Adventures in Impostor Syndrome
“I DON’T BELONG HERE.”
If I had a dollar for every time that exact thought has crossed my mind since I decided I wanted to pursue a career as a writer, I wouldn’t need my day job anymore. There are a number of different ways in which the ugly beast of impostor syndrome rears its head, and allow me to take this opportunity to tell both you and myself that it is lying to you. Here are some of the common lies your impostor syndrome will tell you, and some of the truths that may help dispel those doubts!
I’LL NEVER WRITE ANYTHING THIS GOOD
This is my most common type of impostor syndrome, and it crops up whenever I’m reading a particularly good book. Mid-enjoyment, a small voice in the back of my head inevitably decides to ruin my day and say “Hey, you’re really liking this book, aren’t you? That’s because it is SO MUCH BETTER THAN YOURS it’s ridiculous. You suck. You should just give up now.” Oof. Rude.
There are books out there that are gonna be better than yours. I’m sorry, there just are. Someone will always be better than you at pretty much anything you do. But that doesn’t mean you should stop writing! Compete with yourself, not other writers.
Most likely, you’re also comparing an early or middling draft of your project to a COMPLETE, PUBLISHED novel. That’s nowhere near a fair comparison. Once your WIP is polished and pretty, I bet it’ll be good enough to give some other poor soul a bout of impostor syndrome too.
SOMEONE MADE A MISTAKE
This is a fun, newish development that has popped up since signing my book deal. An impostor syndrome upgrade that I never asked for. The first type of impostor syndrome I discussed here is annoying and disheartening, but this one is honestly gut-twisting. Rather than making me certain that I’ll never succeed, this second impostor syndrome gremlin likes to whisper that my book deal was a mistake, a clerical error, a fluke. The book is not up to par, it’s going to fail, I’m going to fail. Everyone is going to hate it. Everyone is going to hate me. I am not supposed to be here.
The publishing industry doesn’t care about your feelings. This sounds harsh, I know, but it’s kind of comforting if you think about it. If your publisher didn’t think your book was going to make money, they wouldn’t have bought it, full stop.
No one made a mistake. Dozens of people at your publisher have probably read your book, and they all liked it enough to vote “yea.” Deep breath, you’re supposed to be here.
EVERYONE KNOWS I DON’T BELONG
Ahhhhh the best one. The intersection of my impostor syndrome and my crippling social anxiety. This breed of impostor syndrome tries to convince me that all my writer friends, my publishing team, my agent, all of them are annoyed by me and wish I would just go away and stop trying to pretend I fit in with them.
People don’t pay as much attention to you as you think they do. They are not worrying about whether or not you belong. They literally aren’t thinking about you at all, probably. Insert shrug emoji.
Your writer friends honestly probably feel this same way a lot of the time. This is another reason why you need to forge those relationships with your fellow creators! You are in the same boat, and these are some stormy-ass seas.
Long story short, impostor syndrome is a sinister beast. It’s something that most creatives encounter throughout their careers, regardless of talent or success level. Unfortunately, I genuinely don’t think that it can be defeated outright. But try to keep these hard truths and kind truths in mind when it rears its ugly head, and hopefully you will be able to keep it at bay!