by Meg Dowell
Writing is hard enough. Add imposter syndrome into the mix and it becomes the kind of challenge you have to remind yourself, quite often, is still worth pursuing.
Imposter syndrome is more of psychological phenomenon than an actual syndrome. It is nothing more than a bundle of feelings of inadequacy. But it isn’t just raw self-doubt: these feelings persist even when there’s clear evidence that a person who does not believe they are actually good at what they do is, in fact, very good at what they do.
A student who deals with imposter syndrome may feel he isn’t intelligent even though he has a 4.0 GPA. He might even believe his professors graded too easy or that his classes weren’t challenging.
As you can imagine, dealing with imposter syndrome, as a writer, is pretty much as close to hell as you can get. Yes, I do realize that in admitting I struggle with this, I am simultaneously pointing out that I am a good writer even though, 95% of the time, I don’t believe it. I’m not saying this out of conceit (clearly). I’m just saying that, if I had a formal CV written up, it would contradict my beliefs in my own ability to cram words onto pages and make them sound nice, that’s all.
Every single time I publish something, I’m certain, consciously, that it isn’t any good. AND I DO THIS EVERY SINGLE DAY. There are days I post here and stay off the blog for the rest of the day because I just can’t stand the thought that I’m spewing nonsense onto the internet and potential employers are going to look at it and shake their heads.
Yet I keep doing it. I keep putting myself through this. Why?
Not just because it’s my job, though that’s certainly a factor. I think I do it because, like many writers, I am mentally and emotionally unwell when I do not write. Many days, I write because I have to, whether I feel good about what I’m preparing to publish or not. That isn’t to say I don’t want to write, or that I do not enjoy it. Writing something that no one will ever see is one thing. Writing something potentially thousands of people could see is something completely different.
When I publish, I do not do it for myself. I do it for anyone out there who might be reading. Despite the fact that I usually have a hard time believing it when anyone tells me I’m doing a good job or that I’m a good writer, I still believe that I have important things to say. Log onto any social media platform and you will see there are plenty of people out there who care more about making themselves heard than communicating a message well. In a way, I suppose I’m just like them. I do the best I can. I take a deep breath (literally, before hitting ‘post’ every time) and I send things out into the world. I’ve built a wall around myself when it comes to feedback on my writing. If people don’t like it, I can deal. All that matters to me is that it’s out there and it might help someone someday.
Can we get over these feelings? Yes and no. I think the more we do what makes us afraid or uneasy, the easier it gets. I’m fully aware now that I have this problem and sometimes, writing and publishing things anyway is my way of saying, “Ha ha, brain, I win!” I lack confidence in my expertise and ability as a writer. That does not mean I am not allowed to still write. There will always be things I do keep to myself, even if I do write about them, and that is fine. As long as I do not stop myself from publishing something simply because I do not think it is good.
If you are someone who struggles with these feelings, know that you are not alone. Also know that regardless of how much your doubts tempt you to quit writing, I beg you, don’t let them push you over the edge. This is a very difficult thing to handle, as a writer. Writers need confidence in order to keep going, and daily, this is something that will try to crush your confidence, almost to the point of breaking it forever.
Just keep going. It isn’t always fun. Sometimes there are tears. But the only way to fight it is to do exactly what your brain is trying to tell you not to do. That’s what I’ve found, anyway. What works for me may not work for you. But I hope that you are still able to do what you love anyway.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.