Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Have A Raging Inferiority Complex. Not Surprising, Right?

I'm thinking it's about time for me to go on what my friend Renee calls a "Philosophical Journey." Like most people, I have some issues to resolve, and they need to be resolved before my book debuts.

Because if I'm being honest, I have a lot of very mixed feelings about TRANSPARENT.

But let's start way back in my life. Put simply, I was bullied. The reasons weren't always clear to me as a child. Sometimes it seemed to do with my being Mormon. Sometimes it was that I was smart. Sometimes it was that I wore my aunt's hand-me-downs and looked poor and scraggly. At one point it was because I liked a certain guy. Whatever the reasons, the message I got very early on from people was that I wasn't good enough. I was lesser. And because of that I didn't deserve friendship or kindness.

It hurt. I couldn't show that it hurt, of course, so I had to over compensate. I worked harder in school and became smarter. I poured myself into the few things I did feel like I was good at. I held on to my few friends with a death grip (though they always eventually left or I moved or whatnot). I acted like the toughest, strongest person I could in hopes that no one else would hurt me.

But I was already damaged. Nothing I did was ever good enough. If I didn't get the top score, I was humiliated. If I didn't get the award, it was proof that I still wasn't enough. I was second best. Below. Lesser.

This feeling was so intense that I couldn't even participate in sports. Losing made me feel more horrible than you can imagine—out of control, irrationally horrible. I had nothing resembling sportsmanship, and I was incapable of having fun doing something that could result in my losing. Thus, even though I was a pretty active child, I ended up gravitating to the arts. No clear cut winners or losers, for the most part. It was easier on my damaged mind to remind myself that the art show or essay contest was subjective.

All this to say I had a pretty healthy, if not thriving, inferiority complex growing up.

And every time I wasn't the best—which was often because of course you're not always the best—I fed that complex. "See? Second again. Never first. You will always be below. Why even bother trying?"

I stopped really trying. Not that I was failing classes, but by high school I never put my all into anything anymore. It was easier that way. Then I could say I didn't do my best, so of course I didn't win. I still did well. I even enjoyed with great humor that I was #29 in the top 30 of my class. That was me—the bottom of the overachievers. Good, but not good enough.

I'm not sure I ever really got over my inferiority complex, but it did lessen in college when I was on a bigger campus and it felt like everyone had their own thing. And it lessened again when I met my husband, who loved me so completely and unconditionally that I'd never felt like a more worthy human being. And once again when I had my first baby, and I marveled at what my body, which I had always taken for subpar, was capable of. I felt powerful after that. I really did.

I'm guessing that's why I started writing in earnest again after that. I'd stopped writing stories when I was 15, after a friend of mine read my stuff and gave me a look I knew said, "How do I put it nicely that I didn't like it?" Yes, it hurt so much I didn't try to write creatively until I was 22.

But I did start again, determined this time to keep going because it had always been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. I thought it was only fair to give that dream a try.

It all started out okay. I was stuck in my habits of not really trying, but I was learning and improving every day. And what was even cooler? The MORE I tried, the MORE success I saw. I think it was one of the first experiences in a long time where I saw marked improvement when I put in effort. Each book I wrote got better, and in turn got me more requests, which eventually led to an agent and being on sub.

Everything up to that point was kind of like healing for me. If I put in the work, I saw that I would get results. Maybe I wasn't the best, but I was getting better and maybe I could get there eventually.

Then 2010 happened. TRANSPARENT happened. I started writing the book in 2009, and I was determined to make this thing super, SUPER clean so my poor agent didn't have to go through so many revisions like he had to for my book on sub. Honestly, I probably fell into my over compensating ways again (aka: perfect way to set yourself up for failure). I went through at least four rounds of beta readers. I even asked a writer whom I greatly admired to read my work for the first time, and she agreed. I printed it out, went line by line. I read it out loud. I did absolutely everything in my power to make this book "perfect." I tried. Really, truly tried.

And my agent told me it should be completely rewritten.

I was devastated. Shocked. You mean all that work I did? It was that bad? My full effort still led to a complete failure?

Not to mention this all happened while my other book was failing on sub. TRANSPARENT was supposed to be my back up book, the one I could switch to quickly if my other book died. Now it was the book that was so bad I didn't even have a safety net. And worse, if it was that flawed, then surely all my other books were even WORSE. I felt like I had nothing. Was nothing. And back came the inferiority complex with a vengeance.

For reasons I still can't quite pin down, I did decide to rewrite TRANSPARENT completely, to the extent that at least 95% of the book was new words. I think maybe I felt like I couldn't write something new, because I'd probably just screw that up. I was obviously incapable of writing anything decent on my own (this is what my complex told me, at least).

Well, every page was...kind of torture. Each moment of rewriting that book was a reminder of my failure, of my inferiority. That year I watched friends debut while my book on sub finally bit the dust, thus cementing my failure more. I watched writers get agents, sell their books, AND come out in the time I was on sub. I had to say goodbye to my agent, who surely had to leave the business because he didn't sell my book and it was ALL MY FAULT FOR SUCKING SO MUCH. Literally the only thing that kept me going were my friends Kiersten White and Kasie West, who read each chapter as I wrote it and professed that it was really good, better than before.

I didn't believe them, but I knew I was messed up enough that I had absolutely no gauge of my own ability. All I could see was how horrible I was. How inferior. But I had to finish the "stupid book" because I had absolutely nothing to sub and a new agent waiting on me.

Well, this is epically long, so I'll cut the part where I had to go on medication for anxiety and depression. But it did get that bad. My inferiority complex almost consumed me whole, and I'm still healing from it.

So, truth be told, every time I get a crit for TRANSPARENT I have a panic attack. I have to fight these overwhelming feelings of pain and loss and inferiority. And yet at the same time, somewhere in all this I do know the book is good. I mean, it did sell, for goodness gracious! The work I did, like all the work I did before, ultimately paid off.

But it's still so very muddled. Even though I've had very positive feedback from my editor and from new readers, I still struggle seeing the book or myself as a writer as having merit. Heck, I can't even call myself an author and I don't know if I'll ever be able to. I find myself reading into things to MAKE them sound like others think the book is inferior, too. Sometimes, I'm so scared for this book to come out that I wish I never did this. Or I decide not to have a launch party. I just want to hide, hide, hide and not give anyone else the chance to decide I'm a loser and a horrible writer. I'm pretty good at doing that to myself.

I've been fighting back, baby step by tiny baby step. I know I can find the strength I once had again, hence the need for a Philosophical Journey. Writing hasn't been very easy since all this went down, but I have been writing. And you know what? Writing has been healing. Writing SIDEKICK in particular was my first step on the path back out of this.

I still have a lot of steps to go, but my goal is to be able to stand up at my launch and honestly say that I'm proud of TRANSPARENT, that it's a good book I love. I have like a year and a half to do that, and I think it can be done.

I guess today I wanted to tell you this because people often say bullying isn't that big of an issue. Well, I'm not proud of it, but I've dealt with the repercussions of others' cruel words my whole life. It did shape part of the way I see myself, and I have to fight to change that perception constantly.

Also, people always say you have to be a tough person to be a writer. Clearly, I'm not so tough. I cry a lot. You don't have to be tough to be a writer or any kind of successful person—you have to have endurance. In Japanese they say "Seven times down, eight times up," meaning you always get back up no matter how many times you get knocked down. You can't be so tough you won't get knocked down sometimes. Getting back up is what matters.


  1. I totally understand - I was that kid in grade school, too. It reached a point where I remember one day my mom actually let me stay home from school because I couldn't bear going in to face the other kids. It took me years to climb out from that hole. Having an awesome support network helped.

    Your public face is always so friendly and outgoing, it's hard to believe you aren't full of self-confidence. Thanks for sharing your story; I think many people don't realize that for some, the upbeat confidence is a facade. And that even when you yourself feel you've got your insecurity in hand, all it takes is a couple of big blows to knock you to the edge again.

    I hope you find your self-confidence again, as you did after college/marriage/motherhood. I know what it's like to suffer without it, and you deserve to be happy and enjoy your success. Best wishes.

  2. Oh Natalie, you always amaze me with your honesty. I connect with your journey so much! I think you're incredibly tough because you push through your tears and continue despite everything. If we were friends having coffee, I'd give you the biggest hug. I'm proud to be a follower. Thank you for your message of hope through beautiful transparency.
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  3. man, I wish I knew you in real life, like maybe you were a neighbor or something. We'd have such good sessions analyzing ourselves and consoling each other!

    Thanks for this post ... I have been tossing around a similar blog post for myself but haven't had the courage to put it out there. I think I'll find the courage now.

  4. "I've dealt with the repercussions of others' cruel words my whole life. It did shape part of the way I see myself, and I have to fight to change that perception constantly."

    ^^ I identify with this so so much. It's actually something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately and I've been working on my own blog post that hits on this feeling. I've been so afraid for so long now, and I'm really trying to change that. To become the kind of person I want to be.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I admire your bravery!

  5. Thank you for sharing this; it doesn't sound like it was an easy post to write. I can definitely relate to your feelings - your paralyzing fear of failure, your inability to look at yourself and your work objectively. I can't tell you how many things I haven't given myself permission to try because I'm afraid I'll end up looking stupid or disappointing myself. And I'm so sure, so often, that my writing is terrible, even when people I trust assure me otherwise. Like you, I tend to beat myself up... and then turn around and beat myself up for beating myself up too much!

    Sometimes it is very hard to love ourselves.

    Here is what I try to remind myself: my job on this earth is not to write the perfect book, or make straight A's, or hit a home run every time I step up to the plate, or get the big promotion my first year on the job, or be unceasingly successful every moment of every day. My job is to try, and not stop trying. Books where the main character never fails are boring, shallow, and completely lacking in character arc. Failing, and failing again - and then perservering, and learning, and reflecting, and becoming wise and remaining kind and being generous and always, always approaching ourselves and others with love: that's a whole other kind of success. Sometimes - frequently - I get distracted by the other, fleeting kind, the kind that insists on perfection. I start listening to the voice that tells me that because I have failed I am worthless. But the truth is, because I have failed I have had opportunitites to learn from my mistakes. Because I have failed, I can recognize failure in others and forgive them for it. Failure makes us better, if we let it. It sounds like it has made you better. So I think you have nothing to be ashamed of. Your journey is yours, and it has been hard, but YOU ARE A SUCCESS! And that has nothing to do with publishing a book, and everything to do with the fact that you could sit down and write the post you just wrote.

  6. Natalie, you're a strong, brave woman to be able to reveal the pain you've been through like this.

    I've been through bullying. I still see bullies day to day. Wherever you go, someone will target someone they view as weak or different, just to make themselves feel better. Getting hurt doesn't make us weak. Nor does crying. Not getting hurt isn't what makes you tough. Getting back up is what makes you tough.

    You are tough. And you are awesome.

  7. Hey Natalie--

    The honesty in this post is what makes me confident that TRANSPARENT will be awesome. It's going to be completely, totally Natalie, and that is more than enough.

  8. This sounds eerily familiar--like snippets of my own life somehow found their way into someone else's life. It's comforting and horrible to know others have had to deal with being bullied and accompanying the feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. I can imagine how difficult it was for you to write this. I don't know if I could have.

    Not knowing how I will handle the inevitable rejections that come with publishing terrifies me. Not knowing whether it will drag me back down into the darkness and sorrow of depression keeps me from moving forward as quickly as I hoped, but it also drives me to learn more and more about this business.

    You are one of the bravest people I've come across. An inspiration. You've been through so much, but you never give up. You were never knocked down. You stand there, facing the storm and noise, and refuse to stop dreaming no matter what. You give me the courage to keep dreaming.

  9. You are a great person and a great writer. Thanks for sharing this post with us, it is good to know those if us with inner struggles are not alone. I am sure Transparent will be fabulous, simply because it was so raw and hard to write!


  10. Thank you for sharing this. It's like you were inside my head plucking out my high school experience.

    You rule, and I can't wait to read your book.

  11. Thank you so much for writing this, Natalie! I hope you know that you are an inspiration to so many people, myself included. It's nice to see the "real" side of things from an author's perspective (yes--you are an author :)) Best of luck on your "Philosophical Journey", it looks like you're in a good mindset already, though. I know writing it down can especially help to put things in perspective. Anyway, I'm super excited for TRANSPARENT to come out, and I'm sure it's AWESOME!

  12. It's very brave of you to write this, Natalie, and thank you for posting it!

    I think many of us have been down this road.

  13. Thank you for always being so honest on your blog. I think yours was the first blog I started checking every day, because I always came away with something to think about.

    Ever since the first time you mentioned it, I've been dying to read Transparent. I just get more excited every time you write about it! That's not what you're feeling right now, but your readers will reap the benefits of all the amazing work you've put into it, and all the work that came before it in past manuscripts. So thank you for making yourself vulnerable and allowing your work to go out into the world.

  14. Oh Natalie... {hug} This post is everything.

  15. I wish I could give you lots of advice and say something that will make these feelings go away, but that won't happen. Instead I will just say that we have your back and you are kicking butt and taking names. Keep fighting the good fight, and we are behind you every step of the way!

  16. I love you, girl. And I love that book of yours and all your books. I feel so lucky to be able to read your books and to have been part of your journey. You are amazing at taking all the emotion you know and have felt your whole life and using them to create deep, rich characters. I know others will love your books just as much as I do. People already love reading what you create here on your blog. Your books are even better.

  17. You know what makes you tough? The fact that you're here.

    I mean you could be like a wheel in the art machine of a huge graphics company and noone would know your name and you'd never get a crit. But you are brave enough to jump into the ring - a ring that makes the boldest of us (I'm totally overconfident) cringe in fear.

    Don't forget that bravery isn't the lack of fear, it's the ability to face it.

    You're here.

    You're amazing.

    And I, for one, can't wait for TRANSPARENT. *Crosses fingers in hopes I can wrangle an ARC out of someone*

  18. Someone who wasn't tough couldn't write such a strong, inspiring post as this.

    I am another who can't wait to read Transparent - Natalie, you're my favourite writer and I can't even buy a book of yours yet. (Seriously, I can't preorder it yet?!) You blog in such a warm, bubbly, honest and refreshing style that I just know Transparent will be well worth the wait.

  19. Natalie, you've put your heart out in public and it will help others. That was a brave and amazing thing to do and I applaud you for it.

    I can't wait for Transparent. I have also been treated for anxiety and depression due to bullying issues, and you are so right - all we can do is get back up and keep trying. Eight times, eighty times - whatever it takes.

  20. Thank you for this, Natalie! What a beautiful and raw post. When I was teaching, the one thing I had no tolerance for at all was bullying; among other things, this post makes a case for adults doing everything they can to prevent kids bullying each other.

    Thank you for your raw honesty. So many of us writers put so much time and energy into putting on a public "networking" face and trying to appear neutral about everything and trouble-free---but I know that for me, it's posts like these that really help.

  21. Natalie, you didn't give up. That says a lot about you.

  22. :)
    Sometimes, you are your own bully.
    Reading has been healing for me.
    And I believe in you. Even if I don't know you.
    You have the will. You have this open mind. You want to get better and you do what you need to do. You will get there. :)

  23. Seven times down. Eight back up. I love that! And I totally agree that it's the getting back up that matters. I'm not one to give, ever, let alone easily. And the harder someone tries to knock me down the more eager I am to get back up. Falling, like failure, hurts, but the pain eases and life goes on. Better with me in it than out.

  24. I won't even try to write what I want to say about this post because this hits too close to home. (I hear the tears in this post and I echo them.)

  25. I've been stalking your blog silently for a while, and I just wanted to say how much I appreciate the level of honesty you're willing to share with us. Reading a post like this, even though I can't imagine what it was like for you to write, makes me feel less guilty about my own insecurities, and honestly makes me want to keep going even when I worry that I'm not good enough. So thank you.

  26. I'd like to echo the others and thank you for being so honest. These are my FAVORITE kinds of posts to read by authors, because it makes me realize they feel as fragile and frustrated as I most of the time do. Most of all, this article gives me inspiration that I can be/am someone as awesome as you, and that doesn't mean I have to be perfect. It means I need to be patient, work hard, and keep picking myself up again.