Ever feel like no matter how long you’ve been writing, how many books you’ve written and edited, how many stories you’ve sold, conventions you’ve attended, or other writers you’ ve worked with, you still know you’re a fraud?
It hits us at every stage, whether we’re just starting to make our first sales, or, apparently, whether your name is Neil Gaiman – the feeling that at any minute people are going to realise that you’re a nothing, a talentless hack who got a lucky break, that you have no idea what you’re doing, that you’re a failure.
You start to think that no matter how many workshops you’ve done, how many writing hours you’ve racked up, that ultimately you are still inconsequential and when people find out just what a fake you are, they’re going to hate and mock you for it.
Welcome to the fun and exciting world of Imposter Syndrome, a self-destructive pattern of behaviour where you are unable to acknowledge your own accomplishments, and begin a death spiral into misery and self-loathing.
I tend to struggle with this a lot, to the point where it actively prevents me from writing because all I can see is a no-talent hack who fooled publishers into risking a chance on their work. I haven’t sold a book in a very long time, and this adds to my negative thinking – fuel to the fire of “you got lucky, chump!”
Hi, my name is Cat Hellisen and I suffer from Imposter Syndrome.
So how do I get past this brain weasel and learn to love what I do, and stop worrying about what other people may or may not think about me?
This is a little list of countermeasures I’ve put together, and I hope that if you suffer from Imposter Syndrome, you will find something useful in here that will help you. Because the struggle is real.
1: Stand up and admit your problem
Acknowledge that it exists, and that you are the one doing this to yourself. It’s the voice in your own head telling you lies. For some of us, that voice holds a lot of power and we silently accept what it tells us as facts. Just saying out loud that you are struggling with Imposter Syndrome helps focus on the truth – this isn’t reality, just perception.
2: Make a Confidence List
Take a pen and paper (right now, go do this! This post isn’t going anywhere).
Write down everything you have achieved, no matter how small or insignificant you will want tell yourself it is.
Write down how many short stories you’ve written, how many novels, how many blog posts, how many poems, write down how many books on writing craft you’ve read, write down workshops you’ve taken or given. Keep adding to that list with every writing-related achievement you can dredge from your memory.
I want you to put that list in a place where you can see it, and every time you feel like a failure or a fraud, I want you to look at it again. This is your confidence booster. It’s a reminder every time you struggle that you have already done so much more than you realise.
3: Acknowledge your commitment to practice and work
Far more important than those brief ‘win’ moments like a book release or sale, is the graft that got you there in the first place. There will be no grand cover reveal, no excited review of your latest story, if you don’t sit down daily (or near daily, whatever schedule works for you) and put down your words. Your daily practice is what gets you there, whether it’s a hundred words a day or two thousand. The real win that makes you a writer is the one where you sit down and make words, no matter how hard it feels.
Remind yourself every time you finish your daily goal that you’ve achieved something. I have writer friends who give themselves gold stars in their bullet journals for daily writing and I love that idea, but you can cheer yourself on in whatever way suits you.
4: Writing a novel is a marathon
And it can feel like an endless exercise with no sign of that reward of a published book. We use that reward as validation of existence of writers, but it can be so difficult to reach that we end up hating ourselves for ‘failing’ to get there.
Find other ways to reward yourself. Break your large writing tasks down into smaller goals and treat yourself for every goal you hit. It could be a movie night out, or if you have a hobby, get yourself some new equipment (art supplies!) Positive motivation goes so much further with boosting your confidence than constantly negging yourself.
5: Tell yourself the truth.
We’ve all heard the saying ‘Fake it till you make it’ but I always feel like this subtly agrees with our (misguided) perception of ourselves as fakes. Tell yourself you are a writer. If you sit down and write stories or poems or posts or plays, there’s nothing fake about that. Those words are real. I don’t care if it feels stupid, I want you to ‘Truth it till you believe it.’ Every time you finish a day’s writing, when you hit that save button or put down that pen, I want you to say out loud, “I’m a writer.”
“I’m a writer.”
We all have our emotional peaks and troughs, and Imposter Syndrome always seems to strike when we’re least emotionally capable of taking it. When that syndrome hits, take out your list again and read through it, perhaps take some time to recharge (I call this filling the well and a creative break can do wonders for your mental health and creativity), and come back to your daily wins.
You’re a writer, and you’ve got this.
Cat Hellisen writes weird, lush speculative fiction for adults and children. She’s the author of When the Sea is Rising Red and Beastkeeper, and her short fiction and poetry have appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including Tor.com, Apex Magazine, Shimmer and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Her favourite writers are Ursula K Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Tanith Lee and Clive Barker, though she loves discovering new writers of the fantastical.