The imposter phenomenon was introduced in an article by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978. If you’d like to read it, the article is titled, The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.
So, what the heck is imposter syndrome? It has nothing to do with wearing a physical mask or costume and posing as someone else. It’s about wearing an invisible psychological mask. This is a condition that leaves a person feeling anxious and doubtful of their talents, even though they are accomplishing their goals and achieving success. People who suffer from these feelings, and let’s face it, there are many authors who have felt this way at one time or another, often find themselves feeling like a phony who will one day be found out for the fraud they believe they are. Ugh! That sounds awful. Imagine the internal struggle, the back and forth, the fear that at any moment someone will pull off their unseen disguise and out them to the world. Zoinks!
All kidding aside, this syndrome can be paralyzing for writers and can cause everything from writer’s block to feelings of incompetence. Newbies are especially at risk when they don’t yet have writing accomplishments to speak of. The feelings of inadequacy that plague the mind leave a new writer feeling like they can’t compete. But more than that they may feel as if they don’t have a right to compete. That they don’t deserve to be considered for publication. This can lead to a continual comparison with themselves and accomplished writers and authors. It’s a trap many fall into at one time or another.
How many times have you heard that little voice in your head tell you you’re not good enough, or smart enough, or that you have some nerve thinking you can write a novel or nonfiction book? Have you ever thought, “Crap, today’s the day everyone is going to find out the truth about me?” Then, you may be suffering from imposter syndrome.
Well, here’s a real truth bomb heading your way. If you write, you’re a writer. Plain and simple. End of story. Stop doubting yourself. When others ask you what you do, instead of stumbling over the words, “I uh, well, um, I write.” Take a deep breath and say clearly, things like: “I’m a writer.” “I have a blog and I write articles about . . .” “I write fiction.” “I write articles to help others.” “I write short stories.” “I’m an aspiring author and I’m working on my debut novel.” You get the picture.
Look, if you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone. A very famous author 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.’”
Guess who said that? Ta-da, it was Maya Angelou, a very competent, accomplished, and legitimate author. So, you see, though she died in 2014, you’re still in the company of a powerful and highly successful author who published many books, and once appeared on many talk shows and news segments. One would think she had to know she was the epitome of success, but doubt somehow crept in, even in her prolific mind.
Okay, so maybe you’re already published, you’ve hit the trifecta of writing, querying, and seeing your book in print. You’re on a high from your accomplishment and basking in the accolades. Writer beware, many published authors eventually descend from cloud nine and those feelings of incompetence and defectiveness rear their ugly heads again. Just like Maya Angelou, some authors trick themselves into thinking that getting published or self-publishing was an accident, or dumb luck. They were in the right place at the right time. They’ve fooled readers into buying their book. Uh-oh, it’s time for book two and pretty soon those authors fear they cannot measure up a second time. That perhaps they don’t have what it takes to match their past success.
What can you do to combat these feelings of doom and gloom and possible subsequent road blocks to success like writer’s block, writing from an empty cup of ideas, procrastination, rejection, excessive editing, and wanting to give up?
It's not easy to put yourself out there. Start slowly and build your momentum. When you begin to question your credentials or abilities, flip the script in your head. Yell, STOP out loud if you have to and immediately replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. Failure is not an option.
Stop telling yourself you can’t. Turn those CAN’Ts into CANs and your dreams into plans. Tell yourself you can do it, you deserve it, you have worked hard to get where you are. Ever hear the expression fake it till you make it? I can’t think of a better instance to apply this notion.
Others don’t know how you feel inside or how you had to learn the basics of writing mechanics, or the publishing industry. They have no idea that you get stuck and feel less than. They only see you, so project the best of you — the writer who is busy turning an idea into a novel. Let them see the writer who spends time and energy creating the best fiction novel or most interesting memoir they can. Stop looking for outside validation and believe in yourself.
Write with passion, with excitement. Step away when it gets tough. Take breaks. Beat those writing blues with every tool in your arsenal. Find inspiration, go for a long walk outside and marvel at Mother Nature, eat a good meal, be mindful of your goals, meditate, take a bubble bath, relax with a glass of wine, or listen to music. Visit other Wordy articles for tips and tricks to get past some of this.
Now, I’m not saying it doesn’t matter how you write, because it does, but there’s an easy fix to make messy writing better if you’re willing to put in the time. Do a little research, read about book must-haves, follow the steps to create a proper plot, understand how to compose effective dialogue, learn how to correct grammar mistakes, and most of all gain knowledge about how to construct sentences, scenes, and chapters that pack a punch. Your writing matters. Believe that. Make it the best it can be.
Take the time every now and then to reflect on your writing portfolio. Go back to earlier versions of your WIP if you have them. You will probably be pleasantly surprised how far you’ve come and how your work is so much better than it once was. See how you’ve grown as a writer. You may have watered your writing seeds without even realizing how you’ve blossomed.
Dig out your first manuscript or a short story you shoved in a drawer. I bet it’ll make you recoil with embarrassment a bit. But ya know what? It’ll also prove that you’ve become a better writer. You learned and honed your craft! You will quietly sing, hallelujah! True story, it happened to me. Now it’s a book in waiting. It’s waiting to be rewritten, restructured, and reedited.
Go back and review college and high school essays. Though that is a different kind of writing, you should still be able to confirm your improvements.
Set your eyes upon that book of poetry you threw in the back of your closet. You know, the one you penned while falling in love then added to after the heart-wrenching break up. I have a few of those. Raise your wine glass if you’ve become a better poet.
Think about all the websites you’ve visited, all the books you’ve read, all the grammar rules you’ve Googled, all the research you’ve done to help you on your road to completing your book and finding publication. All of that proves you’re serious about your craft and you want to improve.
My hubby always says not to keep things bottled up inside. Since we’ve established you are not alone in feeling this way, that others experience this impostor syndrome too, including successful authors, it’s time for you to share your own feelings of self-doubt and what strategies you employ to vanquish them. Talking about your feelings and struggles with other writers and aspiring authors can help you in ways you can’t even imagine. Helping others creates an instant boost of confidence.
Furthermore, nothing confirms your writing ability and knowledge, like mentoring others who are just beginning the writing journey. Increasing your confidence is a pleasant side effect of answering their questions and leading them in the right direction.