By Editorial Team Last updated: Oct 12, 2023
To be honest, whenever someone presents myself as a writer, I still shudder a little. That's because when people ask me what I do, I employ descriptive verbs rather than nouns. Instead of saying "I'm a writer," I'll say "I write." Strange, isn't it?
But the truth is that accepting the term “writer” can be difficult. I struggle at times because I feel like a phony, despite the fact that I've been writing since third grade. I've received nearly a dozen literary honors. In high school, I majored in creative writing. And I've made a living as a writer for the past 8 years.
However, I've discovered a few tricks that help me anytime I feel like slouching into self-pity, and I'd like to share them with you. I don't think I'll ever be completely free of impostor syndrome, but these suggestions have been quite beneficial.
In their Harvard Bsuiness Review article, Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey defined imposter syndrome as a mental pattern of self-doubt. You have this nagging sense in the back of your mind that if others looked too carefully, they'd know you're completely clueless about what you're doing. You are not qualified to write, and you have no right to call yourself a writer.
Worse, you're probably in agreement with their notions. You're starting to feel like a phony. You're carrying out this complex ruse, and your greatest concern is that some nefarious kid will tear off your mask and disclose your terrible plan. (There's nothing like a nice Scooby Doo reference.)
Imposter syndrome is particularly common in perfectionists and idealists.
Imposter syndrome may paralyze any writer, but it is especially challenging for newcomers. You may believe you can't compete with others who have "professional" successes if you don't have any. There's a cruel but widely believed belief that unless you're published, you're not a true writer. For those who believe this, self-publishing does not have the same weight as receiving clearance from a traditional publishing business. But here's the truth: whether you're published or not, if you write, you're a writer.
You might be surprised to learn that published authors are not immune to imposter syndrome. Maya Angelou, the celebrated author, famously said, "Every time I sit down to write a book, every time I confront that yellow pad, the challenge is enormous. I've written eleven books, but each time I think to myself, 'Uh oh, they're going to find out now.' I've played a game on everyone, and they're going to catch me.'"
You can't get more legitimate as a writer than Maya Angelou, yet even she had to deal with that dreadful sensation of self-doubt.
Published authors are prone to believing that their success was a fluke and that they would not be able to replicate it in the future.
When plagued by this creative disease, many people find their writing slowing down or even grinding to a halt. In general, they have a combination of the five issues listed below.
Every comma, every word, and every sentence must be reexamined, revised, and eventually recycled. Nothing is ever satisfactory, and everything is questionable. Instead of editing three or four times, they edit thirty or forty times, confident that something isn't quite right and, as a result, the entire manuscript is incorrect.
People who were previously quite productive find themselves continuously checking what's in their refrigerator, email box, or favorite newspaper. Cleaning, literature, and television shows keep them occupied. They come up with reasons, alternatives, and other ways to keep oneself busy. In summary, they procrastinate in order to postpone the moment when they have to cope with feeling like an imposter.
Alternatively, they continue to work and work, never finishing and always postponing the moment when others can appraise their work. As a result, they are putting off the moment when they believe they will be discovered for the fraud that they are.
Or they keep looking for that extra piece of knowledge that they feel they require. It could be anything at all. Just as long as they're looking for it, they'll be able to put off the moment when they have to start writing just a little bit longer.
Finally, there are individuals who write but do not fully commit to their writing. If the writing isn't appreciated, they can always claim it wasn't their greatest work in the first place, that it was only half-hearted and not wholehearted.
All of these things can prevent you from becoming an interesting and honest storyteller, which would be a shame.
Related: Yes, Impostor Syndrome Is Real.
Let's talk about how you might overcome feelings of self-doubt as a writer.
To be an author, you do not need to be published. Were Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Arundhati Roy, or Amy Tan less than authors before their writings were published? Or did the act of creating their stories bestow upon them the right to call themselves authors and storytellers?
You don't need approval from others to be who you are.
When I hear someone characterize himself or herself as a "aspiring writer," my left eye twitches. Do you like to write? Great. That shows you're not just aspiring; you're actually doing it. You are a writer if you have written anything. Period. It's time to retire the phrase "aspiring" from your lexicon.
Take a time now and again to go through your body of work to see how far you've come. This advice applies to everyone, whether you've been writing your entire life or simply picked up a pen a few years ago.
Examine your angsty high school poems. Or even a blog article from a year ago. Or a notepad containing your five-year-old prose. It's a positive sign if you shudder at your previous work—it signifies that you've matured as a writer. Growth implies that you are not a charlatan. You're focused with getting better. You've spent a lot of time and effort honing your abilities. If you're evolving as a writer, you're not posing as one.
I hope I've done a good job of convincing you that you're not the only writer who feels like a phony. It is the rule rather than the exception. Most writers have felt like an imposter at some point in their careers. So know that your feelings aren't unique to you. Surprisingly, because so many authors experience this, feeling like a phony may help you gain credibility as a writer.
Don't suffer alone because you're not alone. Discussing your sentiments of self-doubt with other authors can often provide you with solace and a fresh perspective. Reach out to your writer's community to express your own concerns and fears.
Focusing your energies on what is good is an excellent method to combat imposter syndrome.
I'm sure you've had some great feedback on your work. Maybe you won or placed in a writing contest. And if none of it applies to you, be encouraging to yourself. Tell yourself that you're awesome.
Being a writer entails being criticized. It just comes with the territory. People who have never written a tale in their lives will tell you that it stinks and will give you a laundry list of reasons why. But keep in mind that you cannot let bad feedback prevent you from creating. Develop a tough skin as soon as feasible. From here on out, the comments just get worse. It's acceptable if not everyone likes your work.
Having said that, your work will occasionally be objectively bad. That's fine, too. You can analyze your own work, but don't let self-criticism prevent you from writing.
Allow yourself the luxury of sucking. Rome was not built in a single day. Nothing spectacular has ever existed.
Allow nothing, not even your own thoughts of self-doubt, to keep you from writing. The only way to improve as a writer is to write more frequently. You can't avoid improving as a writer if you keep writing. It's just like any other skill: the more you practice it, the better you'll get.
Yes, people can have unreasonable expectations at times. People will sometimes read considerably more into your remarks than you intended. That does not make you a charlatan. It simply implies that other people's imaginations exist, and each reader perceives your work through the lens of their own personality and past.
That is not going to change. The only thing that can be changed is your reaction to it. Will you be silenced by their expectations? Will you, on the other hand, silence your inner critic and get back to doing what you love?
Read also: Feel like a fraud?
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