Impostor syndrome isn’t a new concept, it’s something most people will encounter during their life. For a writer, impostor syndrome manifests itself in our psyche, laying a veil of self-doubt over our thoughts and actions. We continually feel our writing is inadequate and rubbish, and that nothing we write will be good enough. Ever.
In severe cases, impostor syndrome will cause writer’s block that will make you cry with frustration, causing your creativity to disappear when you need it most. In the worst of cases, some writers even stop writing.
So how do you deal with impostor syndrome? How do you get past the feelings of feeling like a fraud and a phony who will be soon found out, embarrassed and publicly shamed?
Call yourself a writer, and believe it
The first hurdle is actually believing you are worthy of calling yourself a writer. The impostor syndrome loves this stage, citing phrases in the back of our minds such as:
‘You have the audacity and arrogance to call yourself a ‘writer’?’
‘What have you ever achieved to warrant the title ‘writer’?
The truth is, it’s pretty simple: if you write, you are a writer. Are you a successful writer? Are you a published writer? Well, maybe not yet, but you are still, by definition a writer. So own it.
Ask yourself why you write
Often when you first ask yourself this question, the answer isn’t always clear. Do you write because you enjoy it? Do you write because you are compelled to? Are you writing to be published? Are you writing because you have something to share? There’s no right or wrong answer, and your answer may well be a combination of these things which is fine too. Once you understand why you write, you will realise that writing is important to you and that you must give it priority. Remember, you are a writer.
Give yourself permission
Once you have determined why you write, the next step is to give yourself permission to write. No one else can give you this permission – not your partner, not an editor, not a mentor – the permission must come from within you. Allow yourself to acknowledge writing is something you love, something you want in your life and that at the end of the day, writing is just writing. You’re not doing anything wrong, it’s just writing. No one ever questions why someone runs do they? Just because they’re not competing at the Olympics doesn’t mean they aren’t a ‘real’ runner. So why is writing any different?
Lower your expectations
Now you have given yourself permission to write, you need to allow yourself the freedom to write – and to write badly.
Write rubbish. Write words and sentences that make you cringe. Write things that don’t make any sense at all.
Why? Because that is how you become a better writer. No one ever sets out to write a masterpiece, and first drafts are crap. Really crap. Second drafts aren’t much better. But with each draft you write, you are learning to be a better writer. You are understanding the process, and you are getting to know your story. You are learning what works, and what doesn’t. By lowering your expectations, you will also begin to realise that not everything you write is bad, and that in fact, there are some darn good gems in your writing. Gems that just need to be nurtured and polished into something better. Writing is hard, and no matter who you are it doesn’t come naturally. It takes time, determination and most of all, it takes getting your backside in that seat and doing it.
Put everything into perspective
Writing, like any creative art form, is subjective. There are always going to be people out there who hate what you write, but, there will also be people who love what you write, and many in between. What is important, is creating that emotional connection with your words, and that comes from you – the writer – first. Once we have let our words out there in the world, it is out of our control what the reader thinks and feels. What you write will never resonate with everyone (what a boring world it would be if it did!). And remember, we are always our toughest critics. We are always going to think what we write is drivel, but when someone else reads it, they may well think that it’s the best thing they’ve read this week, this month, or possibly, ever!
When it comes down to it, giving yourself the freedom to just enjoy your writing is often the best way to deal with impostor syndrome and self-doubt. And unless you’re trying to re-write ‘Harry Potter’ word-for-word, you’re no impostor, you are simply a writer. And there’s nothing better. So get writing!
How do you deal with impostor syndrome?