Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a series of articles about overcoming: overcoming self-doubt, writer’s block, and procrastination, with tips on how to use the growth mindset to help your writing practice.
But another issue that I think all of us writers suffer from is imposter syndrome. Even though I’ve been published as a poet and a speculative short story writer, I don’t consider myself either of those things. I especially don’t consider myself a sci-writer, even though I’ve been published in sci-fi-only publications. That has to mean something, right? It does, but it still doesn’t squash the doubt.
Imposter syndrome is another form of self-doubt that traps us in negative thought patterns. With imposter syndrome, we feel like if someone looks too closely at our work they’ll realize we have no idea what we’re doing. That those meddling kids in the Mystery Van will pull off our mask at the end of the episode, exposing us all as frauds.
But feeling imposter syndrome doesn’t mean we’re frauds. It most likely means we’re perfectionists and idealists. Isn’t that true of anyone with drive who is trying to achieve their dreams?
While imposter syndrome hits all writers no matter how much experience they have, it is especially hard on newbie writers. You don’t have a long list of accomplishments or a string of letters behind your name, so how can you compete? I definitely felt that way when I started my freelance writing career and when I started submitting creative writing to publications.
But if you never start, how will you ever have any accomplishments at all? Even Maya Angelou feared people might find her out (as a fraud) after her eleventh published book. Maya Angelou! So hear me when I say: you’re not a fraud. None of us are! Well, unless you’re plagiarizing, but that’s another topic altogether.
So if you’re feeling like Old Man Smithers waiting for Fred and company to rip off the mask, read the tips below to help keep you from doubting yourself as a writer.
I know this can be a hard pill to swallow for some, but being published doesn’t automatically mean you’re a great writer. On the other side of the coin, not being published yet doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. The mere process of writing makes you a writer. Don’t let outside validation be the only force that drives you. This goes for publications as well as social media. Keep writing, that’s the main thing to focus on!
Start calling yourself a writer
Do you hesitate to call yourself a writer just because you’re not published, don’t have years of experience, or a writing degree? Do you call yourself an “aspiring writer” so people won’t judge you so harshly?
If you write, you’re a writer, period, even if no one else has ever read it. An aspiring writer is someone who is dreaming of writing but has never written anything. That’s not you!
I gave this advice in my overcome self-doubt article, but it’s important here as well. If you’re a new writer but comparing yourself to writers like Stephen King or Ursula K. LeGuin, you’ll never progress and keep slogging in a mire of self-depreciation.
Comparing yourself as a new writer to authors who have been in the game for years and years is comparing apples to oranges. Even the Kings and LeGuins of the world had to get their start somewhere. They were where you are now, and they didn’t give up. What if they had? The world would be bereft of some of the greatest speculative writers ever.
Instead of comparing, find some newbie authors like yourself who might have had a little success and ask them for some tips. It never hurts to get advice, and you’ll be expanding your writer community at the same time.
Develop a thick skin
One of the hardest parts about being a writer (or any kind of artist) is the criticism we’re going to receive at some point in our careers. But it doesn’t have to be negative. Not all criticism is constructive, but being critiqued can really help your writing. As a writer, we have to develop a thick skin or we’d never continue to write. Let criticism only help you grow stronger as a writer. Not everyone will like your work, and that’s ok! There are so many who do already and be thankful for them. If everyone liked your work, you’d be pandering to the masses, and who wants to do that? Revel in your good reviews, and let the less than glowing ones help you work that much harder.
Before long, you’ll be delighting in your glorious new rhinoceros hide.
Take a look back
One way you can easily see your growth as a writer is to look back at your old work. Dig through the attic and find that old high school poetry, reread your first blog post, your first novel, or short story. Are you cringing? That’s actually a good sign! It means you’ve grown and progressed as a writer.
Writing is such a solitary practice. We hole away in our little bubbles, earbuds in, buttressed by loads of coffee, snacks, and writing advice, all alone in our imaginative worlds. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Find a writing community online. You can find writing groups on Facebook, or create your own small network on Instagram or Twitter. Having a critique partner can also help you crush imposter syndrome by having someone in your corner who knows and understands your work (and you, by extension). A critique partner can become a great personal cheerleader and help you get through dark moments when you feel like quitting!
Writers are like hobbits in some ways: we love our solitude in our cozy hobbit holes, but we also need and cherish the friends and fellowship in the Shire. Create your own little Hobbiton with some close writerly friends to help you remember how great you really are!
It isn’t easy to overcome things like self-doubt and imposter syndrome, but with a little work and a slight mind shift, you can. I hope these tips help, and stay tuned for next week’s article where I will give you tips on how to get published so you can keep reaching for the stars!