We’ve all heard of it. Most of us have it. What causes imposter syndrome and how can we overcome it?
Imposter syndrome is the name given to a lack of confidence in one’s abilities, and the feeling that you are unworthy to contribute to your field. It is often associated with being working class although it can affect people across the socio-economic spectrum. You feel that you are a fraud and sooner or later you’ll be found out.
First things first: imposter syndrome doesn’t seem to be related to your ability. Neither is it reflective of your experience or social status. It is a confidence issue, brought on by many different combinations of factors in a person’s life.
So what do you do to fight back against this self defeating syndrome?
I came back to writing after a long absence about ten years ago. At first, just like every writer, I was worried about allowing others to read my work. I certainly would never have self defined as a writer.
A decade later and here I am, standing on an imaginary rooftop and shouting: Here I am! Read my work!
I wouldn’t say I’ve overcome my imposter syndrome – it still rears up from time to time. But I’ve squashed it down enough to function as a writer. And this is how.
1. Share your work.
This is the most useful thing you can do to overcome imposter syndrome. For me, it started with sharing my writing with my ever supportive mother-in-law. Once I’d taken that first step and shared my work with someone, it was less of a psychological hurdle to share it with others. I became part of an excellent writing group who offered me critique and helpful advice.
Following on from point 1, the next logical step for me was to start entering my work into competitions. This is a great way to gain validation and self confidence – if you’re long or shortlisted, it means somebody has picked your work out as worthy. And if you win a prize, even better!
3. Accept your own voice.
Reading the work of others is a vital part of being a writer. And reading the work of others whom you consider better writers is also very useful – for picking up tips and refreshing your ideas. However, it can be discouraging if you feel yourself to be in competition with these writers. It is important to recognise that you have a unique writer’s voice and it’s unhelpful to compare your own writing to a published (and therefore heavily edited) novel. Embrace your own identity as a writer.
Feel the fear, and…
…write it anyway. Don’t waste your time trying to eradicate imposter syndrome. It won’t work. After all, if the first man on the moon can experience it, what hope is there for the rest of us? The best you can hope for is that you tame it, teach it to sit in the corner patiently while you go about your business, reading your poems at open mic events, querying agents with your novel. And every now and again it’ll jump up and bare its teeth. But with enough practice you’ll be able to quickly put it back in its place with a stern command or a meaningful glance.