"I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged." --Erica Jong
If you are connected to the world of writers on social media, you learn quickly how many suffer from Imposter Syndrome or Author Envy. Even some well-established authors aren’t immune and worry that their next book might not measure up, and they’ll be exposed a “flash in the pan.”
But the unpublished and newly published are usually the ones hit the hardest by Imposter Syndrome. Sometimes the internal, self-inflicted pressures can mount until the person considers ditching writing and hopes they find another goal.
Like with any illness, the person suffering may experience times when they are feeling better and optimistic they will beat the Imposter Syndrome malady. I think this is especially so when they sign their very first publishing contract, which is the exact moment when you move from being a writer to an author.
You pat yourself on the back and high-five anyone in sight. The celebration and euphoria may last until publication date when the realism sets in, and you now have to face reviews, awards, and sales by which you measure yourself against others. Your book is out in the world and being judged. People may find out you are an imposter. Cue the ominous music.
How come Author X has over 100 Goodreads reviews and you are still stuck at 23? Why did Reader Y give you a two-star review which lowers your rating? This is when Imposter Syndrome and Author Envy are their most feverish and left unchecked can multiply like dividing cells and take over your writing career. Although some authors swear they don’t read their reviews and that is how they avoid Imposter Syndrome, I’m skeptical they have the necessary will power to fight that temptation.
One of the most severe symptoms of Imposter Syndrome is when it looms so large, you stop writing, accepting defeat. Why bother writing if someone is doing better than you? So if you can’t get an “A” just skip the homework and tests and settle for an “F”. Who would take that advice? You can’t allow those feelings to overpower you, stop your writing, and kill your dreams.
Kristen Kieffer*, in her blog post Eight Ways Writers Can Combat Imposter Syndrome (March 21, 2019), writes, “… Imposter Syndrome can prove a major roadblock in the pursuit of your creative endeavors.”
So what can you do to combat Imposter Syndrome and start winning your inner creative battles?
Kieffer suggests, “
Neither writing nor publishing is a competition.
Every writer has a unique process.
All progress is good progress.
What you see online is often a highlight reel of others’ experiences.
You cannot produce your best work if you’re working yourself into the ground.”
* Kristen Kieffer is a fantasy fiction writer and the founder of Well-Storied.com, a website dedicated to helping writers craft sensational novels and build their best writing lives.
Natalie Brianne, author of Constantine Capers: The Pennington Perplexity, a mystery set in London at the end of the nineteenth century (publication March 16, 2021), says, “I feel like I go through cycles of imposter syndrome. There are some times when I feel secure in my writing and in my art. This generally happens before I choose to share it with anyone, or when I'm particularly excited about a project. But when I go to do anything related to marketing or I send it to beta readers, I always second guess myself. ‘Who am I to think this is good?’”
I feel you, Natalie.
Melissa Ott Hansen, author of The Perfect Outcast (publication September 2020) a story about the clash of mortals and immortals and the meaning of beauty in different worlds, answers questions about Imposters Syndrome this way. Melissa writes, “When I feel Imposters syndrome sneaking in, I first examine my thoughts. That’s really the culprits. Our thoughts get carried away at times. It helps me to remember that just because I think something, doesn’t mean it’s true. Even if many people say or think it (such as in reviews), it still doesn’t make it a fact. It’s only opinions. Imposters syndrome puts a lot of weight on subjective opinions, and when I remember this, I’m able to pull myself out of it.
“It may seem contradictory, but when I support other authors and genuinely rejoice in their successes, then I rarely find myself dealing with Imposters syndrome. An abundance mindset is truly the best antidote!”
Wonderful advice, Melissa.
I want to add a bit of my own advice for coping with Imposter Syndrome and Author Envy. I suggest you imagine that there is a cure in the form of an injection of adrenaline like a vaccine. Use this shot in the arm to cure you of the doldrums. Let it reenergize and recommit you to learn more about the craft, write more often, revise as often as necessary, and shut out the noises attempting to tear down your confidence.
Writing is a process and yes, you can get better if you strive for the heights and transform your doubts into a challenge to write a book way better than the last one.
Note to Authors:
I would love for other authors to comment on their bouts with Imposter Syndrome or Author Envy, and if by chance, you are immune or have discovered the ultimate cure, please share that with us.