Fighting Imposter Syndrome
Every writer feels it at some point (or more than once) - so what can you do about it?
I don’t think my father meant to diminish my writing talent when I offered to pay for law school instead of an MFA. I was in my early 20s, had no money, and was a dreamy wanna be writer living in New York City and yearning for the day when book covers would shout my name to the world.
“But I don’t want to be a lawyer,” I insisted. “An MFA is a quarter the price of a law degree - why not pay for that?”
Apparently my persuasive skills were lawyer-level because I did convince my dad to foot the bill for my Goddard College MFA in Poetry, where my master’s thesis became my first published book, at the age of 25, in time for graduation. Imagine the feeling of carting a box of books with my name on them to my writer-friends in Vermont!! I can’t even find the words, which is weird for a writer.
So the evidence is strong that I am, in fact, a Writer, and always have been, right?
But I’ve doubted whether that is true over the years. Yes, I write. Yes, people have told me I write well. People have even been moved by an essay or a poem of mine. I LOOOOOOVE writing. It doesn’t feel like work. It’s how I make sense of the world. It’s my love letter-exploration-curiosity journey.
So why did I ever doubt that I was a writer?
Imposter syndrome plagues every creative, which is important to know that you’re not alone. Even Maya Angelou, who once said: “Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.’”
Combatting Imposter Syndrome
You don’t need to be published to call yourself a writer. You just have to write. But of course, writers who are plagued with self-doubt critique themselves harshly, go crazy on self-editing and procrastinate, telling themselves very convincing reasons why they can’t write now, or ever. Which feeds the self-doubt.
Publishing is a numbers game - the more you submit, the more likely you are to get published. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with talent or craft. Go into any bookstore and pick a book off the shelves. It might be good. It might be great. It might suck the big one. You are a writer if you write. And chances are that you’ve been writing all your life. Just maybe not taking your writing seriously.
So go back to those high school diaries and childhood journals. Find the evidence that you are a writer. Dig through your parents’ basement to find the second-grade story that a teacher loved and marked with a gold star. Pull out the yellowed clips from the college newspaper bearing your byline.
You’re a writer. Stop fighting it.
Find Your Community
The best way to face down Imposter Syndrome is to surround yourself with other writers. So then when you feel utter despair because you haven’t written in a month, you can call-text-email-Snap someone and say, “Hey, I’m spiraling on self-doubt - help!” And they will.
I hope you’ll find some community here. For subscribers, I’ll be inviting you to quarterly meetups with other writers, where we can generate new material, ask questions and meet people who love words. And for all readers, consider joining my free monthly writealongs. Click here to register.
My Recent Bout of Impostering
I spent last July in the Scottish Highlands writing. It was AMAZING. I went there to live in another place, hike mountains, meet writers and of course, write something significant. I worked on a few essays, did some research for my next novel and then started writing toward creating a memoir of my month in the Highlands.
83,000 words, people!! I wrote the thing, did a quick edit, sent it to beta readers, and was ready for this to be my next published book after my novel WOMAN OF VALOR comes out in September.
After receiving positive feedback and some critical suggestions from my betas, I designated February (this month!) to start on the revision. I printed out all 285 pages of this book and started reading and making notes on the page where I wanted to revise and improve the story.
This is just ONE page of many with my, uh, notes. Pretty grim, right? By page 80, I decided this book wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.
Imposter syndrome big time!
I didn’t burn it, though. I set it aside. It’s a maybe-later. Maybe I’ll never publish it. Maybe I will publish parts of it as essays. And maybe one day I’ll come back to it and revise.
But the burning question as I read my own writing was, “Who is ever going to be interested in reading this?”
A dear friend of mine who is an incredibly talented writer said she feels this way at some point with every book she’s written. So I’m not alone in hating my writing sometimes and thinking I’m a hack.
And neither are you.
Just Start Writing
I’d like to finish this letter by giving you something to kickstart your creativity, especially if you’ve been doubting whether you are really a writer. So give it a try. And let me know how it goes!
Whose voice is in your head, telling you writing is not a worthwhile pursuit? Write them a letter showing your passion for words, and convince them that this is who you are. Explain why you write and what you love about words. Pour all your passion for this craft into that letter, as if your life depends on it.