Dealing with impostor syndrome: 3 helpful thoughts

In my writing coaching sessions, one of the first things that always comes up is that people doubt their own writing skills. I’ve rarely had an initial meeting with a new client where the topic doesn’t need to be addressed. I’ve had a person who’s been teaching English Literature for the past ten years tell me she didn’t feel like she was enough of an expert to publish a book of poetry. And someone who’s started three successful restaurants who doubted they were experienced enough to write a cook book. So that’s the main issue I’d like to address in this blog post: EVERY AUTHOR FEELS LIKE AN IMPOSTOR! In a way, impostor syndrome proves you’re a writer.

My first theory on impostor syndrome

My first theory on impostor syndrome starts out nice, but deteriorates pretty quickly:

  1. As writers, as artists, it is our job to create. Do you know that old adage that “all writing is autobiography”. Well, I do think it’s true. When we write, we put a bit of ourselves on the page. And when other people then go on reading what we have written, they read US. Which puts us in an incredibly vulnerable position. It is not only your work that is open to judgement, it’s you as a person.
  2. Now, the second step is only logical: when you feel vulnerable, you start to think about all the ways in which you can become hurt. And when you write, this being hurt often comes in the shape of critique.
  3. You start feeling insecure.
  4. And so you start looking for arguments that you can use against your would-be-criticizers, to convince them that you ARE good.
  5. But – because you are already in a negative headspace and have spent energy going through all the possible reasons why people would think you’re bad – you draw up a blank. Which must mean that they are right.
  6. Conclusion: you are an impostor.  

My second theory on impostor syndrome

The second theory is developed a bit further in another one of my other blogposts and has to do with reading unedited work. It is my belief that unedited text is a different genre from edited work. And as a beginning author, you will not be used to reading anything that has not been edited.

Every paragraph written by another author you’ve ever read has been edited. Often, more than one person has given feedback on it. It’s been improved time and again. And that means that your first draft will always look bad in comparison. Not because you’re a bad writer, but because yours is a DRAFT, and needs some serious work before it even falls in the same category as whatever someone else has written.

Here, the thought process is simple. “This text I’ve written is worse than anything I’ve ever read, so I must be a poor writer.”

Conclusion: you’re an impostor. 

So you feel like an impostor: what now?

Gosh, I wish I had a one-size-fits-all, just-do-this-and-all-will-be-well, quick fix solution. But I’m afraid there isn’t one. 

Here’s what I do know. 


It’s part of the process

It helps to know that this is part of your process. That you feel nervous and vulnerable because you’re creating something new. That you’re feeling this because you’re brave enough to put yourself out there. For working on yourself. All of this won’t make the nerves go away. But it might help you take that destructive voice in your head and turn it into something productive. 


You’re not alone

It also helps to know that you’re not the only one. In this blogpost on Stephen King’s memoir “On Writing”, I talk about how this worldwide bestselling author is still waiting for people to find out that he can’t actually write at all. He still feels like he’s an impostor. Now, if this author – whose books have been turned into numerous movies and tv shows, and who has become a millionaire with his writing – feels like an impostor… Then surely that voice must be lying, right? 

I often tell my coaching clients: every writer feels like an impostor. So the fact that you feel like an impostor only proves that you’re a writer. 


Don’t let it stop you

Now, all of this sounds nice and fun and all… But I still haven’t told you how to turn off that feeling. And I’m afraid I won’t be able to tell you that. People cheering you on might help. Some of the thoughts I’ve mentioned above might hold the feeling at bay. But, as I said, it’s part of the process. I don’t know if you’ll ever completely get rid of it.

However, I think the most important question to ask is not how to get rid of it. (Because you probably can’t.) The real question is: how can you work despite it. Or, if you are really lucky: how can you make it work FOR instead of against you. And finding that out is a process of trial and error. There’s no easy fix. Every person is different. You just need to make sure that it won’t stop you from achieving your goals. 

In Conclusion

Impostor syndrome sucks. And there’s no easy fix. But you can learn to live with it. And you can even make your self-doubt work for you if you treat it as a critical counterpoint to your creative self instead of letting it overwhelm you. 

And this is something a writing coach can help with. If you too suffer from crippling self-doubt and impostor syndrome, just contact me. Click on the button on the bottom of your screen or go to this page to schedule your first free coaching session. Together, we can figure out how to make you a brilliant author, despite or even because of that nasty little voice in your head.