure about some specific formatting, it’s generally good to ask. Your developer/editor/producer/graphic designer/publisher CAN fix your formatting… but that takes time away from them doing more important work to make your manuscript awesome. Also, it generally does not endear you to them.
Most publishers have a file format they want to work with. Check with them if they don’t mention it. There can be important differences between .doc, docx, .rtf, and a Google doc. Remember that to get more work and be paid a higher rate (or to have people be happy to work for you, if you are self-published but not self-laid-out), you want to make your developer/editor/producer/graphic designer/publisher’s job as easy and pleasant as possible.
Once you really and truly are done and you turn your manuscript over, it’s time to think about how you can learn from it. With luck, your developer/editor/producer/graphic designer/publisher will give you direct feedback. But to be honest, time is money in this industry, and they often won’t have time to help you be better. In those cases, I find it useful to see what the final version of the published material looks like, and examine how it is different from what I wrote. This isn’t always about something being “wrong” when you turned it in, but about what changes the people who are paying you and that you want to give you more work thought made your manuscript better.
This is like the cold read-through or post-mortem, but it takes place months or years later. When you look at your past work, and consider what you might do differently now.
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The Avarice cult steals from the sin cultists’ enemies… but also eventually steals from the other sin cultists, and is destroyed by the Wrath cult.
The Wrath cult strikes at the sin cultists’ enemies, but eventually gets itself killed.
The Lust cult drives the passions of the other cultists, and is drawn especially to Pride cult.
The Envy cult tries to demoralize the enemies of the cult, but ends up destroying itself by attacking the Lust and Pride cults.
The Pride cult can’t help but talk about how great the cult is, revealing themselves and the Lust cult in time and getting rounded up.
The Gluttony cult is then nearly alone and, having fed on the riches of the other cults, is too out of shape to accomplish anything when it tries to consume more.
And the Sloth cult?
The sloth cult does nothing, surviving the destruction of the other cults, and spreads the rumor it is destroyed. Then, it grudgingly restarts those other cults, so it can avoid having to do anything else to keep its foes from finding it.
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