New “Writer Problems” Series, Topic #3: Impostor Syndrome, aka The Self-Confidence Deficit

by | Aug 9, 2021 | Articles | 1 comment

“The most helpful quality a writer can cultivate is self-confidence—arrogance, if you can manage it. You write to impose yourself on the world, and you have to believe in your own ability when the world shows no sign of agreeing with you.” 

Hilary Mantel

 

Deadlines, interruptions, writer’s block…the list of challenges writers face could probably be as long as one of your favorite books.

As I started this “Writer Problems” series, I didn’t have a particular agenda beyond helping other writers. Insomnia was on my mind initially, which I recognized as a problem common to writers as well as plenty of other people. Last week’s post was all about procrastination.

While I haven’t decided how many of these I’ll do (You tell me: five? ten? Hit me up in the comments), I realize insomnia and procrastination aren’t necessarily universal. But there’s one challenge nearly all writers face, especially those yet-unpublished: impostor syndrome.

 

More Common Than You’d Think

In my search for an image to go along with this post, I didn’t find many for impostor. So I looked for synonyms, and was surprised to discover dictionary.com has a separate listing for impostor syndrome. It reads, anxiety or self-doubt that results from persistently undervaluing one’s competence and active role in achieving success, while falsely attributing one’s accomplishments to luck or other external forces.

Wow.

As I consulted various sources to read up on impostor syndrome, I quickly learned it isn’t confined to writers. Far from it. In fact, it isn’t even confined to those of us in the arts. According to Time, an estimated 70% of people experience some degree of these “impostor” feelings at some point, from doctors to managers to executives.

 

So What Do We Do About It?

One of my favorite expressions gleaned from the British is Bash on regardless. I’ve said it in multiple interviews, and apparently even claimed it as my motto. (Gotta admit, I don’t remember doing that, but…)

When I started today’s post, I thought of the phrase self-confidence deficit as another way of saying impostor syndrome. In a way, it might be more accurate: while you may not view yourself as an outright impostor, a certain lack of confidence can cause you to wonder, Am I really a writer?

There are many ways to deal with this challenge. Here are five I find helpful.

1) Avoid unsupportive people and find supportive ones. Whether it’s your spouse or a writer’s group, interacting with people who acknowledge you as a writer is crucial.

2) Let those thoughts go. Observe them and bash on regardless. Don’t obsess about them.

3) Validate your greatness. I’ve often said that people in the arts persist because they really believe what they’re doing is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Work hard, and you’ll probably do good workeven great work.

4) Remember impostor syndrome is common to high achievers. Like I wrote above, doctors, managers, executives. Reaching for greatness means occasional impostor syndrome is inevitable.

5) Strive for perfection but accept progress. A great writer doesn’t get there easily. However naturally talented you are, it all comes down to hard work. The perfectionist in you is one reason you’ve persisted, but at some point you have to let go and move on.

How do you deal with impostor syndrome? Is it present today, or a distant memory? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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