Imposter Syndrome: Am I a REAL Writer?

white horse head and black leather jacket, imposter

white horse head and black leather jacket, imposter

Imposter syndrome is a feeling very common to many creative professionals, myself included. The irony about imposter syndrome is that it can afflict many hard-working, high-achieving individuals.

There is no logical reason for feeling we don’t belong, or that our success is somehow a fluke. It’s bizarre to believe we don’t deserve what we worked very hard to accomplish, or that, at any moment, the gig will be up. We’ll be found out.

Did I mention writers often make no sense?

What I find so utterly hysterical (in the maniacal-laughing-losing-my-marbles way) is that, years ago, my mentor, NYTBSA Bob Mayer warned me this would happen and I brushed him off.

I was different. Special. Okay, apparently more “Bless your heart” special, turns out. When I was a new writer who couldn’t find the antagonist–let alone my own butt–without a map and a flashlight, it seemed so simple.

OBVIOUSLY, I wasn’t a real writer then because I didn’t have an agent, hadn’t been published, had hit no lists.

***Granted, I was making bank as a professional technical writer. But that wasn’t a “real” writer. As an author? Clearly an imposter.

It didn’t help that our industry spent a miserable decade arguing if indie and self-pub authors were “real.” A frigging decade wasted playing Schrodinger’s Writer while Amazon wiped out one publisher after another and laid waste to one bookstore after another (including Borders and B&N).

A traditional author could fail to sell a thousand books yet, existentially, our profession considered those writers more “real” than an indie author who sold millions of books.

Weird. I know. Alas, we will leave that for another blog.

Imposter Syndrome & Success

writer, meme, imposter

writer, meme, imposter

One would think success would improve imposter syndrome, yet not necessarily. I honestly thought when I hit various professional benchmarks I would no longer feel like a fake, despite the fact that Bob warned me it would likely only get worse.

Suffice to say, I have worked very, very hard and have been extraordinarily blessed to enjoy many successes. Hey, people paid ME to go to New Zealand to…talk…about WRITING. If that isn’t a win, what is?

So, if you are new, you should probably give up now.

Still here?

Whew! That’s good. I’d hate to actually run anyone off for real. But, I can say that I have blogged about this from the perspective of a total n00b who barely felt she even had a right to blog. Seventeen years later, I’m coming at it from the perspective of a seasoned professional.

It isn’t terribly different.

Most of the goals I set for myself when I began this journey over two decades ago, I can say I have accomplished.

And yet, it takes everything in me to believe I genuinely earned anything. That my stack of achievements I sacrificed years for weren’t simply…flukes. Or even then, maybe those were real achievements, but that was all the talent I had in me. I’m worse than an imposter…I am a wash-out!

Did I mention writers often make no sense?

4 Types of Imposter Syndrome

When researching this little topic I discovered there are actually different types of imposter syndrome. Apparently being a crazy-high-maintenance-neurotic is not One-Size-Fits-All. I’d like to give a nod to VeryWellMind’s post Imposter Syndrome: Why You May Feel Like a Fraud for the inspiration.

The Perfectionist

I have talked many times about perfectionism on this blog.

All of us want to do a good job. We want to put our best foot forward. We all say that we want feedback and critique, but deep down, if we are real honest, we want people to love everything we say and do.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality.

We can’t please everyone, and it is easy to fall into a people-pleasing trap that will steal our passion, our art, and our very identity.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again with–um, other–writers. They rework and rework and rework the first chapter of their novel, trying to make it “perfect”—which is actually code for “making everyone happy.”

Here is the thing. Not gonna happen. Ever.

One person will say our book is too wordy. Another wants more description. We add more description and then another person is slashing through, slaughtering every adjective and metaphor, while saying dumb crap like “all adverbs are bad.”

***Hint, they are not. Only redundant ones are.

This variety of imposter syndrome, I can say (at least in writing) I do much better with these days. I have managed to take my own advice.

Perfect is the enemy of the finished.

No half-finished “perfect” novel ever sold a bazillion copies but many finished-yet-imperfect ones have.

A great way to treat this form of imposter anxiety is to go look up your favorite authors and read their bad reviews. For instance, I hit a wall this past week on my WIP and, since I am a massive Joe Abercrombie fan and his writing, unlike mine, is perfect…I read his reviews.

And someone always b!tches. ALWAYS!

Thing is, at least he has a stack of best-selling breathtakingly brilliant books for the haters to b!tch about.

The Expert

fraud, imposter

fraud, imposter

I can definitely relate to this one. Speaking of Joe Abercrombie. He writes epic high fantasy novels. I cannot wrap my brain around how he not only builds these worlds, but manages to keep up with them!

I’ve spent almost a third of my life blogging, mostly on the craft of writing, yet still encounter authors who mystify me. They might as well be unicorns.

I’ve relentlessly pursued this mission of teaching about every aspect I can imagine when it comes to the craft of writing. I read two books a week, every week (audio books are the only way that happens), and have for years.

I’ve broken down books from every conceivable genre, all eras, and yet there is still so much I do not know and likely never will. The more I learn, the more out of my depth I feel.

But that is the thing isn’t it? We cannot know everything. No one can!

Did I mention writers can be a smidge ridiculous?

The Born Genius

I have to confess, I don’t know if I really struggle with this. In fact, I went to two different testing centers when I was trying to see if I was, in fact, on the ASD spectrum (I have Asperger’s).

I’ve taught myself three different languages, how to play clarinet, how to paint, and how to build a French well drainage system. I never really believed I was as much smarter than others so much as I was willing to outwork others.

That said, it really was humbling to get my I.Q. test results and see “Average.” One doctor even said I was “Below Average” verbally. I can’t help but think something was wrong with that test…or the doctor. Especially after I corrected her pronunciation of “mnemonic.”

Me: Did you mean MNEmonic or PNEUmonic? One is Greek for mind or memory, whereas the other is Greek for lungs.

Doctor: *withering stare*

Alas, I really never thought I was a born genius, though who wouldn’t hope, right?

Yet, how often do we see this in movies and pop culture? This myth that we are supposed to just “get” everything the first go ’round or something is wrong? How many of us give up on something we might really excel at because of unreasonable expectations?

The world expects every person’s first book to be an out-of-the-park work of genius and we fall for it. Who would expect the same out of a gymnast or violinist or even someone writing computer code?

Did I mention writers can be a tad unrealistic?

The “Self-Made” Imposter

writer, imposter

writer, imposter

Did you have to ask for help to achieve your success? Can you truly say you did it all on your own? If not, then clearly *hair flip* you are a phony.

I don’t know if people from other countries fall prey to this myth as much as we Americans. Who says we don’t have our own mythology here in the “New World”? Like the pegasus, Hercules, or King Arthur, want to know another myth equally as fictional?

The “self-made” success.

Usually we hear this nonsense from people who say BS things like, “You have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyonce.” Really? Because I mowed my own yard yesterday and have been doing laundry all day while I write and homeschool a gifted 10th grader.

Pretty sure, at the least, Beyonce not mowing her own yard.

We all need each other. Heck, that is why I’ve dedicated countless hours to this blog! Since I, apparently, have an average to below average I.Q., I wanted to break down concepts simple enough to where even I could understand them. And have a great laugh along the way.

There is no way I could keep the steam to keep writing these posts month after month, year after year, if you guys weren’t a) thoughtful enough to read these posts b) kind enough to comment (really love those) c) subscribe. There would have only been so long I could have blogged to the ether.

I’ve lost count YEARS ago how many wonderful people I have to thank for everything in my life. No way in a billion years could I do this alone and even then, who’d want to?

Have I mentioned writers can be a little really needy?

Imposter Syndrome Can Be a Good Sign

writer, imposter, meme

writer, imposter, meme

All this to say that feeling like an imposter is pretty common, especially among creative professionals. And why wouldn’t it be? There are no hard and fast metrics for measuring “success.” Our profession is largely subjective.

We also face a world that constantly demeans what we do while, ironically, spending most of their free time and disposable income devouring the fruits of our labors. The same @$$hats who claim writing a novel is easy are probably the same folks who paid us to write that four-page essay in school.

It just comes with the territory.

Yet, after getting out all this collective angst, I will say that feeling like you are an imposter, a fake or a fraud or somehow do not deserve what you’ve worked for can actually be a good sign.

Want to know who has impenetrable confidence and zero doubts about their amazing talent and inherent brilliance?

Talentless hacks.

People who have zero clue how to write, would never deign to read another author’s book (let alone study it), who actually brag about never reading, and who need no lessons on writing because they are naturally gifted and know everything.

This writer never has imposter syndrome. They never run out of rubbish to toss on a page then market and promote and spam endlessly to nearby victims.

And I don’t need to worry about insulting any of them, because it isn’t like they’d read a blog that focuses on improving their craft.

So, you’re welcome!

In the End…

My advice, when it comes to writing, is to shop it, ship it or kill it. Regardless, keep moving forward.

If we hope to be successful at this writing thing, we must master two diametrically opposite skills—latching on and letting go. We can’t finish if we don’t sink in our claws, but we also can’t finish if we fail to ever let go.

Virtually every long-term successful author didn’t make it with one novel. We make a good living at writing by writing many novels. But, if we don’t get good at shipping? Odds are we will never be able to write full-time.

Also, learn your craft!

The more you read, study and practice, the easier writing becomes. Read everything in your genre and outside of it. Study books. Break down why you liked them or didn’t. When we take the time to fill that creative reservoir, we have so much to draw from. If we read enough fiction, we can almost “write by ear.”

We won’t need as much revision and editing because we’ll have spent so much time with fiction–good fiction–that we will be able to intuitively sense when something if “off” with plot, timing, character, etc. Take classes, read blogs, read craft books, read fiction…then butt in seat and practice.

Practice alone is not enough. If I go to the driving range and hit thousands of golf balls with zero training, I get a bad back. I don’t become Tiger Woods.

Same with writing. We need mentors, masters, inspiration, tough love, training, and a relentless pursuit of bettering ourselves (practice) to truly be great.

When we know our craft and excel at finishing it is also a lot harder for that imposter devil to get under our skin–as deep.

So breathe and just move forward. It gets easier, until it gets harder.

Did I mention writers are masochists?

What are Your Thoughts?

What are your thoughts? Do you feel like an imposter? No matter how much you do or how hard you work, you think it has to be luck or worse, a mistake?

Do you find yourself too concerned with being perfect? Do you think you allow perfectionism to feed you procrastination? Are you still trying to “fix” that first novel and haven’t let go? Do you have trouble moving forward?

Apologies for being away so long. I gave up blogging and carbs for Lent. Neither was easy but I needed a reset and time to work on MY books. Missed you guys and am very happy to be back.

Please! I LOVE hearing your thoughts, questions, advice. Even maybe suggestions on topics you’d like to hear more about.

Kristen Lamb

Author Image
Kristen Lamb