One thing I really took home from the Festival of Writing 2017 is that all writers suffer from self-doubt – something refered to in Debi Alper’s Facing the Fear workshop as “The Doubt Demons”. One of these demons is Imposter Syndrome, and it’s the one that plagues me most.
People who feel like impostors believe they have somehow managed to fool others into thinking they are more capable, intelligent or talented than they ‘know’ themselves to be.”
Imposter Syndrome is the belief that you’re out of your depth, you’re not really capable, and it’s only a matter of time before other ‘real’ writers suss you out. If you suffer from this, as I do, you will regularly have thoughts that you aren’t good enough, that your writing is crap, and no one wants to read it anyway. Well, I’m here to tell you (and myself) that this is NORMAL and EVERY writer, even those who have had massive success and published loads of books, suffers with this exact same thing.
So how do we deal with it?
Well, I found a really good article from The Guardian that deals with this topic, in which Dr. Valerie Young, an internationally-recognised expert on impostor syndrome suggests the following:
1. Get to the root cause of your impostor syndrome
In order to understand why you’re not currently capable of acknowledging your skills and talents, you’ll need to explore where these feelings stem from. According to Young, feelings of low self-worth could relate to family expectations, but they could just as easily arise from studying in a competitive environment or working in creative fields. (See, what did I tell you – all creative’s suffer with this!)
2. Talk about your experience with someone you trust
You’re probably familiar with the notion that voicing worries or fears out loud will lessen the power they hold over you. “I would encourage anyone feeling that they may be experiencing imposter syndrome to talk about it with someone they trust; whether that be a professional or someone from their own circle of family and friends.”
3. Reframe your thoughts with positive self-talk
The aim of practicing positive self-talk is to learn how to manage your thoughts when an impostor moment strikes. “If you want to stop feeling like an impostor, you have to stop thinking like one,” advises Young. “We need to become consciously aware of the impostor thoughts running through our head so that we can reframe them the way a non-impostor would,” she says.
4. Learn to believe in your self-worth
“What we want is to feel confident 24/7, but that’s not how it works,” says Young. Instead she suggests learning how to act with confidence, even when you’re feeling insecure, as a way of gradually changing how you feel internally. Taking back control of a situation can also help you rediscover your self-worth.
These are all great suggestions for dealing with the demons. Personally, I find positive affirmations help – telling myself I can do this, and telling the demon to go to hell.
Other things you could try are:
- Calling the demon out
- Conversing with the demon
- Reading back some of your best work to give yourself confidence
- Distracting yourself with a good book or a positive piece of music that lifts your spirits
- Talking to other writer friends who understand how it feels or can reassure you how great your writing really is
Perhaps use a combination of the above, or simply keep reminding yourself that the very fact you feel like an imposter means you are a real writer, and puts you in the same group as even the best published writers, who also suffer from the same affliction.
Here is a little anecdote from Neil Gaiman to illustrate my point, and hopefully make you feel better. It certainly helped me:
Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.
You can read the full Guardian article here: https://jobs.theguardian.com/article/impostor-syndrome-and-how-to-overcome-it