Updated: Jun 23, 2021
Patient: I think I'm suffering from Imposter Syndrome.
Therapist: Great. Can I have my chair back?
Definition of Imposter Syndrome
The persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills.
How this shows up for authors
Two versions. The first would be in the traditional sense. An author reaches some level of success and begins to question how they're worthy of it. They don't think of themselves as a professional author despite having professional author credentials (written a book, being "a published author," certain # of book sales, etc.)
The second version takes place much earlier in an author's journey. The first-time author says to themselves, "Who am I to write a book? I'm not a writer. Who would even read what I have to say?"
How to get rid of this feeling
In the first scenario, the answer seems to be, "Well, I just need to achieve more accolades. Then this feeling will go away."
For example, if you're the manager in your department at work and suffering from Imposter Syndrome, the logical answer is to become a Senior Manager. Then a Director. Then a VP. The titles, in theory, will affirm you're legit and deserve to be heard.
Second scenario operates the same way. "Once I land a literary agent. Once I'm picked by a publisher. Once I've hit X number of book sales. Then I will be a real author, worthy of writing a book."
But what tends to happen
That gnawing feeling of imposter syndrome sticks around with each new achievement. Even people at the very top of the profession still feel like the 12-year-old version of themselves who somehow snuck into the room full of serious adults.
Or, worse, an author might never get started. Or give up as they pursue these supposedly affirming achievements.
Or authors change their style, change their voice to fit the mold of "professional author." Creative writing courses are filled with short stories that resemble ones from The New Yorker. Novels in the style of Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen.
But this adds fuel to the fire. It's natural to feel like an imposter if you're trying to write in somebody else's voice.
Which leads to the secret weapon for fighting Imposter Syndrome
If it's not accolades or more credentials that remove this feeling, then what should an author do?
The secret weapon was hinted at a few paragraphs ago. It's the feeling of being your 12-year-old self in a room full of adults. That's a great place to start writing.
Because everything since age 12 focused on titles. I'm a member of the 7th-grade soccer team. I'm on the pom squad. I'm on the honor roll.
Keep going. I'm at this college. With this major. I graduated and got this job title. When we meet someone new, the first question is, "So, what do you do?" not, "So, who are you?"
All of these different titles build up a thick barrier between the core authentic self and the roles we're playing. If we're not careful, our sense of self becomes attached to these different titles. At the core of imposter syndrome, or any form of performance anxiety, is this feeling of dread that if I lose my title, well, then who am I? But when the title is gone -- by choice or by surprise -- that's when people often discover, "Hey, there's a Me under here after all." Maybe that's why the happiest people seem to be kids and retired folks. Those 50+ years in between are just a detour back to the playground.
When you strip away all the titles or the striving for success aspects of writing, it's really just a way to hang out with your authentic self. A place to share your thoughts. Your views of the world. A chance to write about things you care about. Go through your memories. Tell stories as they happened. Or embellish them a little bit. Make the big fish 2-feet longer than it actually was. A place where you write the stories you find interesting. Write stories about the people you love.
When writing becomes your playground, things like book sales, which publisher you're working with, literary agents, none of that really matters anymore. Writing is just a place to be you.
It's hard to feel like an imposter when you're simply being yourself.