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Pondering impostor syndrome and the writer

A person in a mask sitting in front of a computer

Confession time: people seem to think that I’m a better writer than I actually am. Having to deal with that perception, having to live up to that perception causes me a lot of stress. It causes me to doubt my abilities. Sometimes, I have crippling doubts about myself and what I’m capable of doing.

There have been times when I’ve snagged some very good gigs or assignments, and I was overwhelmed by the sense that I was over my head. That I couldn’t handle the work. That I wasn’t good enough.

Yes, kids, even after 25+ years of slinging a keyboard to earn my keep I still suffer from impostor syndrome, being:

marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

Source: Wikipedia

It’s not as uncommon as you might think. I know many, many writers who suffer from impostor syndrome. They shouldn’t, but they do. Impostor syndrome both holds them back and drives them forward, in equal measure.

How can you stop impostor syndrome from hindering your career, from hindering your development as a writer? Here’s some advice:

Ask yourself why you got the gig or assignment

Chances are that you convinced the person who hired you that you could do the job. In doing that, you convinced yourself that you could do that job. It might have even required you to muster up as much confidence as you could to make the approach, to put together your pitch

Approach the work at hand with that confidence. Look into that impostor’s eyes and stare him or her down. Then, get writing.

Forget perfection

Just write.

Don’t worry about the quality of your first draft. Edit and rewrite what you’ve churned out. Once you’ve done that, get another set of eyes on it. Then, edit and rewrite some more.

Ask for help if you need it

There’s no shame in doing that. You don’t know everything about writing. I sure don’t. And asking for help could open your eyes to an approach that you might not have considered.

Other writers won’t see you as weak for turning to them for help. They understand. They’ve probably been where you are.

Don’t let the paralysis tighten its grip

Your fears, your feelings of inadequacy will reach out with a paralyzing grip. Don’t let that paralysis gain a hold. Fight it.

It won’t be easy. You might be overwhelmed. You might be wracked by doubts. Summon the strength to push that paralysis away, to work through it. Again, don’t worry about the quality of your work at this point. Just get something down on paper or screen. Then, rework it.

Look at failure as a learning experience

You might screw up. You might fail. We all do at some point. But the quality of your failure can determine the quality of your success. We all learn by falling down, but stumbling, by making mistakes.

Look at what went wrong, then think of what you could have done differently or better. Use those mistakes to become a better writer. Use that stock of experience to avoid other mistakes in the future.

And it’s experience that will help you overcome impostor syndrome. You might never fully shake it (I definitely haven’t!), but it won’t paralyze you as badly as it once did.

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