He thinks that he's bad, when his shit is so sad
But he's taking the bows for what he's never had
(And he never will)
-Bill Champlin, "Stone Cold Hollywood"
That song lyric kept running through my head as I simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded Readercon.
Cross-reference my list of literary idols with Readercon 21's guest list, and you'll see a great many names in common. The thought of sharing oxygen with those writers just blew my mind. I did my best to prepare for a war against my shy, introverted nature.
For awhile, it was a war of attrition.
I tried explaining to a friend, who isn't a writer, that this was more than fanboy nerves. Because I wasn't going as just a fan. I was going as a writer. Not that I had a clear idea of what "going as a writer" meant. Just that my worst fear was striking up a conversation with one of my idols (say, Howard Waldrop), mention I'm a writer, and get told, "Go 'way kid, you bother me."
I told my friend, "It's almost like I don't have the right to be there." To which she responded, "What--you paid, right?"
Yes, I'd paid the con registration, entitling me to a name badge. And yes, according to Hoyle, I am a writer, insofar as I do write and have gotten published once in a blue moon. I've even been paid for some of those acceptances. But, none of that helped me feel like a writer going in to Readercon. The idea of walking in, declaring myself "a Writer," and even tacitly imply that I'm remotely in the same ballpark as some the con's guests--well, that just seemed delusional at best, and pretentious at worst.
Howard Waldrop is a writer. Mary Robinette Kowal is a writer. Junot Diaz, who came as Samuel "Chip" Delaney's guest--they're both writers. What was I, compared to them?
It was a conversation with Jaym Gates during a late-night caffeine-run that finally put a name to it. She said what I'd been feeling:
"I feel like a fraud."
Yup, that was it. That was what I felt like. Suuuure, I was a writer... the way someone who got a standing ovation one night singing "Sweet Transvestite" at a karaoke bar can call himself a singer. And, I'm damn sure not a singer.
Oddly enough, that feeling became easier to deal with once it had a name. I could unpack it a bit: I realized that I wasn't defrauding anybody. I certainly wasn't going around telling people that I was in the same league as Waldrop or Kowal or Diaz or Delany or Hopkinson or Rosenbaum or Hand or Valente--obviously, I never even thought that of myself. And, just what the hell is being a "Writer" supposed to feel like, anyway?
Those realizations allowed me to be at Readercon as what I was, and to do what I went there to do. Remember that John Waters quote I fixated on awhile back? Well, I'll be damned if focusing on my Readercon goals, rather than my personal insecurities, didn't help me to "ignore how maladjusted [I] would be if [I] had the time to notice it in the first place."
By the end of the con, I met almost all of my Twitter peeps I'd intended to meet. I got the one autograph I coveted. I met 98% of the idols I planned to meet and even one I didn't. Yes, I let a few slip away (namely, 'zine editors who've rejected me). And my insecurities didn't just vanish. But the important thing was that, on at least two occassions, I was able to tell people who asked me what I did:
"I write stories."
So, that's how I processed my feelings of being an emperor with no clothes. Now, go see Jaym do the same thing.