Everyone is SO much better at writing than I am!
Familiar internal monologue complaint?
Felt the compassion-pressure of measuring up to others whom you believe are ‘natural’ writers?
Who do I think I am??? A fraud!
These feelings are known as impostor syndrome, or what psychologists often call ‘impostor phenomenon’. An estimated 70% of people experience these impostor feelings at some point in their lives.
Imposter syndrome can occur in any field but is especially rampant when dealing with positions in the public eye. Artists of any kind. Entertainers etc. Of course, this includes AUTHORS and WRITERS.
Why? Because when you have an audience, or if you want an audience then the feeling of being an imposter (in your own life) is more acute. It’s one thing to lip-sync in the safety of your bathtub, quite another to sing on stage or submit a book to publication or beta readers.
Most ‘famous’ authors will tell you that they’ve been there. Those that haven’t are like those outgoing types who don’t feel stage fright, there are always ultra-confident people out there, but they don’t make up the majority. Most of us have some trepidation and concern about how we’re perceived by others. It’s one thing to have some self-faith versus abundant narcissism. Imposter syndrome means we doubt our abilities and feel like a fraud. It often disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Many question whether they’re deserving of accolades. But they’re only seeing one side of the coin.
We may have a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud” but that discounts the fact we’re working legitimately hard at something. Why wouldn’t we feel this way about another job? Like being a nanny. It’s because of how the writing field is perceived, and the belief that only the ‘very best’ get to call themselves author. But whose rules are those? Think you have everyone fooled and ‘if only they knew’?
But isn’t that a little like trying to mind-read? Do we really think we have the power or luck to be this imposter in our own lives? Or did we really earn it? I see a lot of similarities between imposter syndrome and those high-achievers at school who would have a melt-down if they made a 98/100 on a test. Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure when there isn’t any. Other times we refuse to give ourselves credit where credits due.
So how do we get confidence to stop feeling like an imposter or cringing when we call ourselves ‘an author’ – versus becoming an ego maniac? It’s all about balance. And earning our way forward while avoiding the cult-of-comparison.
What do I mean by balance and earning our way forward?
If someone came to you and said: “I’m an author. I haven’t written anything but I’m a really incredible author.” You might laugh. But if someone came to you and said: “I’m an author. I’ve written five books. None of them have been published yet but that is my hope. It’s a tough road.” The balance of reality (tough road) juxtaposed with the confidence to declare themselves an author (on the basis of having actually written five books) demonstrates that person earned the right to be called an author.
You don’t have to be famous to be an author, but you do have to write (and read others) to claim this title. It isn’t arrogant to call yourself an author if you either regularly get published (online counts) OR you regularly write. Being something isn’t contingent upon ‘success’ so much as hard work, devotion to and commitment. You’re not an imposter if you’re actually doing the work.
For every ego-centric person who claims this title without the work, there are many more who don’t believe they have ‘earned’ the right to call themselves an author and will ponder – when will I feel I have earned the right? Ergo they feel like an imposter for claiming a title that doesn’t sit comfortably and causes them to feel a fraud. But are you a fraud if you are working towards something?
If I were in medical school I wouldn’t feel badly for saying: “I’m training to be a doctor.” The only reason you don’t say you are ‘training’ to be a writer, is because when you’re writing for a living, you’re usually past university or education and no longer in a training capacity, although in truth, you’re training your entire life if you’re a writer.
Using the language then of a writer, it’s appropriate to introduce yourself as ‘a writer’ without being an imposter, if: You write. And by writing, I don’t mean keeping a journal, or writing shopping lists or poems on the backs of stamps. I mean really writing. What ‘really writing’ means will vary person-to-person, and for some, writing all day long, may seem more legitimate than someone who only writes once a week. Nevertheless, by all standards ever held, both would be considered writers.
After all, some of our favorite writers only wrote one book in their life time yet we would never say they were not writers. Others may have written hundreds but are forgettable. Yet it is not possible to judge ‘worth’ or ‘quality’ as easily as it is to define what makes a writer. To define worth or quality is individual to a large extent, and then on another level, could be judged based on public reception (popularity, awards won etc).
We should be careful not to adhere only on the accolade a book garners. Some popular books are not any better than obscure ones. They may have a great publicist, be written by the grandchild of a famous person, have some other networking feat, possess a subject or genre that is the ‘IT subject’ of the moment or subject du jour or fit with a need at the time. Those things are all real but do not mean that book is any better than the one languishing in obscurity.
However, since nobody writes not to be read – the success of a book is its defining feature, as flawed as that may be. But an author is an author irrespective of writing one book, or a 100, of making a fortune, or earning nothing. An author is someone who is committed to the art of writing and does (write).
Next time you wonder why you are bothering to do this thing called writing, remember two things:
You are an author if you write and if you continue to write you continue to be an author. Nobody can take that away from you.
If you continue writing, your chances of being published and read, go up and up and this should be your goal: To write and be read.
Anything better than that, is icing on the cake. But you’ve already got your dream of being (an author) if you’re putting in the work it takes to be (an author). Well done!
It may be a hard graft but you won’t find many lawyers/attorneys suffering from imposter syndrome, think about that next time you do … confidence may be harder for a self-deprecating, perfectionist writer, but YOU ARE A WRITER so the idea of being an imposter in your own life, well that’s just you coming to terms with the moniker of WRITER. Why? Because there will ALWAYS be someone who is a better writer than you. Sorry about that but it’s a crowded planet and there’s a lot of talent.
Should that stop you? Did it stop all the brilliant authors you’ve read and loved? Then don’t let it stop you! The most talented person isn’t always the one who gets to the finishing line. The one who WORKS HARD and never gives up, is the one who gets to the finishing line. And along the way may surprise themselves by getting even better at what they do. It’s not about being the best. It’s about showing up and doing what you do, until someone notices.
Imposter syndrome is so 2021 let’s leave it there and get on with writing!