Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Do you ever feel like an impostor? Do you struggle to take yourself seriously? Are you uncomfortable talking about your writing or identifying yourself as a writer? Andrea Sims PhD, author of The Impostor Affect, describes this phenomenon as “the inability of high achieving people to internalize their successes or to believe that they are capable of or responsible for their own accomplishments. Impostors feel like frauds – plain and simple.”
Otherwise known as impostor syndrome, this struggle to accept worth and accomplishment can even lead to anxiety over being ‘found out’; hardly an outlook that allows for creative expression.
While some writers love to talk about their work to anyone who will listen, others struggle to share their writing with even their closest friends and family. If this is you, I hope you’ll take some time to explore this aspect of your personality. It’s essential that you become proud of your work and your identity as a writer. If you want agents, publishers, and readers to take you seriously as an author, that has to start with you. And you might be surprised by the personal and professional benefits that come with owning your creative work.If you want agents, publishers, and readers to take you seriously, it starts with you. Click To Tweet
Why do I feel like a fraud?
Where do these impostor feelings come from? Psychology offers complex answers to this question, so it might be worth further study to gain insight into your particular situation. But a few simple and far-reaching answers are:
- You don’t feel you deserve the success you’ve achieved.
- You can’t enjoy your victories because you’re stuck on your work’s imperfections.
- You’re afraid you don’t really have the chops to be a writer; you’re sure that a ‘real’ author will expose you as a fraud.
Each of these roots of self-doubt is understandable. The publishing industry is demanding, competitive, and exclusionary at times. But it can also be affirming, welcoming, and rewarding. Like any industry or community, the publishing world has the potential to be a healthy or toxic place. You can’t always be in control, but you can step out with courage, hope, and self-confidence. That’s the kind of attitude that will put you in the most favorable position. Otherwise, you risk setting yourself up for failure or not putting yourself out there at all.
How can you begin to investigate the roots of your impostor tendencies?
- Journal about your experiences of feeling like a fraud and see if you can trace them to their origins.
- Meditate on your experiences and observe what insights arise.
- Talk to a friend, mentor, or counselor to process your fears and frustrations; you might be surprised at what you uncover.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore this! Feelings of inadequacy don’t just go away.
Why does it matter anyway?
But why should I have to worry about this anyway? Because you have a part to play in promoting your books. Marketing and promotion are arguably the deciding factors when it comes to achieving success in self-publishing. How will you get the word out about your book once it’s published if you can’t talk about writing it? Plus, your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors love you! They would probably jump at the chance to support you. Holding people at arms length is lonely, and the resource authors need most is a supportive community of readers and cheerleaders around them.
Even if you land a great book deal with a traditional publisher, you’ll be expected to take responsibility for some of the marketing. Your impostor syndrome won’t magically disappear when that time comes. You’ll play a central role in developing your author platform, and that’s hard to do when you struggle to promote your creative work.
So, how do you make a change?
- Start small. When a friend asks you what’s new, say you’ve been writing. They’ll ask about your project, so take the opportunity to talk about it.
- Be consistent. Do this every time you get the chance. It really does get easier with practice.
- Join a writer’s group. If you’re not a member of a writer’s group, join one. You’ll be encouraged and empowered by other members to share your work. This creates confidence in your work. Plus, being surrounded by a community of writers has a way of affirming your identity as a writer.
- Practice visualization. Visualization is an incredibly powerful tool. What we believe affects how we live. So, whether you create a structured visualization practice or just daydream from time to time about being a wildly successful author, make visualization part of your lifestyle.
Take the time to build these confidence-boosting practices into your life, and before you know it, you’ll be holding your head a little higher.
What does self-confidence have to do with writing craft?
The benefits of taking yourself seriously go beyond being able to fulfill your author responsibilities. The amazing thing about developing self-confidence is that it actually fuels your creative work!
Elizabeth Gilbert brings beautiful insight to this conversation in her book Big Magic. She argues that confronting fear in creative work is a delicate process. If you’re too heavy-handed and you kill your fear, you can also kill your creativity. After all, fear was a central part of our evolution as human beings. It plays an important role in your life – when it’s not running rampant in your psyche!
Her advice? Make space for fear. She imagines the creative process as a road trip; fear gets to come along for the ride, but it doesn’t get to drive.
As you begin to confront your impostor feelings, learn to respect your fears, not bludgeon them to death. Let them have room to breathe, give them a space in your creative process, but don’t let them have control. Creativity gets to take the lead.When you move past fear, creativity takes the lead.Click To Tweet
That’s what belief in yourself, your voice, and your work can do for you. Imagine a creative space not dominated by your fears! Can you see how it’s opening up, giving you more room to breathe?
Can you take yourself seriously?
I’ll leave you with another of Liz Gilbert’s pearls of wisdom:
The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them… So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?
I hope you’ll be able to answer with a resounding “YES!”
What role does fear play in your creative work? What practices have you cultivated to overcome impostor syndrome and take yourself seriously? Tell us about a time you conquered fear and how it improved your writing. For more great advice on this topic, check out Want To Improve Your Writing? Here Are The Six People You Need To Find, Are You Sabotaging Your Own Success? Here’s How To Stop, and this ‘fake it to make it’ advice from Caitlin Moran.