This post is inspired by a discussion on Imposter Syndrome that popped up on Facebook this week. Specifically, a fellow author asked the question ‘How do you get past Imposter Syndrome?’ This is something common to pretty much every writer I’ve ever met, but it doesn’t only impact writers. In my last employed job, almost everyone on my team suffered from it to some extent. I’ve heard my sister who with a job, husband, kids and house is the mainstream definition of success say ‘I still don’t feel like an adult. I keep expecting someone to figure me out.’ Turns out, imposter syndrome is a sneaky bastard, affecting 60% of women, 40% of men.
My understanding of it (and I am far from an expert, is that imposter syndrome is the belief that you don’t have the skills/experience/ability necessary to do your job, that others are more qualified, and that you are either going to fail or be exposed as a fraud. You don’t trust your instincts when it comes to your work, and you’re more likely to see any success as a fluke rather than the byproduct of your hard work. You doubt yourself, hesitate to put yourself forward, and discount what you have to offer, both to yourself and to others. You accept others claims to knowledge as superior to your own, and do not put yourself forward. For example, I have a really bad habit of, when people find out I’m an author and expressing interest in a book, telling them everything I think is wrong with it so they won’t be disappointed later.
I used to be weighed down by Imposter Syndrome on the regular. In fact, there were months when, as I wasn’t publishing, I’d look at the other authors on my Facebook feed and feel like the world’s biggest fraud. Or when I’d get a FB comment or question asking for advice, and I’d be sitting there staring at it, like, what do I know? However, while I’ve worried about lots of things these past few months, imposter syndrome isn’t one of them. While I can’t say that I’ve kicked this for good, I do want to share a few things I’m doing/have done in the past that may be helping me avoid imposter syndrome at the moment.
1. Being really clear on my goals.
I wanted to improve my focus and motivation, so I spent some quality time getting really clear on the reasons I write, and what I want to achieve with my work. It turns out that writing stories that I enjoy and are true to who I am and my values is very important to me. I want to make a full-time living from writing, but I want to do it in a way that doesn’t compromise my writing. Some people can do this by writing to market; I’ve decided to go for many books over a long period of time.
Having come to this realisation and making a plan that was based on my values and that I felt good about was a massive help in combating author envy, and giving me a sense of purpose. I feel like I know who I am as an author now. The fact that my path doesn’t look like so many of my writer friends paths no longer gives me existential doubt. This has, in turn, led to reduced instances of imposter syndrome. This one thing has done wonders for my mental health generally!
2. Making an author business plan.
Joanna Penn made an amazing mini course on how to make an author business plan. Doing this was another light bulb moment for me. Although I’ve been earning money from my books for years now, this is the first time I’ve seriously applied the term ‘business’ to myself and to my writing. I felt a fraud at first, going through and writing down ‘sole trader,’ but once it got time to list assets and I realised how many books I’ve written… Well, it make me realise, maybe I am a professional author after all. Since then, I’ve noticed a shift in confidence and mindset.
3. Writer friends.
I’m incredibly lucky in that Christchurch is home to several excellent writing groups, and I’ve made some really good writing friends, all at different stages of our writing journeys. We’re able to talk about publishing honestly, sharing our fears and failures as well as our successes. This is amazing. There’s nothing like being able to say ‘I got a one star review and I feel like crud’ with people who get it. We don’t always agree, but we are able to support each other and keep each other on track.
I’ve also got writing friends online who I can discuss my plans with and get second opinions on either my craft or business decisions. Again, just being able to reach out to other and hear that other writers cannot figure out Amazon ads, or that they’re struggling to solve a plot dilemma is everything. Realising that other writers wrestle with this stuff too—even with imposter syndrome—it just helps a lot. In the past, I’ve had these writer friends in Facebook groups and on forums as well, so if you don’t have irl writing friends, don’t despair—you can find them online!
4. Keeping notes on my positive successes.
I used this technique when trying to give myself a boost at my previous job, and it definitely did make a difference to my mood and confidence: I started making a note in my diary of anything I felt I’d done really well during a customer interaction. Our brains are hardwired to remember the negative not the positive. Bad things are threats, good things not so much. I was hoping that by recording the good, I would drown out my self doubt or at least provide a counter narrative. I’m no longer doing this (different environment and new challenges), but I can see myself potentially picking this back up in the future if needed, or being very useful in non-writing scenarios.
There’s nothing better than helping someone out by sharing knowledge, and there’s a good chance you might learn something too. Sitting down with someone new to writing and publishing and sharing your experiences with them is not only good for your karma, but it shows you how much you know that you do not realise you know. Again, this happened by accident rather than by design, but spending time with a couple of writing friends recently, walking them through the self-publishing process, really brought it home to me just how much I’ve learned.
6. Author mug.
This one is kind of an accident, but I had a beautiful author logo and I wanted to add it to some merchandise so I could experiment with print of demand products, so I made myself a mug with my logo on it and then ordered one. This is fantastic for battling imposter syndrome especially when you drink as much tea as I do because it is constant visual reinforcement that yes, you’re a real author with a logo and everything.
What other tips do you have for battling imposter syndrome? I’d love to hear them.
Empowering gaslamp fantasy that confounds expectations
Gillian St. Kevern
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