Are You a Writing Success or an Imposter?

Success, by definition, means different things to different folks. Most writers probably see “success” as being published—repeatedly. They work hard, take risks, and accept that being exposed to failure is part of success. They’re confident souls and keep-on-writing regardless of what others think. Then, there are those who outwardly “make it” but, deep inside, see themselves as imposters.

Yesterday morning, I was reading an online article at Global News which is one of Canada’s leading media sites. The piece was occasionally interrupted with paid ads by prominent players like Ford, Ikea, Microsoft, Audible, and Formica who financially support Global so they can survive in the commercial news biz. All of a sudden I went, “Whoa! Am I really seeing this?”

Before my eyes was an advertisement from Rakuten Kobo, and there was the cover of my newest publication. Kobo chose my book Between The Bikers as their featured promotion and exposed it before I don’t know how many critical eyes. And this Global ad was bought and paid for by Kobo—not me. I knew nothing about the promo before stumbling upon it.

I said to Rita, “Well, will you look at this…” My wife glanced, smiled, and replied, “You’re quite the success.” I had to agree, but then I immediately thought of an earlier email exchange with a highly successful UK writer friend who told me he suffers from Imposter Syndrome (IS).

Before going into what Imposter Syndrome might be, I had to click on Dictionary.com for two definitions:

Successnoun

  1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.
  2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
  3. a performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors: The play was an instant success.
  4. a person or thing that has had success, as measured by attainment of goals, wealth, etc.: She was a great success on the talk show.

Imposternoun

  1. a person who practices deception under an assumed character, identity, or name.

This got me thinking, What if I’m just an imposter, a bullshit clown, and this Kobo recognition hasn’t been honestly earned? I know that friends, family, and former police colleagues—as well as fellow writers—are going to see this thing, click on it, and expose me for what I might truly be. Oh, the humiliation…

I don’t know who, or how many, saw the Kobo ad. I guess upcoming stats will tell if the promo was successful, but the startling experience made me think of my UK friend and what was going on with his IS insecurity. So, I did some Googling and came up with a fascinating article and self-examination on the New York Spirit psychology-therapy site titled What Is Imposter Syndrome? It opens like this:

“Welcome to the world of the Imposter Syndrome. It is a secret world, inhabited by successful people from all walks of life who have one thing in common – they believe that they are not really good enough. They might be men or women, young or old. And imposter beliefs are not always related to work; I have met ‘imposters’ who feel they are not good enough parents, husbands, wives, friends or even not good enough human beings. These are all variations of Imposter Syndrome, especially when there is little objective evidence to support the sufferers firmly held self-beliefs that they are frauds.

The term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ or ‘Imposter Phenomenon’, was first coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in a paper entitled ‘The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention’.

 The condition was described as being ‘an internal experience of intellectual phonies’ that afflicted some high-achieving women. In their paper, Clance and Imes described their sample group of 150 women as follows, ‘despite their earned degrees, scholastic honors, high achievement on standardized tests, praise and professional recognition from colleagues and respected authorities… [they] do not experience an internal sense of success. They consider themselves to be “impostors”.’ They go on to explain that these women believe they have only achieved their success due to errors in selection processes, or because someone has overestimated their abilities, or that it is due to some other external source.”

Drs. Clance and Imes list three characteristics that define Imposter Syndrome:

  1. Persistently attributing your success to external factors like luck or others.
  2. Believing others have an inflated view of your skills, abilities, and talents.
  3. Fearing you’ll be found out and exposed as a fake.

The New York Spirit piece notes that Imposter Syndrome isn’t a recognized mental health condition. (I checked with the DSM-5 and it’s not.) However, through Wikipedia I found a book by researcher Valerie Young titled The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It. In her book, Ms. Young identified five subgroups this syndrome falls into.

  1. The perfectionist
  2. The superwoman/man
  3. The natural genius
  4. The soloist
  5. The expert

Ms. Young states more than 70% of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their career. That’s regardless if they’re a rocket surgeon, brain scientist, or crime/thriller/mystery writer.

Back to the New York Spirit article. I love quizzes and was most interested in taking their short self-assessment to see whether or not I had Imposter Syndrome. This is how NY Spirit described it: This quiz is based on the common symptoms outlined above and is not meant to be a diagnostic mental health tool, but rather a quick and simple way to ascertain to what degree you feel like you are an imposter. It goes like this…

How easy do you find it to accept praise?
Very hard — 1    Quite hard — 2    Quite easy — 3    Very easy — 4

When you do something well, how likely are you to dismiss it as not really much (eg it was easy, anyone could have done that, it was nothing special).
Very likely — 1    Quite likely — 2    Not very likely — 3    Not at all likely — 4

When you do something well, how likely are you to attribute your success to luck?
Very likely — 1    Quite likely — 2    Not very likely — 3    Not at all likely — 4

When you do something less well, how likely are you to attribute your failure to luck?
Not at all likely — 1    Not very likely — 2    Quite likely — 3    Very likely — 4

When you perform poorly, or fail, how likely are you to attribute your failure to your own lack of skill or not working hard enough?
Very likely — 1    Quite likely — 2    Not very likely — 3    Not at all likely — 4

When you do something well how likely are you to attribute your success to other people’s input (‘they helped me’)?
Very likely — 1    Quite likely — 2    Not very likely — 3    Not at all likely — 4

When you do something poorly how likely are you to attribute your failure to other people (‘it was their fault’)?
Not at all likely — 1    Not very likely — 2    Quite likely — 3    Very likely — 4

How important is it for you to be the best at something that matters to you?
Very important — 1    Quite important — 2    Not very important — 3    Not at all important — 4

How important is success for you?
Very important — 1    Quite important — 2    Not very important — 3    Not at all important — 4

How likely are you to focus on what you have not done well compared to what you have done well?
Very likely — 1    Quite likely — 2    Not very likely — 3    Not at all likely — 4

How important is it to you to find a ‘hero’ to befriend and impress?
Very important — 1    Quite important — 2    Not very important — 3    Not at all important — 4

How often do you feel afraid to express your views lest people discover your lack of knowledge?
Very often — 1    Quite often — 2    Not very often — 3    Not at all/rarely — 4

How often do you find yourself unable to start a project for fear of failing?
Very often — 1    Quite often — 2    Not very often — 3    Not at all/rarely — 4

How often do you find yourself unwilling to finish a project because it isn’t yet good enough?
Very often — 1    Quite often — 2    Not very often — 3    Not at all/rarely — 4

How happy are you to live with a piece of work you have done that you know isn’t perfect?
Not at all happy — 1    Not very happy — 2    Quite happy — 3    Very happy — 4

How often do you find yourself thinking that you are a fraud?
Very often — 1    Quite often — 2    Not very often — 3    Not at all/rarely — 4

How worried are you that your lack of skill/talent/ability will be discovered?
Very worried — 1    Quite worried — 2    Not very worried — 3    Not at all worried — 4

How important is validation from others to you (e.g. praise)?
Very important — 1    Quite important — 2    Not very important — 3    Not at all important — 4

How To Score

According to the piece, the lower your numeric score, the more likely it is you have Imposter Syndrome. The scoring range is from 18 to 72 and (as a rough guide) any score below 36 indicates some sort of IS element is going on in your personality. Again, this is not an accredited test and has to be looked at with a bit of “ooo-kaaay…”.

You’re probably wondering how I made out. I tried to be as honest as possible, and I scored 55. I suppose that indicates I’m relatively comfortable with my butt in the chair with my fingers on the keys. What about you? Go ahead. Take the IS quiz and share your score with your fellow Kill Zoners.

Another thing for Kill Zoners… how do you define “success”? While I was surfing the New York Spirit site, I found an article by Jessica Kitching titled How Do We Measure Success? In it, she says, “If you wake up with a passion for what you do, a purpose that excites you, and a momentum to keep going, then you are a success. I am not ashamed to label myself a writer. I am a writer. I love what I do. How many other people can say that?”

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Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career as a coroner. Now, Garry has reinvented himself as a crime thriller writer who masquerades as a commercial success.

He lives on Vancouver Island at British Columbia’s southwest coast and regularly imposters as an old boat skipper. Visit DyingWords.net which is the real website and popular blog for Garry Rodgers.

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How To Get Away With Murder

Murder. It’s forever been the stuff of books, movies, poems and plays. Everyone from Shakespeare to Agatha Christie told foul-play murder stories. That’s because, for gruesome reasons, murder cases fascinate people.

I think murder is the great taboo. It’s also the great fear of most people except, maybe, for public speaking. Jerry Seinfeld quipped, “At a funeral, the majority of people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.”

Yes, murder is the ultimate crime. In mystery books and Netflix shows, murder cases are solved and neatly wrapped up in the end. This leaves the reader or audience with the satisfaction of knowing who done it and probably why.

That’s not always the truth in real life. Many murders go unsolved for a long time. Some go cold and are never resolved. Statistics vary according to region, but probably a quarter of murders never get cleared.

Thankfully, most murders are easy to solve. They’re “smoking guns” where the killer and victim knew each other, the killer left a plethora of evidence at the scene or took it with him, witnesses saw the murder take place, or the bad guy confessed to the crime. That’s really all there is to getting caught for committing a murder.

So, why do roughly twenty-five percent of people get away with murder? It’s because they don’t make one of these four fatal mistakes. Let’s look at each in detail and how you can get away with murder.

Leaving Evidence at the Scene

Did you ever hear of Locard’s Exchange Principle? It’s Murder Investigation 101. Dr. Edmond Locard was a pioneer in forensic science. Dr. Locard held that at every crime scene the bad guy would leave evidence behind that would connect them to the offense. Locard summed it up this way:

“Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as a silent witness against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects. All of these, and more, bear mute witness against him. This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot perjure itself, it cannot be wholly absent. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its value.”

Dr. Locard was absolutely right—most of the time. That quote was from the early 1900s. It was long before the sophistication of DNA profiling and amplifying light to find invisible fingerprints. Today, trace evidence shows up at the micro level, and there’re ingenious inventions used to find it. But… not always.

I’m familiar with a high-profile and unsolved murder case from 2008 where two killers enticed a female realtor to a house and savagely stabbed her to death. It’s a long story. A complicated story. And, so far, they’ve got away with the murder.

The victim was totally innocent. She was set-up as a sacrifice to protect someone else who was a police informant. The police know full well who the killers are—a Mexican man and woman from the Sinaloa drug cartel—but they’ve never been charged. It’s because they left no evidence of their identity at the scene. They’ve also never broken the other three murderer-catching rules.

There’s more to scene evidence than DNA and fingerprints. There are dozens of evidentiary possibilities including hairs, fibers, footwear impressions, chemical signatures, organic compounds, match heads, cigarette butts, expended shell casings, spit chewing gum, a bloody glove or a wallet with the killer’s ID in it. (Yes, that happened.)

Removing Evidence from the Scene

The flip side of Locard’s Exchange Principle is the perpetrator removing evidence from the scene that ties them back to it. This can be just as fatal to the get-away-with-it plan as left-behind evidence. And, it happens all the time.

Going back to the unsolved realtor murder, there’s no doubt the killers left with the victim’s blood on their hands, feet and clothing. This innocent lady was repeatedly shived. The coroner report states her cause of death was exsanguination which is the medical term for bleeding out.

For sure, her killers had blood on them. But, they made a clean escape and would have disposed of their blood-stained clothes. That goes for the knife, as well. Further, the killers did not rob the victim. They didn’t steal her purse, her identification, her bank cards or even the keys to her new BMW parked outside.

The killers also didn’t exchange digital evidence to be traced. They used a disposable or “burner” phone to contact the victim to set up the house showing. It was only activated under a fake name for this one purpose and was never used again. The phone likely went the same place as the bloody clothes and knife.

Being Seen by Witnesses

I once heard a judge say, “There’s nothing more unreliable than an eyewitness.” I’d say that judge was right, at least for human eyewitnesses.

Today’s technology makes it hard not to be seen entering or exiting a murder scene. There’s video surveillance galore. Pretty much everywhere you go in an urban setting, electronic eyes are on you. You’re on CCTV at the gas station, the supermarket, the bank, in libraries, government buildings, transit buses, subways and on the plane.

In bygone lore, the killer often wore a disguise. That might have fooled human surveillance, but it’s hard to trick cameras that record evidence like get-away vehicles with readable plates. It’s also hard to disguise a disguise that can be enlarged on film to reveal uniquely identifiable minute characteristics.

Back to the unsolved realtor slaying again. The killers were seen by two independent witnesses when they met their victim in the driveway outside the show home. One witness gave the police a detailed description of the female suspect and worked with an artist to develop a sketch. It’s an eerie likeness to the Mexican woman who is a prime person-of-interest along with her brother—a high-ranking member of the El Chapo organization.

Unfortunately, there’s just not enough evidence to charge the Mexicans. They left no identifiable trace evidence behind at the crime scene. Whatever evidence they might have taken from the scene hasn’t been found. There was no video captured and the eye-witnesses can’t be one hundred percent positive of visual identity.

There’s also the fourth missing piece to the puzzle.

Confessing to the Murder

Murderers are often convicted because they confessed to the crime. Sometimes, they confess to the police during a structured interrogation. Sometimes, they confess to a police undercover operator or paid agent during a sting operation. Sometimes, their loose lips sink their ship by telling an acquaintance about doing the murder. And sometimes, they’re caught bragging about the murder on electronic surveillance like in a wiretap or through a planted audio listening device—a bug.

Police also arrest and convict murderers after an accomplice turns on them and decides to cooperate with the investigation in exchange for a lesser sentence. Then, there are the revenge situations. The murderer has confessed to an intimate partner who they thought they could trust and couldn’t.

That has yet to happen in the unsolved female realtor murder. There is no doubt—no doubt—that a group of people know what happened in her murder. It’s known, with probable certainty, who the Mexican pair are. It’s also known, with probable certainty, who the real police informant was and who conspired to protect them by offering the innocent victim as a sacrificial slaughter to appease the Sinaloa cartel’s “No-Rat” policy.

This murder case can be solved once someone in the group decides to reveal evidence implicating the killers. That likely won’t be anything in the Locard arena or in the eye-witness region. It’ll be an exposed confession that will solve this case.

Someone will eventually talk. The current problem is that everyone in the conspiracy circle is connected by being blood relatives, being a member of the Hispanic community and being involved in organized crime. Their motive to talk is far outweighed by their motive to stay silent.

Takeaway for The Kill Zone Gang

If you’re a mystery/thriller/crime writer, always consider these four crime detection principles when working your plot. No matter how simple or complex your plot may be, the solution will come down to one or more of these points. If it doesn’t, then your antagonist is going to get away with murder.

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Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and forensic coroner, now an investigative crime writer and successful indie author. Garry also hosts a popular blog at his website DyingWords.net and is a regular contributor to the HuffPost.

Garry Rodgers lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia at Canada’s west coast. He’s a certified 60-Tonne Marine Captain and spends a lot of time around the saltwater. Follow Garry on Facebook, Twitter and BookBub. He has stuff on Amazon, Kobo and Nook, too.

 

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