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Writing Through Imposter Syndrome

We’ve all heard about imposter syndrome, and many of us suffer from it at one time or another in our careers—whether as writers and copywriters, project managers, sales executives, doctors, lawyers, developers, HR professionals, or in any other role we assume in our lives where the product of our work is viewed and scrutinized by others. While imposter syndrome is not recognized as an official psychiatric diagnosis, the anxiety we feel is real, and it can often be debilitating. The good thing is this: you can get past it and be successful, which is something you probably already know.

According to Wikipedia, “Impostor syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or impostorism, is a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” This definition may feel a little extreme to many of us writing and/or working in another role, but that doesn’t mean some of us don’t feel like imposters just the same. Most often, when we feel like imposters, it’s at our place of employment. We feel like those around us are more intelligent, know more about our roles and responsibilities than we do, write better and with more clarity than we do, and that our colleagues’ experience(s) are more valid than ours are. It’s natural to feel that way, but it doesn’t have to be something that contributes to our anxieties.

As a writer (we’re all writers, in one way or another, right?), or in any other occupation, you can make changes to improve how you feel. You can recalibrate your mind to overcome what we know as imposter syndrome. It’ll take some rethinking, and it’ll take some work, namely with regard to building up your confidence. But you can do it. You just have to want to give it a shot.

From Psychology Today:

  • 25 to 30 percent of high achievers may suffer from imposter syndrome.

  • Around 70 percent of adults may experience impostorism at least once in their lifetime.

Pretty high percentages, right? Maybe, maybe not. While the statistics may seem daunting, they should also, in fact, communicate that imposter syndrome is a common phenomenon, and thus nothing to be ashamed of or intimidated by. In short, it is what it is. We’ll probably experience it sometime in our lives, so if you haven’t experienced it already, you may in the future.

“Impostor syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or impostorism, is a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.”

Now to imposter syndrome in writing. Like any craft that requires insight, research, and work, writing is a difficult endeavor, for many reasons. Whether you’re writing a short story, a novella, a novel, a book of nonfiction, or even marketing collateral or technical documentation for a product or service, the idea that you’re an imposter, that your writing isn’t good enough to put before the world, is a real and valid concern for many. Whether or not the concern you feel is warranted, however, is debatable.

Either way, it shouldn’t hinder your progress. You should push forward and write. You should revise. You should share your writing with your work and writing colleagues for their feedback and recommendations. And no matter how bad you believe your writing to be, as a writer, you should know that everything and anything you write can be revised, rewritten, and edited before you ever send it out into the world for everyone to gawk at.

Putting yourself out there is part of life. To get published, you have to have written something, and in order to have written something, there has to be a time when you had to sit down and write. There’s no way of getting around it. It’s during that process, and immediately afterward, that your doubt will set in. But fear not—imposter syndrome is curable. It may be a pain. It may cause more anxiety in your life than you want it to. But it most certainly is curable.

So, how do you overcome imposter syndrome in your writing (and in life itself)?

  • You change your mindset. You don’t worry about what others think—you just do what you have to do to accomplish what you have to accomplish.

  • If you’ve earned a place in your respective industry—as a fiction writer, nonfiction writer, copywriter, etc. enjoy it. Don’t look for reasons or excuses for why you were able to achieve what you achieved. It wasn’t luck (well, maybe for fiction it was). You did it! Be proud.

  • Don’t seek out reasons for why you should be considered a failure; if you were, you wouldn’t be where you’re at writing-wise, or professionally speaking, for that matter.

  • List out your achievements. Have you won awards? Earned a promotion? Gotten published? Those are accomplishments to be proud of, not reasons to doubt yourself. Think about it.

  • Remember that not everything is going to be perfect. Understand that. Embrace it. It’s okay not to be perfect. No one is perfect. There is no perfect book, no perfect creative endeavor, no perfectly run business, no perfect anything. We just get as close to perfect as we can.

  • Don’t ever compare yourself to others. Everyone is different. Remember, the people around you may be suffering from imposter syndrome right there alongside you. According to the statistics, they probably are or have, at least at some time in their career.

  • Always move forward. Understand that imposter syndrome may just be part of the process of your writing or your work. Accept it for what it is and get past it. You’ve done it before, and you’ll do it again. And in that, you may even find a bit of comfort.

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