Writing a novel is a challenging process and positive reinforcement is gaspingly hard to come by. Accordingly, it is hard to avoid imposter syndrome: the feeling that you are a fraud and that your lack of skills will be “discovered” at any moment.
Nearly every writer I know is afflicted at some point by the sense that they are a complete and total imposter who does not deserve to be writing a sentence, let alone a whole novel.
- Before you get published you say: “Oh but I’m not a real writer.”
- Then get you get published and you say: “Oh but I’m not a good writer.”
- Then you get good reviews and you say: “Oh but I’m just a fluke writer, I’ll never be able to do this again.”
And so on and so forth, through countless sleepless nights.
Writers and imposter syndrome
Writing a novel is, in many respects, a completely crazy enterprise.
You spend months and months of your time on a seemingly open-ended and immensely difficult project without any notion of whether it is any good, whether it will ever be finished or see the light of day, and whether you will ever see a dime for your troubles.
And that’s before you show it to the world, where it will invariably be met with various forms of rejection and heartache you theretofore did not know existed.
As I said in How to Write a Novel: This is the life you’ve chosen.
It’s hard not to struggle with the “am I crazies,” that feeling that you are on some impossible path and wondering why in the world you’re doing what you’re doing.
And here’s the kicker: IT DOESN’T GET BETTER THROUGH TIME.
An imposter’s history
I spent a ton of time doubting that I was really a writer, let alone a good one. I didn’t even tell anyone I was writing a book until I landed an agent for the second novel I wrote.
After all of that, when I finally found a publisher for the novel that became the first book in the Jacob Wonderbar series, I was positively euphoric.
No one, I thought, would ever be able to take that away from me. I was going to be a published author. I did something really hard, and I pulled it off. I would no longer doubt whether I was meant to be writing a book.
That was a fun couple of weeks. Then it was back to imposter city.
First I worried about whether I’d be able to write another book that was any good. Then I wondered whether I’d be able to keep going and write anything more.
Now it’s been a few years since I’ve published a book, and my publishing credits feel like this fading mirage that is receding into the distance. I wonder if my ability or my willpower has slipped through my fingers.
Am I ever going to even finish another book? Am I still a “real writer?”
How to beat imposter syndrome
So what do you do with all of this? How do you power through?
Here’s the best advice I have:
- Know that it’s okay to feel like an imposter – You’re gonna feel this feeling. It’s an inevitability. You have to let yourself just feel it and try to let it wash over you. Trust that it’s normal and a part of the process and don’t beat yourself up over it. And most importantly: don’t let it overwhelm or paralyze you.
- Get in touch with why you’re writing – Are you writing for external validation, for the fame and glory and riches? If so: good luck, my friend! More likely, and more meaningfully: you’re writing because it’s fun. Because you want people to find meaning in the places where you’ve found meaning. Because you’re experiencing the world more deeply and seeing things you didn’t see before because you’re stopping to think about them and put them into words. If you’re writing for the right reasons it’s not possible to be a fraud.
- Lean on your people – Writing is by nature a solitary activity. There’s no substitute for blocking out the world and staring at a computer or notepad. All the more reason to come up for air and engage with the people around you and let them support you. If you find people who truly believe in you and your work: cherish these people like the articles of pure magic they are. Just as importantly: believe them.
- Fear the right things – As everyone from Eminem to Alexander Hamilton (okay the fictional one) has said: you only have one shot. Don’t blow it. Make sure you fear throwing away your chance because you failed to go after your dreams more than you fear some random person denting your feelings.
At the end of the day, you can’t truly beat this feeling, but it’s so important to charge through. You have every reason to write your novel. You don’t need anyone’s permission. Power through the doubt and keep on going.
Have you experienced imposter syndrome in your writing life? How did you beat it?
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Art: Painter in his Studio by Gerritt Dou
Longtime reader, first-time caller (sort of). Impostor-ism…I’m an English instructor, college, and I find that I have this feeling more for teaching than I do for writing. I wonder if it’s a common theme across all works and disciplines? Someone who is either a little less confident or a little less self-aware finds doubt the deeper they dig. For some of us, it’s closer to the surface.
Writing is as much vocation as vacation and perhaps it is the more visible aspects of it that give rise to this impostor syndrome, which I have felt before with writing as well, though not as acutely. You’re going to get it out there into the world and other people will be training their eyes and microscopes on what you bled for. To you, it’s blood. To them, it’s drivel that you dared to produce and used to pollute their already littered landscape – or so we fear.
You’re right, as usual. The true impostor is the person who simply is a writer, who has to do it, and yet denies themselves for whatever reason. (Again, this has to be true for anyone who’s ever dreamt of anything, who has a passion for whatever they do) What are we going to do? Stop? We won’t ever stop.
You’ll have to forgive me. I’ve had a few beverages with lunch so my prose is a touch more florid than usual.
I like the concrete advice about what to do. It’s the only way out, it’s the only viable exercise, how to combat this fear that one is an impostor: you have to confront the reason why you do what you do. I’ve run the gamut, as I’m sure you have yourself. If you want to “make a career of it” well. best of luck. That’s some tough sledding. Even the most successful writers, forget about fame, are few and far.
But do you want to “make a life?” It seems like that’s the only choice there is, really, with, again, anything. Who are you? Are you an impostor? Or are you who you know you really are?
I experience that syndrome almost on a daily basis, and the truth is, there is only one way of beating it – write the next sentence.
And then another. And another.
The writing process, seeing the world through the eyes of your characters, is so rewarding in itself, that it makes you forget about everything else. The rest is just a noise.
I take your point. You’re looking at this from an internal vantage point. I was thinking about Nathan’s post in external terms. If you’re a writer, whether you always knew you were or if you’ve come to it later in life, if you say you’re a writer, then that’s who you are regardless of success or whether anyone tells you you’re any good. You may fear being an impostor, not being good enough, but oftentimes those feelings have to do with concerns that originate with other people, Will they buy it? Will they read it? Will they remember me?
But you can’t control any of that. As you say, all you can do is write the sentences.
And the even greater aspect is that you get to create something and nurture it. As both you and Nathan point out, that’s what to focus on.
You can’t possibly be an impostor if you’re focused on those sentences, those characters. They’re real, how could they be the product of an impostor?
universal androot apk says
Really it’s hard to avoid imposter syndrome…Well done it’s a great article..Thankyou for sharing this article with us…
Bryan Fagan says
It’s a common experience for me and I’m glad to see it in writing. Since I’ve started down this road I’ve met a lot of people suffering from it. Sometimes it hits them on a daily basis while others feel it on occasion. The best advice I give myself is the advice you mentioned: I chose this path. I’m drawn to it. I’m drawn to the creativity, the mystery and the people I’ve met. So in the end it’s all worth it. Every profession has its draw backs and as long as I keep moving forward I’ll take them.
thank you so much for this article