Writers, Overcome Imposter Syndrome With These Tips | NY Book Editors
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How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Writer


Are you suffering from imposter syndrome? Me, too.

If I’m completely honest, I still cringe a little whenever someone introduces me as a writer. That’s because whenever someone asks me what I do, I use descriptive verbs and not nouns. I’ll say, “I write,” instead of “I’m a writer.” Weird, huh?

But the truth is, embracing the “writer” noun can be tough. I struggle at times because I feel like a fraud, even though I’ve been writing since I was in the third grade. I’ve won over a dozen literary awards. I majored in creative writing at school. And, for the last 12 years, I’ve made my living as a writer.

However, I’ve found a few tips that help me whenever I feel like slouching into self-deprecation, and I’d like to share these tips with you. I don’t think I’ll ever fully shake imposter syndrome, but these tips definitely help.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

So what exactly is imposter syndrome anyway?

In a nutshell, imposter syndrome is a mental pattern of self-doubt. You have this nagging feeling in the back of your mind that if people ever looked too closely, they’d realize that you have no idea what you’re doing. You’re not qualified to write, and how dare you call yourself a writer?

What’s even worse is that you probably agree with these ideas. You feel like a fraud. Here you are conducting this elaborate hoax and your greatest fear is that some meddling kid will pull off your mask and reveal your evil plot. (Gotta love a good Scooby Doo reference.)

Perfectionists and idealists are most vulnerable to bouts of imposter syndrome.

How Does Imposter Syndrome Affect Writers?

Imposter syndrome can be paralyzing for any writer, but it’s especially difficult for newbies. When you don’t have any “professional” accomplishments, you may feel like you can’t compete with those who do.

There’s a nasty but commonly held perception that you’re not a true writer unless you’re a published one. For people who think this way, self-publishing also doesn't hold the same weight as getting a stamp of approval from a traditional publishing house. But here’s the truth: Published or not, you can still consider yourself a writer if you write.

You may also be surprised to know that published authors are not exempt from imposter syndrome. Celebrated author Maya Angelou 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.'"

You can’t get any more legitimate as a writer than Maya Angelou, but even she had to combat that ugly feeling of self-doubt.

Published authors are susceptible to feeling like their success is a fluke, and that they won’t be able to duplicate it in the future.

When you feel like an imposter, you are subject to:

  • Constant self-critique
  • Excessive self-editing
  • Procrastination

All of these things can stop you from becoming an engaging and honest storyteller, and what a pity that would be.

How to Overcome Your Deep-Seated Fears

Let’s discuss strategies that you can use to overcome feelings of self-doubt as a writer.

Published Isn’t Everything

You don’t have to be published to be an author. Were Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Arundhati Roy, or Amy Tan any less than authors before publishing their manuscripts? Or did the process of writing their stories grant them the right to call themselves authors and storytellers?

You don’t need outside validation to be who you are.

Don’t “Aspire”

My left eye twitches when I hear someone earnestly describe him or herself as an “aspiring writer.” Do you write? Great. That means that you’re not aspiring, you’re actually doing it. If you’ve written anything, you’re a writer. Period. It’s time to shed the word “aspiring” from your vocabulary.

Review Your Progress

Every now and then, take a moment to look over your body of work to see how far you've come. This tip applies to all of us, whether you’ve been writing all of your life or you just picked up the pen a few years ago.

Take a look at your angsty high school poetry. Or last year’s blog post. Or a notebook of your old prose from five years ago. If you cringe at your former work, that’s a good thing— It shows that you’ve grown as a writer. Growth indicates that your not a fraud. You’re concerned about improving. You have invested time and energy into perfecting your skills. You’re not posing as a writer if you’re actually growing as one.

You’re Not Alone

Imposter syndrome as a writer

I hope I’ve done a thorough job at letting you know that you’re not the only writer who feels like a fraud. It’s the rule instead of the exception. Most writers feel like an imposter at some point or another. So know that what you’re feeling isn’t unique to you. Ironically, because so many writers go through this, feeling like a fraud may actually legitimize you as a writer.

Share Your Fears With Other Writers

Since you’re not alone, don’t suffer alone. Often times, discussing your feelings of self-doubt with other writers can give you relief and a renewed perspective. Reach out to your community of fellow writers to share your own fears and worries.

In case you’re in need of a community, check out these 11 top writing communities to join.

Immerse Yourself in Positivity

A great way to combat imposter syndrome is to focus your efforts on what’s good.

A great way to combat imposter syndrome is to focus your efforts on what’s good. Here's how:

I’m sure you’ve received at least some positive feedback on your writing. Perhaps you’ve won, or placed in, a literary contest. And if none of that applies, encourage yourself. Tell yourself that you rock.

Don’t Let the Negativity Dim Your Light

To be a writer is to be criticized. It just goes along with the territory. People who’ve never written a story in their lives will tell you that your story sucks and give you a laundry list of reasons why. But remember this: You cannot allow negative feedback to stop you from writing. Develop a thick skin and do it as soon as possible. The comments only get worse from here on out. Not everyone will like your work and that’s okay.

Give Yourself Permission to Suck

That said, sometimes your work will objectively suck. And that’s okay, too. You can critique your own work, but don’t allow self-critique to stop you from writing either.

Give yourself permission to suck. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nothing great ever was.

Don’t Stop Writing

Imposter syndrome as a writer

Don’t allow anything, including your own feelings of self-doubt, to stop you from writing. The only way to become a better writer is to become a more prolific writer. By continuing to write, you cannot avoid improving as a writer. It’s like any other skill— the more you do it, the better you’ll be at it.

Over to You

Do you ever feel like an imposter? If you have any tips on how to overcome this nasty disorder, let us know in the comments below.

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