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 Pexels.com

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.