notes on imposter syndrome

I started writing this as a note to my writer friend and critique partner, but decided to make it a blog post instead, because maybe it might help another writer, too.

Something kind of big is coming up for me (of which I will make an announcement when everything is off and running) and this something involved me writing an essay of what this upcoming thing means to me. When I sat down to write the essay, the words just poured out of me in that rare, magical way they do sometimes. When I finished the first draft, I was so excited by what I’d created, just a feeling of pure joy that those words existed in the world now. I was proud of what I wrote.

Then, I stepped away, I did some chores and cooked a meal, and noticed I was developing more of an edge towards that essay. Rather than acting on it, I left it alone, went to bed, and came back to the document in the morning.

By then I was horrified by what I’d written. I sounded like I thought I was a real writer, someone who’d worked hard and accomplished things and expected people to treat them as such. I knew this creeping, gutsick feeling, because I get it whenever I try to market myself. The difference, this time, seemed to be that I was pushing back. If I didn’t believe in myself, I definitely believed in that essay and I was too proud of it to just discard the draft and start over. I wouldn’t be able to rewrite anything equal to it.

Instead, I pulled up my writer’s journal and started writing about the feelings I was having, hoping I’d be able to pin them down and understand them better. Here’s what I wrote:

I keep thinking I should really tone this down, I’m not a real writer, I don’t deserve this accolade and here I’ve leaned into it like it’s important, everybody’s going to know! They’ll roll their eyes and laugh and kick out me out of {redacted}. Which does, now that I’ve written it out, seem a bit silly. But also probable? Yikes, this is brutal.

Wait. This… is imposter syndrome?

I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t recognize the feeling as imposter syndrome until I wrote it down. I simply didn’t. Not at all. I might have if it was a friend coming to me with these feelings, but I didn’t recognize it in myself. And seeing them there, on the page, got my attention. I mean, I have two books in the world, twenty-five short story publications, and a handful of writing accolades, nothing fancy or huge, but still things that I’ve earned and have a right to be proud of. It shouldn’t feel like a falsehood to consider myself a “real writer” just because I still have goals I have yet to meet (and don’t get me started on shifting goalposts).

Which leads me to why I thought I’d write up this blog post. The next time you’re feeling uncomfortable about promoting your work, marketing your work, preparing a speech, or writing an essay, take a moment to write down what’s running through your mind so you can see it for what it is. Read it like you’d read a message from a friend, because sometimes things look different when they’re on the page.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on

If you want more resources on imposter syndrome and working past it, I recommend the book Fearless Writing by William Kenower. I picked it up a few months back after hearing an interview with Kenower on The Creative Penn podcast and it helped me fix a few mental blocks that were holding me back (linking that episode here). I keep it close to my writing desk because I expect I’ll fall back into old habits and need to reread it from time to time.

my writing box

My eldest kiddo used some gift cards to get herself an art kit that came inside a wooden box. Inspired, she decorated the outside of the box with washable marker, was unhappy with the result, went to wash it off and it… didn’t.

“Mom, if you can do anything with this box, you can have it,” she told me.

I noticed that my favourite Blueline notebooks fit into the box perfectly and wondered if I could turn it into a little writing box to carry my writing around while I’m watching the kids play outside. Then I poked around the internet for a while, looking at other writer’s toolkits to figure out which features I would like best. And then I got a little creative.

I “upholstered” the wood with spray glue and wool felt. Some leftover mask elastic stretched from side to side and stapled in gave me a place to stuff in some quotes, notes, and little inspirations. A few stitches and some folded felt made holders for two of my favourite Lamy fountain pens. It wasn’t quite crammed full of magic yet for my taste so I sewed another little pocket to store my post-its, some paper clips, and a skeleton key (because a childhood filled with Nancy Drew taught me that you never know when you might need one).

The butterfly is from an art kit years lost and the TVA Loki sticker is from this shop on Etsy. The picture in the top left corner is something I pulled out of Backpacker magazine circa 1999 that reads “Plant a flag, climb a mountain, be that mythic earth hero you always said you would be.” The handwritten quote in green ink is from Maria Dhavana Headley’s Beowulf: A New Translation (which you should absolutely read, btw).

One day, when the kids are older, I dream of having a table at a convention filled with books I’ve written and I think bringing something like this along might be more inviting to passersby than seeing me clickety-clacking away at my laptop. Or maybe I just want to show it off a little?? Time will tell.