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