Imposter syndrome. A feeling that most if not all writers will experience at some point in their careers. But what is is and how do you overcome it before it reaches a point of crippling self doubt that puts writer’s block to shame?
Imposter Syndrome is the feeling of being a fraud or the self- doubt that is experienced primarily by high- achieving people and was first established in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes.
People who suffer from this syndrome believe that they are underqualified or lack sufficient knowledge, skills or talent in their respective fields and that they are constantly playing a part and will one day be exposed, that people will realise they have been fooled all along.
Sufferers downplay their successes and often put any achievements down to luck rather than skill and effort and will disregard proof of their success, and writers are some of the worst culprits.
With writers, merely calling yourself a writer or actively trying to break into the field can bring on the feelings of self-doubt, before any written work has even seen the light of day. Even more so for self-published or unpublished writers because they feel like they lack the validity that would come from the backing of a traditional publisher. You release your book and you don’t get reviews, you anxiously wait for sales that are not your friends and family, but they don’t seem to be picking up, perfect fuel for Imposter Syndrome to flare up.
Imposter Syndrome is a heavy burden that can negatively affect your writing as well. The constant self-doubt and second guessing leads to constant re-writes, edits, harsh critique and even avoiding writing entirely. It becomes a vicious cycle.
You end up procrastinating, finding reasons why you cannot write now, maybe that particular bookshelf needs to be rearranged this instant, or the garden needs to be watered right now. Anything to avoid writing.
Maybe you take the deep dive into ‘researching’. Yes, a lot of us have done it, I have done it. You can’t write now because you are researching if that particular colour dye was available at that particular point in history and end up wandering down the rabbit hole of where it was discovered and when and how it was made and the entire history of that particular dye when all you needed was did it exist at that point in time and was it easy to get. And this research feels vital at the time because it delays the actual writing just that little bit longer.
Maybe you are like me and you just keep working and never finishing a story? I have a book that I have been working on for over 10 years. Yes I have written others in the meantime, but I keep putting off writing the end of this one particular story because I am convinced it will be the one that will unravel everything.
But how do you move past it?
This is not an uncommon problem, many writers experience this, even some of the most successful. When you look on writing blogs or Pinterest or even if you just google ‘Imposter Syndrome’ you will find a Neil Gaiman quote:
“The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something and that at any moment not they will discover you. It’s Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.
In My Case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard… would be there, to tell me it was all over, and that they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn’t consist of making things up and writing them down.”
If absolute giants in the industry experience this phenomenon, is it really that unexpected for those of us just breaking into it to have the same feelings? Talk to other writers, learn from their experience, they might have methods that have helped them move through the feelings of self- doubt that will help you, or you may be just what they need to boost their confidence to help them move through it. Talking to someone who can understand what you are going through is a wonderful way to feel validated in your experience, make you feel less isolated and will give you the support system that will enable you to lean on when you need help pushing through a particularly rough patch.
Don’t downplay how much hard work you have put in to where you are. No one wakes up one day with an idea and writes a perfect story in one sitting, it takes a lot of time, energy and hard work to turn a first draft into the masterpiece you envisaged. Hard work deserves recognition doesn’t it? So why is this any less deserving? And through this process, be mindful of the positive feedback you get, whether it be from beta readers, your editor or even from readers after your book has been published. Remember the positive feedback. We all get negative reviews sometimes, but we cannot appeal to every person all of the time. Even some of the most well-known books, like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ has bad reviews. That does not mean that J. R. R. Tolkien was any less of a success, it just means someone didn’t like the book, but there are hundreds of thousands of good reviews that drown out the negative, focus on the positive. They are the important ones, use them to boost your confidence. And the negative ones? Well those are just helpful suggestions on areas you may be able to improve on for the next story. Not a reason to quit.
Keep writing, do not let your own self-doubt keep you in the endless loop of; ‘Only people who write can call themselves real writers so if I am not writing I am not a real writer so I should just stop because I am not a writer.’ Talk about taking the dark path in the scary woods.
It is hard sometimes to pick up your writing and carry on, it is hard sometimes to push through all of those negative thoughts, but when you do and when you find your flow again, that boost in confidence will just make it even easier to carry on writing. If you write you are a writer, it does not matter if you are published or unpublished, if you put words on paper in some form of sense you are a writer, so refer to yourself as such.
Give yourself some room to make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, let yourself have the safe space to make them, perfection is not the ultimate goal. Sometimes perfection is not actually what people want. Do you know, my dad received feedback from a publisher once, they told him that his grammar was too perfect? That it would not appeal to people because it would not read easily because it was too good? Let yourself breathe. It is not a competition and everyone has their own process when it comes to writing. Don’t let yourself be bogged down because you feel like the way you do things is wrong. It absolutely is not, there is no such thing as a ‘wrong’ way to write. Every little bit of progress is good progress, even if it is something you end up scrapping later on.
At the end of the day, Imposter Syndrome may be something you only experience once in your career, it may be something that follows you the entire time, the important thing to remember is that; You are not a fraud, you are a writer, you are deserving of your accomplishments and damn it you are going to write just that little bit more each day to prove it.