Your artistic career is an island in a sea of tweets and viral videos. You’re writing your truth, telling stories about characters who speak to you on a personal and emotional level, whispering secrets about past pains through words and fantasy and fiction. You get swallowed under the superstars that have paved the way before you and after feeling invisible and small for so long, when people tell you your work is good it shakes you. You don’t believe them to some extent because you feel so small. How could you possibly be a good writer? You’ve not been picked up by a major publisher. You’ve never sold more than one hundred books. You’re an imposter.
How do I stop feeling like an imposter when I write?
Remember that you are an expert in writing simply by the act of doing and that your stories, characters, and truths are unique to only you. There are no pre-defined milestones to success. Trying to meet benchmarks is good, but will leave you feeling empty and confused. I’ve been struggling with this for a long time, and maybe this is less of a “how to” and more of a post about myself. In art, there are many paths with no pre-determined struggle. The RNG gods of the universe scramble every possible variable in your life so that your path is completely different than literally every other writer/artist/musician out there. Nothing says that just because Sally did so-and-so, that you need to do that. That when you do so-and-so, you will see immediate success like Sally. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work like that. I’ve struggled by trying to make the path work for me, bringing the wrong shoes and wrong equipment the whole way, only to be disappointed that I can’t get up the mountain the same way J.K. Rowling did, or Erin Morgenstern did. Only when I realized that it was impossible and utterly stupid to do it that way did I find out the truth.
Who makes you feel like an imposter?
Imposter syndrome at its base is when you feel like you don’t belong somewhere. You’re worried that someone somewhere is going to discover you’re a fraud and that you don’t deserve any of your accomplishments. A LOT of people experience these feelings, so you’re not alone!
I personally feel these feelings because I feel like I don’t have enough medals on my chest to claim myself an expert. I’ve published three books under my own imprint, but because I haven’t sold very many copies of them, I feel like a fraud. I can’t say that I am an author because I fear the responses from those around me. “You haven’t made any money,” they’ll say. “You haven’t published under any major imprints and you don’t even make enough to pay your rent.”
Plot twist. The only one who makes you feel like an imposter is you.
Confidence is a really hard thing to manufacture. Some people (Rihanna, anyone?) seem to radiate confidence and don’t care what anyone says around them. The truth of the matter is that they’re just as scared as we are. These super successful people (in our case, authors) aren’t the ones making us feel week and small, though. The only ones who can do that to us are ourselves.
What types of imposters are there?
When beginning to write this article, I did some basic research on imposter syndrome just to make sure I got my facts straight, and now I’m kicking myself in the foot. Most psychologists agree that there are different types of imposter syndrome patterns that crop up in people. These are archetypes, and are listed as “perfectionists,” “experts,” “natural geniuses,” “soloists,” and “super people.” Looking at this list, I’m three out of five of these archetypes.
I don’t know where you all stand, but I have to do everything perfectly. If I don’t meet ninety-nine percent of my goals, I feel like a failure. This is probably the biggest one for me. I ask myself, why am I setting up goals if they just fail? What’s the point? I’m obviously not a professional and am not qualified for these things, so why would I even try? I was told as a kid that I was brilliant; I learned everything easily, I excelled at everything, nothing was hard. Now, when the going gets tough, I break down. The tears come and that tells my brain that I’m a fraud. If I don’t do the project by myself with absolutely no help, I’m an imposter. The big authors don’t need help when they write, so why should I?
Regardless of what type of imposter you are, apparently almost three-fourths of the population feels like we shouldn’t be here. Only a quarter of us are actually confident, and the rest of us are panicking and wondering what the hell we’re doing here.
Why do I feel like an imposter?
Every person is unique, so I can’t tell you a single answer. For me, the social pressure is the biggest factor in determining when I feel like an imposter. In high school, I read Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus. It was so incredible and magical and well-written, and Erin was only twenty-one when she wrote it. “I’m going to have a national bestseller when I’m twenty-one,” I told myself. Christopher Paolini was young when he wrote Eragon. If they could do it, I would do it. When my twenty-first birthday came and my books hadn’t sold, I told myself I wasn’t going to make it.
Social media plays a huge role in making me feel small. Seeing other people’s success while you feel like you’re drowning is a HUGE hit to self-esteem. This self-esteem loss inspires anxiety, and then you begin to pick yourself apart. The pressure to succeed is so intense that it crushes you. In some cases, it could be because you feel like you’re not around people who are like you. Are you in a writers’ club with all men? Are all of your peers in your creative writing program white? These factors can also help you feel down on yourself, whether you want them to or not.
How do I deal with these feelings?
I’m still struggling with this stuff, so all I can do is offer a helping hand. When I’m starting to feel blue about my success or my viability as a young artist, I remember that social media is the fakest thing that could’ve ever happened to humans. All we know and see is hidden behind curated posts, so while someone may SEEM successful, they may actually be struggling. Pretend you’re in the year 1800 and all you have is the newspaper to learn about the success of others. Once you remove them from the picture, it can be easier to evaluate your own success as it is on its own, not compared to others.
Just because Sally did it doesn’t mean you can do it. For a lot of artistic careers, people get successful by some random falling star. They’re at the perfect place at the perfect time with the perfect content and they rocketed to success. Even though you may be following their exact road path, that does not guarantee your success. Where you are at the moment you currently exist at is perfect for you. Put your own achievements into perspective. So, you haven’t published a book yet, but have you self-published? Great! Most people haven’t. So, you haven’t self-published, but you wrote an entire novel? Great! Can you remember how HARD it was to write 50,000 words? For most people, the thought of writing more than two hundred makes them sick. Your achievements ARE important, just not in the shadow of someone else’s plan.
Trick yourself into confidence. Just because we may not FEEL confident now doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. It may seem silly, but once you build healthy confident habits, you’ll reshape the way you think about yourself and your work. Instead of tearing your progress down, watch youtube videos on how to give a meaningful critique. Once you can critique someone else’s work constructively, you can do the same with your own work. Sit down in your room and pretend you’re talking to yourself. What would you say about your project and your work if you were your best friend?
Your work may not be good now, but it WILL be. You may not have published yet, but you WILL. You may not have sold a hundred copies of your book, but you WILL. Build goals for yourself that are not influenced by anyone else around you and get good at constructively critiquing your own progress. Remember, practice makes perfect. Your books may not be good at the moment, but the more you write, the more you get your work professionally edited, the more you take moments to respect the work you’ve done, the better you will become. Doubt’s normal! You’ll doubt yourself. That’s part of the human experience. Just don’t let that doubt stop you.