Emmie Mears: Hi, Hello, We’re Here to Revoke Your Artist Card

Impostor Syndrome is one of those topics that I think we all instinctively grok. We all feel like we’re stowaways, and success really doesn’t ameliorate that. They could give us the captain’s hat and we’d still be all HOLY SHIT I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING HERE WHAT IS A BOAT IS THAT THE OCEAN OH FUCK FUCK FUCK. Emmie Mears had a cool take on it and she wrote that take up for you all to read. Behold!

* * *

A Face pops up over the shoulder of the person I’m talking with. Beatific smile, too-thin lips, very even but too-small teeth. Hair that belongs in a barber shop quartet. Too much pomade. The Face exudes a sour smell, like a dirty sock that fell in a catbox. That smile stays plastered on the Face like it’s been rolled up there with wallpaper glue.

“You don’t belong here.” He says it in a nasal, bureaucratic tone, floating over the shoulder of my conversation partner. “Really, they’re all better than you. You really ought to just walk away. And just wait until they catch you here.”

I get this feeling like I’m about to be picked up by the scruff of the neck until I curl my feet up under me, duck my head, and T-rex my hands in front of me. I force myself to keep smiling anyway, trying not to make eye contact with the Face even though it’s right beside the person I’m talking to.

“They’ll find out,” he sing-songs.

My own smile is starting to feel plastered. I forget what I was talking about. I filter back through the actual conversation happening. Release dates? Audiobooks. Mutual friends. Right. Right! That’s what it was. I was supposed to tell one of the guests this person says hello. Not the Face that keeps popping up over his shoulders. The actual person.

“I’m sorry; I won’t take up any more of your time,” I say, ignoring the floating Face.

I get a what-are-you-talking-about sort of look that shows he’s oblivious to the presence of the spectre behind him and the way it’s making me splutter.

“No, I’m glad you stopped me! It was awesome to meet you! Tweet me your book.” The co-executive producer of my favourite show walks away, leaving me in the middle of the floor at New York Comic Con, half beaming, half about to pass out.

Right. So that happened.

As my Patronus of a TV writer disappears in the crowd, that insipid Face hovering in the air does not.

“Do you seriously think he meant that?” The Face scoffs it at me. “He’s not going to read it.”

I feel that sinking feeling that the Face immediately recognises as me acknowledging he’s right.

Who am I to think I’m anyone?


I’m in Artist Alley, admiring the work of an extremely talented woman. Her line work is fantastic; her shading is impeccable. She’s got style and voice in each panel I look at, and I praise her work loudly. She beams.

My brother’s an artist, and her work reminds me a bit of his. They both do exquisite shading in ink — the textures are stunning. I say so, and I pull up a couple of my brother’s pieces.

I can almost hear the Face poof into existence behind me this time.

“Oh, wow — yeah, no. I’m nothing like him! Your brother’s in another stratosphere. He’s amazing!” The woman’s voice goes up a couple pitches, and I see her head shaking as if she’s agreeing with the floating, plastered-grin head I can feel behind me. He’s not focused on me right now. It’s all her.

“But no, your work is amazing!” I tell her this with as much sincerity as I can muster, because it’s true. My cheeks feel hot.

She almost backs away from her table as if she wishes she had a smoke bomb to smash so she could vanish into the aether.


I rattle off some more praises, trying to keep the I’m sorry! from flinging off my tongue.

As we walk away, I hunch, turning to my friend. “I feel awful. I totally just invoked Impostor Syndrome in that woman.”


Impostor Syndrome. The Fraud Police. The Men With Clipboards. Whatever you want to call the Face (you read how I picture it).

I spent the weekend in New York last October, with one day at Comic Con and the rest running to and fro between various meetings and shindigs. It was a fantastic weekend. I met heroes in the flesh. Had breakfast with the Illustrious Owner of This Here Blog. Got a couple snazzy gifts for friends. Went four hours without peeing because I was waiting for a limited signing. Saw Orlando Jones’s beautiful, beautiful self lurking between Felicia Day and Danny Glover. Saw an epic Magenta and Riff-Raff cosplay. Ate way more delicious food than I am used to encountering, and I didn’t have to make it myself!

I spent a lot of time talking with writers, artists, agents, editors, actors.

And sometime in the middle of all that, I had the strangest epiphany.

It slowly detached from me like one of those B’loonies from the 80s you inflated like a giant bubble through a straw until you were lightheaded.

The common thread in every conversation I had with someone who arts for a living?

At some point in the conversation, literally every single one of them said something like this:

“I mean, it’s fucking BIG NAME. Like….somehow I ended up with them.”

“I had to ask BIG NAME for a blurb. He even remembered me!”

“Oh, I mean, well. Thanks. I’m uh….glad you like it!” *foot scuff*

“Every project I have just went kaput. I’m starting from scratch. I don’t know what to do.”

These people I was talking with? I already mentioned one was a co-EP on a major network show. Actors with a couple million Twitter followers. People who make books happen at major publishers. Bestselling authors. Also new authors, newly agented or sold. Artists breaking in, like the one I mentioned. That last quote was one of the actors.

This shit is real.

And I sure felt it. In pretty much every one of my meetings I primped and shellacked myself and tried my damndest to look the part because I was 99.999238% sure that when I opened my mouth, the warbly yodel of a turkey would come out because I grew up in a barn and who knows, maybe while I slept on the other side of the tarp from the turkeys I inhaled turkey DNA and it lay dormant for fifteen years, waiting to manifest the moment I was face to face with People Way More Established Than I.


I watched the Face hovering over their shoulders all weekend, taunting me like somebody was about to turn up behind me, stuff my head into a burlap sack that smelled of rotten anchovies, and haul me off the island of Manhattan. After which I would dust off any old Real Job (™) and never write again because I wasn’t allowed in the club and they’d caught me playing dress-up in author clothes.


That epiphany.

I’m not the only one who sees that awful Face.

We all see it.

When I was fangirling to peers about meeting that EP, inside my head I was thinking, “Why did he even TALK TO ME?” But looking back in that conversation, he was just as shocked that I’d stop him to tell him how much I love his art as I was that he gave me the time of day. (He didn’t actually give me the time of day, but I bet he would have if I’d asked because he was very nice.)

This isn’t a thing that goes away.

It’s now 2016. I have five books out in the wild. I’ve made deals that paid real advances. I occasionally get fan mail/tweets/one star reviews. I still see the Face. I still think about that epiphany that we all have our own Face whispering that we’re faking it.

Part of me felt really depressed after that rubber cement smelling epiphany bubble burst into a cloud of fumes. It settled over me, making my eyes burn. This Face was going to keep haunting me. And all the arty people I know.

Earlier this year, I got to go see Neil Gaiman speak. Someone asked him when he felt like he’d made it. He said when he won the Newberry Medal in 2009, thirty-some-odd years into his career. That was the day he realised the Men With Clipboards weren’t going to come take him away.

So I guess all the arty people feel this way except Neil Gaiman.

(I’m willing to bet he’s felt it again since then, though. Feelings are tricksy like that.)

After a lot of pondering on the subway, I realised something else.

If we all feel like we don’t belong — if at any and all stages of our careers we feel like we’re acting our little hearts out to keep anyone from noticing that we’re interlopers in our field — maybe the secret to beating the Face until it poofs back out of existence is to gang up on it.

Own the feelings that we have something to prove. Own our insecurities. Own our desire to throw the word “but” after someone compliments us.

And maybe the secret to fighting it is talking about it. It can be hard, especially if you know people whose careers seem a lot more established than yours. But we all are allowed to feel this way, whether we’ve just landed an agent and our friends haven’t, whether we’ve got two books out or twenty, whether we work on a successful TV show or make web videos, whether we peddle our art at Comic Con booths or have just put together our first portfolio.

Making art for a living is hard.

The Face makes it worse, because it tells us we don’t deserve the success we’ve had to wrestle from this path until our knuckles bled and our teeth were caked in mud. It tells us someone’s going to notice and that they’re going to boot us back to where we came from. It tells us we’re never going to break in, break out, break free of its awful-awful whispers.


But I for one would rather sit side by side with my fellow art-makers and listen, then link arms with them and all kick the Face in its too-small teeth until even the pomade won’t hold it together anymore.

Fuck that Face.

So you — yeah, you. Whatever you’re doing to make your art, keep doing it. You belong. You can sit with us. It’s a lot easier for me to extend my hand to you than it is to offer the same to myself. I’m trying. But for you, we’re not going to police you out of here, so don’t believe the Face. Keep working. Keep trying. Someone else’s success does not diminish you or your work. We can all be awesome together.

* * *

Emmie Mears is an author, actor, and person of fannish pursuits. Born in Texas, the Lone Star state quickly spit her out after three months, and over eight states and three different countries, Emmie became a proper vagabond. She writes science fiction and fantasy and is the head of a pride of cats in Maryland. Slightly obsessed with Buffy and Supernatural, she haunts the convention circuits and joins in when she can on panels and general tomfoolery. She is the author of the Shrike series and the Ayala Storme series. Emmie is open to bribery in the form of sushi and bubble tea. Emmie may or may not secretly be a car.

Ayala Storme series: Amazon

Shrike series: Amazon

42 responses to “Emmie Mears: Hi, Hello, We’re Here to Revoke Your Artist Card”

  1. Holy Crap! That ugly little fucker has been following me around all my life. Half a dozen different careers, meetings with Heads of State, suit, tie martini and all, that little bastard was there. Oh, man, he’s reading this over my shoulder right now… Emmie, you called him out, thank you, thank you, for beating him down (for a while).

  2. Thanks for this Emmie. A great read for me this morning. It’s good for that little floating head to see things like this every so often.

    I was just reading a book of Philip Guston’s conversations the other day where he goes off about how it is only amateurs that think they have it figured out or think they know what’s what. Everyone who is really into her or his art suffers with doubt, confusion, and fear all the time. Because it is impossible to know, and it is impossible to avoid seeing how you could be better or where you would go next time. All that matters is that there continues to be next times.

  3. Gobble Gobble, indeed.
    I mean, on a conceptual level I guess I’ve known for a while that “everyone feels like this.”

    Right now, I’m doing the Shuffle between Real Job (TM) and Arting for Life. I just got flown out to a really cool potential gig (Got flown, mind you. Not ‘flew’) and got to pitch myself as a candidate for said gig.
    And still I feel like it must all have been some terrible mistake, because really, they must just be doing my mentor a favor by even LISTENING to me….

    Le sigh. Your post gives me hope that The Face is a liar, but it’s also sad that he will likely never go away.

    Thank you, Emmie.

    • Neil managed to vanquish him. Never mind that Neil vanquished him with a Newberry Medal…

      But at least maybe it’s possible! If not, we can all team up on the Face together.

  4. I know I’ve got a face in me
    Points out all my mistakes to me
    You’ve got a face on the inside too
    Your paranoia’s probably worse
    I don’t know what set me off first
    But I know what I can’t stand
    Everybody acts like the fact of the matter is
    I can’t add up to what you can but

    Everybody has a face that they hold inside
    A face that awakes when I close my eyes
    A face that watches every time they lie
    A face that laughs every time they fall
    (And watches everything)

    So you know that when it’s time to sink or swim
    That the face inside is watching you too
    Right inside your skin

    Papercut, Linkin Park, “Hybrid Theory”, 2000 Warner Bros. Label

  5. Gosh. A blog post covering The Impostor Syndrome that’s NOT just a list of “nope, don’t get it at all, because of all of these ways in which I’m awesome.” That’s refreshing.

    (Sorry. A Big Name SF Writer covered this topic recently, and it kinda really pissed me off. I may, in fact, still be annoyed.)

    • There are things in my life where I feel pretty confident. I am a good cook. I crochet a mean blanket. I’m a decent shot with a recurve. And my biggest gaming achievement is having learned to play CS:GO with only the trackpad on my MacBook Air.


      • I definitely get that. For me it’s not so much a “they’re gonna find me out” thing, but rather a “I don’t really deserve the successes I have, because they weren’t earned — they were a combination of luck and people thinking I’m more talented than I know, deep down, I really am.”

        Which sucks, because you should be able to enjoy success.

  6. Well said, Emmie Mears! I will now go seek out your books and hope it helps drive that face away from you! If your fiction is anything like this article, you’ve got nothing to worry about!

  7. Yep, and it follows me throughout my life. I’ve taught Pilates for over twenty years, and every time I’m in a room with a group of fellow teachers I become a shrinking violet because the will find me out and kick me out of the club.

  8. Loved this article, Emmie, and so very timely. I’m going to my first author event this weekend and I’ve been seeing The Face everywhere. In the closet, hiding behind the clothes I’m packing, in the mirror, reflected in my computer screen as I try to write stories as beautiful, and as impactful as the many books I’ve read in the past and am reading now. Thank you for your words.

  9. thank you for goodness sake I teared up when I read ” So you — yeah, you. Whatever you’re doing to make your art, keep doing it. You belong. You can sit with us. It’s a lot easier for me to extend my hand to you than it is to offer the same to myself.”

  10. OK, I one up. I’m adopted and art faced. It’s been, who the hell are you and what the #@%& are you doing here. Don’t you know there are rules?” Says, the panel of faces. “Don’t you know? You gotta know your angst before you can pick up your art card?” The one in the middle of the panel of pocked faces, smiles, exposing piraña teeth. “Lordy, I was birthed in the wild, on a sacrificial whet stone.”

    So, for those of us who were given Artsy markers on our lovely DNA, Find your people, Don’t go to the Hardware store for a loaf of bread, and always offer a hand to a fellow seeker, when you recognize the deer in the headlights look, which is exactly what I get when I tune in here. Thank You, both.

  11. This may not be universal, but common. I asked a friend and he was not only confused, but confused about how I could feel it. But you’ve done the work, it’s good, how can you not feel excited and proud?

    On the other hand I feel it about everything, just met with a coworker and we conferenced called with supposed experts. At the end of the call we looked at each other and said, wait we already knew all of that. We are kind of experts apparently. But I doubt I’ll ever believe it.

  12. Great depiction of Impostor Syndrome. It’s rampant in non-artistic careers too. As a scientist by training and original career choice (though I still dream of my little lakeside mountain cabin where I can write sci-fi to my heart’s content), I have seen students, co-workers, and bosses alike fall victim to the self-doubt monster. “My classmates are all brilliant, how did I get accepted into grad school?” or “My research doesn’t really mean anything, I don’t deserve to be published in academic journals” or “There’s no way I’ll be able to run my own lab someday, I’m just not skilled or talented enough.” All of this despite glowing CVs and laundry lists of accolades. There are even articles written about the prevalence of Impostor Syndrome in scientific research fields to try to bring awareness to the problem.

  13. Actually, I see a lot more people who *are* Imposters — hacks with no credentials or experience who feel entitled to attention, time, access, money and opportunities that appropriately belong solely to people operating far above their level of ability. Let’s not throw out some reasonable humility with the “Imposter Syndrome” bathwater.

    And, barbershop is awesome.

  14. OH MY NOODLES!!!
    Really, thank you for this blog.
    Having been a survivor, and some one who has worked closely with narcissistic abuse victims, this blog post is very important. The impostor syndrome dynamic goes so deep in the minds of creatives. (And non-creatives) Because of my background, I write a bit about this syndrome, anxiety, depression, co-dependent recovery and how they are all intertwined, and how it all works in the minds of creatives. This topic runs soooo much deeper than simple rejection. It isn’t about others rejecting us, it is more about the prevailing voice that is on repeat saying “You are not acceptable as a human being” in the back of our heads. That’s the root of all worry, envy, anxiety, and the dreaded impostor syndrome.
    Thank you for writing about this.

  15. Loved this! I had to share this account on my own blog. Thanks for sharing Chuck, and thank you Emmie for putting into words exactly why this Imposter Syndrome is so deadly. After all, it’s all about the voices in our head and the criticism we give ourselves.

  16. Wow, this must be the writer theme of the month! I’ve posted about this, I found another author who posted about this, and now you are posting about this! I guess the more aware we are the better. Thank you for this great post!

  17. Looove this post. Totally have had those feelings and it’s a constant up-down battle. Thanks for sharing your experience–knowing that someone else has been there does help!

  18. Thanks heaps for this post. It’s nice to know that others out there feel the same way sometimes. I went through this over the past two years:

    1. When I finish my first novel, that’s when I’ll be a real writer.
    2. When I publish my first novel, that’s when I’ll be a real writer.
    3. When I start to make sales and get reviews, that’s when I’ll be a real writer.

    My current line of thinking is:
    4. Once I have a few books out, that’s when I’ll be a real writer.

    Hopefully it stops one day. Thanks for making me aware that I’m not alone. 🙂

  19. Oh god. That face, you actually wrote about the face. You’re my hero *swoon*

    The face that follows me is huge. It told me I shouldn’t even comment. So I kicked it in the eyeball and told it to fuck off…. Then I whimpered sheepishly as I typed and it reminded me I wasn’t funny, or clever, or a writer.

    I’ve written about imposter syndrome before too. Except not as brilliantly as this. I studied it at uni (psych major) it’s goddamn debilitating. And the annoying thing is, even when I put a scary mask on to frighten the face away, and it runs off squealing into the corner, why is it still me that’s shaking harder than my broken tumblr dyer?

    It’s never going away is it? *cries and presses submit*

  20. I’m pleased to have been one of your more recent fannish tweets, Emmie. I just bought “Any Port in a Storm” a few days ago, though I haven’t had the chance to start it yet. 🙂 Also, that face? He’s a dick.

  21. YES! So much yes to this.

    I still remember the first time I told someone I was a writer (as in, made it sound like my vocation and not something I do just before I go shopping.) How my voice kind of went up at the end of the sentence, like I was asking a question rather than answering it, and how I could feel my eyes darting left and right, waiting for the SWAT Team to leap out of the bushes and apprehend me for Grand Bullshittery. (They must’ve been called away to another job that day – but I’m pretty sure they haven’t forgotten about me…)

    I’ve never seen The Face – but only because my Grinch lives inside my head, so I hear him in my ears from somewhere just behind me. And he’s also told me that if I ever become successful enough with my writing to actually hang with real, proper writers, like you and Chuck for instance, “none of them will like you anyway because you’re a tool as well as a fake.”

    Hmmmm, now I’m wondering if I should get a business card done with that printed on it as a slogan? Y’know, like a disclaimer or something…?

  22. After reading the preceding comments, I realized I also have Impostor Syndrome. However, there is no face or voice in my version, just a silent, dense black hole composed of perfectionism, depression, anxiety and utter fear. It’s a very scary thing.

    I have been blessed with family that has supported me in my writing endeavors, with newspaper jobs where I was able to prove to myself and others that writing was something I could do well. But my greatest blessing has been a cousin, who introduced me to a younger family member as, “This is my cousin, she’s a writer.” My jaw almost hit the floor.

    Ever since that day, when asked what I do, I say I’m a writer, in a normal, matter-of-fact tone. That experience empowers me every time I call myself a writer.

    My point: this is a gift that is likely far too rare, this outside acknowledgement of one’s writership, and no one needs to wait for it to happen to them. As our gracious host has oft repeated, writers write. It is who we are, what we do. Sally forth and do likewise, all you penmonkeys!

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