I walk into a writer’s social networking meeting. Immediately I feel as though I don’t belong here – these are real writers, they all have valid reasons for being here. I, on the other hand, am an imposter.
As one of the networkers tells me about her recent project my self talk, like a little demon on my shoulder, chatters away incessantly ‘You don’t belong here’ it says, ‘You’re not a writer, you’re just a mum, playing at being a writer’. But I try to reason with this fiend; ‘I earn money from writing, does that not make me a writer?’
I know I’m not alone in this, many writers have written about how they attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that they will eventually be ‘found out’ like a deceitful criminal. No matter our skills or qualifications, whether we’re high achievers who are unable to accept our success or those just starting out many writers it seems, at some time or another, suffer from this debilitating problem. They don’t feel as though they deserve to call themselves writers.
Whatever our occupation, anyone can be dogged by self doubt and it can impact quite drastically on our confidence, which in turn can affect our productivity causing our work to be little more than mediocre. We may procrastinate, putting off an assignment out of fear that we won’t be able to complete it to the required standard. We might even reject new challenges, held back by our own self-doubt.
As writers we are more at risk of being affected by imposter syndrome than other professions. Many of us work from home, we are almost certainly going to be writing alone, and during our moments of doubt when we need a little morale boost we have no colleagues to give us support and no boss to give us positive feedback.
It doesn’t help when editors ignore our emails or telephone messages, leading to further doubts in our abilities. For me, days and weeks of not hearing from editors can conjure up a world of insecurities. Do they hate my work? Are they now under the impression that I cannot write at all? Even when offered an assignment by an editor I am plagued by the worry that my work just won’t be good enough. Some days I feel so utterly deflated that I am inclined to search the job pages because this writing lark, I feel, is just not for me.
Some psychologists think that imposter syndrome is about our need for encouragement, approval and reassurance. If we don’t receive enough of it in childhood we will try to fill the gap in adulthood, and for some the need for reassurance is greater than for others. Some psychological research also suggests that people who suffer from imposter syndrome grew up in families that placed a big emphasis on achievement and their sense of worth becomes dependent upon success. These may be more extreme cases because that wasn’t my experience and even those writers I know who grew up in the most supportive of households suffer to some extent from these feelings of ‘not being good enough’. Various other factors can affect our susceptibility to this feeling too. We could have anxious or self-conscious personalities, lack of self-esteem or low confidence levels or maybe something that happened in the past that has clouted our confidence in our abilities.
Societal pressures only add to the problem. These days there is increasing pressure to achieve or to be seen to be achieving. Social media, as useful as it is to writers, can leave us feeling like we just don’t quite measure up to others’ perfect lives and careers. We compare ourselves to our more successful seeming friends and acquaintances even though we know rationally that we’re only seeing a snapshot of reality.
We mustn’t despair, however, because whatever the origins there are ways to combat the feeling of not feeling good enough.
Having good social contacts makes the difference between sitting crying into your soup and feeling so motivated that nothing can break your creative spirit. If you don’t have good social support, cultivate it. It’s been said many times before that a writing buddy, or even a good friend whom you can trust and who is happy to listen to your ideas, is invaluable, as is a good supportive writing group whom you can bounce ideas off.
Keep a running list of all your achievements and keep them on a pin board above your desk. A daily reminder of the ‘little wins’ will keep your self-esteem buoyant. Also, keep emails from editors who praise your work, print some off and add these to your pin board too for a mini boost when you need to feel some love.
If we understand that feeling incompetent and being incompetent are two very different things, we can determine what we’re going to do about it. We need to believe that we are good enough and talented enough. What we believe about ourselves and our world becomes our reality and our beliefs come true because we look for evidence to support them.
Unless writing is our sole occupation then we can borrow some of the confidence we’ve gained in other areas of our lives; as parents, in our day jobs or as a spouse or partner, to give us confidence in our writing lives if we mentally transfer the skills we’ve gained. For example, as parents we must be creative in persuading our children to do our bidding, with our writing hat on this translates into being creative in our approach to the editor of a magazine, to persuade him to accept our pitch.
It’s important to remember that the majority of writers suffer from some degree of imposter syndrome. Even the most successful ones who don’t have to go searching for their daily crust have the occasional feeling that the sky is falling in on them when they’re having a bad writing day.
On a positive note, feeling like an imposter is not all bad. For starters, it keeps us humble and stops us from getting too big for our boots. If we are always striving to be better we will never get complacent because we will be focused on continually improving our writing.
So if you can’t believe your luck or you think it’s a fluke that you’ve got this far then don’t fear, the ability and means to drag yourself out of the quagmire of self doubt is never far away. You may have to build your self-assurance from scratch, little by little adding to your confidence credit but learn to believe in your own power and the benefits will be enormous.