Eight Ways Writers Can Combat Imposter Syndrome
Listen to today's article:
I have a confession to make: I often feel like a fraud.
Despite knowing full well that I’m not, I frequently fear that someday I’ll be called out for not being a “real” writer. It doesn’t matter how many articles I publish, how many page views the blog receives, how many resources I create, or how hard I’m working to write and revise my books, both fiction and non-fiction, for release. No amount of progress or success has kept me from feeling like an imposter.
Can you commiserate? Here’s the good news: we’re far from the only writers who struggle with Imposter Syndrome. In fact, this common phenomenon is prevalent in the creative community, especially among those looking to make a living from their writing.
Despite its near everyday reality in my life, I refuse to allow Imposter Syndrome to keep me from achieving my personal definition of writing success. I’ve been working hard to overhaul my mindset and to adopt both offensive and defensive techniques to combat Imposter Syndrome. And today, writer, I’m eager to help you do the same…
Wait, what exactly is Imposter Syndrome?
Have you ever worked hard to achieve an important writing milestone, only to downplay your accomplishment? Have you ever sat frozen in fear while staring down a new project, terrified that others will think your work just isn’t up to scratch? Have you ever wondered if you “have what it takes” to be a writer, unsure if you can even claim the title? This, my friend, is Imposter Syndrome. Fun, right?
Imposter Syndrome is a common phenomenon that can hold even the most determined writer back from building their best writing life, and any writer can experience it, even authors who are well-established in their careers. So if you’re experiencing Imposter Syndrome, know that you aren’t alone.
The bad news is that Imposter Syndrome isn’t a benign phenomenon. When you worry about being exposed as a fraud, you place undue pressure on yourself to succeed at a very high level, leading to writers’ block, perfectionism, fear of the blank page, and other debilitating forms of resistance. In other words, Imposter Syndrome can prove a major roadblock in the pursuit of your creative endeavors.
So what can you do to combat Imposter Syndrome and start winning your inner creative battles?
Eight Ways to Work Through Imposter Syndrome
The thought patterns that lead to Imposter Syndrome are deeply ingrained and requires hard work to reverse, but the good news is that the work can be done. If you struggle with Imposter Syndrome as I do, working to hone a healthy creative mindset is key to kicking these pesky thought patterns to the curb.
Of course, you can’t adopt a healthy creative mindset overnight. This is something I discuss in depth in Build Your Best Writing Life, the book I’m currently writing and plan to publish later this year. But here on the blog today, I’d love to share with you a few of the lessons I’ve learned in working to combat Imposter Syndrome myself. Shall we dive in?
#1: Recognize Imposter Syndrome for what it is.
Imposter Syndrome isn’t a mental illness; it’s simply a pattern of limiting beliefs. What exactly those beliefs are will vary from person to person, but they all feed into the idea that you are in some way unworthy.
Imposter Syndrome isn’t limited to those with low self-esteem either. Even confident writers can experience Imposter Syndrome, believing that there’s nothing special about their hard-won skills or success, that they don’t deserve special attention and that one day others will realize that too.
#2: Combat Imposter Syndrome with positive affirmations.
You aren’t at fault for internalizing the belief that you are somehow unworthy, but you are responsible for what you believe going forward. If you want to change your mindset, you must do the hard work of counteracting your limiting beliefs with positive affirmations.
To do so, you must first get at the heart of your limiting beliefs. Do you experience Imposter Syndrome when a fellow writer asks to interview you on their blog or podcast? I know I do. For me, Imposter Syndrome is rooted in the fear that I’ll be unable to speak with authority because I am so young and largely inexperienced in my field.
Once you’ve identified your limiting beliefs, you can counteract them with frequent positive affirmations. For example, I often remind myself that I am an authority on my own experience and that my youth allows me to connect with an audience that many writers are unable to resonate with so deeply.
#3: Understand the nature of doubt and take action.
As you continue to combat Imposter Syndrome with positive affirmations, you’ll find that your negative thoughts will give way in time to mere uncertainty. “There’s no way I can speak at a writing conference…” will become “Am I capable of speaking at a writing conference?”.
This uncertainty is otherwise known as doubt, and doubt is not the enemy. All doubt does is recognize the uncertainty of a situation and present you with a choice: will you take action to resolve that uncertainty or will you allow it to warp into a limiting belief?
When it comes to Imposter Syndrome, taking action can be as simple as reaffirming your worth (as we discussed above) or it can be a more tangible task to complete, such as agreeing to appear on a panel or sharing with the world that you just won an award for your work.
#4: Track your accomplishments.
Writers experiencing Imposter Syndrome tend to disregard just how much they’ve accomplished. That short story they wrote last week or that one speech they just gave feels inconsequential, despite the fact that they’ve written dozens of short stories or given just as many speeches over the years.
An easy way to combat this pesky symptom of Imposter Syndrome is to begin tracking your accomplishments (and to log as many past accomplishments as possible). Every time you complete a new project or hit a new milestone, mark it down. The next time Imposter Syndrome weighs heavy, break out your accomplishment tracker as a visible reminder of just how much you’ve achieved.
#5: Be vocal about your experiences.
Imposter Syndrome is a common phenomenon, yet it’s all too easy for sufferers to believe that others couldn’t possibly be experiencing it too. Not when they’re so skilled or they’ve accomplished so much, right?
I can’t tell you how many fellow writers I’ve met who also suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Far too many, to be sure. But I can tell you that I only came to know they also experienced this phenomenon when one or both of us began talking about it.
If you’re experiencing Imposter Syndrome, get involved in the writing community, start talking about your struggles, and connect with fellow writers who’ve experienced the same. It’s the perfect way to remind yourself that you are not alone, and more importantly, that the only person you’re faking is yourself.
#6: Remind yourself that you cannot do it all.
Many writers experience Imposter Syndrome because they perceive (often incorrectly) that others are working harder than they are. How could they possibly celebrate what they’ve achieved when so many others are blowing them out of the water?
This line of thinking often leads to feelings of guilt and shame and encourages writers to burn through their creative energies in vain attempts to match or surpass other writers’ successes. Yet we all know how damaging a workaholic attitude can be.
To combat burnout and block when dealing with Imposter Syndrome, remind yourself of a few key truths:
Neither writing nor publishing is a competition.
Every writer has a unique process.
All progress is good progress.
What you see online is often a highlight reel of others’ experiences.
You cannot produce your best work if you’re working yourself into the ground.
#7: Know that it’s okay to hold yourself to a high standard.
Doing so shows that you care about your craft and that you’re willing to put in the hard work to become the writer you long to be. The trouble comes when you allow Imposter Syndrome to seize that high standard and use it as a weapon against you, giving free rein to your inner critic.
This inner critic, if left unchecked, quickly lends itself to struggles with perfectionism and resistance. But there is no such thing as a perfect story, and you can’t edit a blank page.
The story that’s shared with the world, warts and all, will always have more impact than the story that’s been left to wallow in a dusty computer folder because perfectionism got in the way. You may not be able to write the perfect story, but you can get pretty darn close—and that’s the only good enough worth concerning yourself with.
#8: Remember that there is no wrong way to be a writer.
There are a vast array of stories in this world, and we need all of them. We need genre fiction to help us escape, literary fiction to challenge us, memoirs and biographies to educate and inspire us, and books that push boundaries to introduce us to new possibilities.
Imposter Syndrome enjoys convincing some writers that they aren’t producing work with value or potential because of the genre or style in which they write. But there’s a reader for every story, and with that reader comes a need and a market. So go forth and write, my friend. There is no wrong way to be a writer.
At the end of the day, Imposter Syndrome can be equally difficult to discuss and combat. Every writer experiences Imposter Syndrome in their own way, and there’s no quick fix that will allow you to start owning your confidence in your creative identity and output overnight. That said, much of the key to combatting Imposter Syndrome lies in building confidence.
I said earlier that Imposter Syndrome isn’t necessarily a sign of low self-esteem, and that’s true. One can be confident in the quality of their skills and stories and still suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Instead, such writers often lack confidence in the notion that their work is anything worth celebrating. But as Charles Bukowski once said,
“ The problem is that bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt. ”
Confidence in creativity is a balancing act, and as Imposter Syndrome shows, many writers struggle to find that balance. But at its core, Imposter Syndrome seeks out writers who doubt, in some capacity, that they are good enough. It preys upon those who seek validation — and by extension, to find their confidence — in external sources.
But confidence in your creative accomplishments cannot be found in contracts, royalty checks, bestseller lists, or reviews. It cannot be gifted by readers, agents, editors, or other publishing professionals. It can only be found in recognizing that you are on a creative journey (one that will last a lifetime), that your work has (immense) value, and that every single step you take is a victory worth celebrating. So let’s break out the cake, shall we?