How To Keep Writing Even When You Feel Like a Fraud

How to keep writing

Do you feel like a fraud?

It’s ok to admit it.

When you think about writing, vicious thoughts may pop into your head:

“Why would anyone listen to what I have to say?”

“I don’t have what it takes to do this.”

“Everyone can see that I don’t know what I’m doing,”

So you don’t publish as often as you should. You agonize over every word, comma and example.

You procrastinate sitting down and actually doing the work.

The official name for this is Impostor Syndrome. It’s when high-achieving individuals struggle to own their accomplishments, and have a constant fear of being exposed as a fraud.

If this is you, you’re not alone.

Great writers including Maya Angelou, Seth Godin, and Tina Fey, have all felt like frauds—impostors.

But inspite of these feelings, their careers have thrived.

And if you approach your impostor feelings the right way, you too can keep writing successfully.

Why writers commonly experience Impostor Syndrome

In her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, Dr. Valerie Young underlines the importance of understanding why you often feel like a fraud:

“When you have an ‘impostor moment,’ it’s tremendously helpful to understand the possible reasons behind it. That’s because when you shift away from the personal, it allows you to put your responses into perspective more quickly. It’s the difference between thinking ‘Yikes, what an incompetent fraud I am!’ and knowing ‘It makes perfect sense that I’d feel like a fraud. Under the circumstances, who wouldn’t?’”

Over more than twenty years of research, she has identified common reasons why people experience impostor feelings.

#1. You were raised by humans

Our upbringing influences many of our quirks and personality traits.

If your parents pushed you to get all A’s or didn’t praise you on a regular basis, it may have triggered certain behaviors and feelings as an adult.

It can make you a perfectionist; constantly pursuing approval from others, and having a difficult time owning your success.

#2. You work alone

When you don’t have others off whom to bounce ideas, it can be easy to second-guess yourself.

This, combined with not always having clear performance standards or anyone to give you feedback or positive reinforcement, makes it easy to lose perspective and succumb to negative thinking.

#3. You work in a creative field

It’s scary putting your work out in the world. When others can see and make judgments about work that cost you blood, sweat, and tears, it’s understandable why feelings of inadequacy may pop up.

Joanna Weibe, the founder of Copy Hackers, is an in-demand conversion copywriter and conference speaker whose ebooks have sold more than 50,000 copies. But she still struggles with not feeling good enough. Joanna expressed her thoughts about it this way:

“I’m most limited by my belief that I’m not good enough. It stays strong no matter what I accomplish. When I finish a talk at a conference, I beat myself up for days or weeks afterward—so badly that I have to take a sleeping pill for the week following the event… I’m so certain of the inevitability of my failures—large and microscopic—that I don’t even like to schedule a newsletter to go out if I’m not sitting at my desk when it does… because what if a link is broken? What if there’s a typo? Ridiculousness… The more you put yourself out there and the more public you get, the more vulnerable you make yourself to the opinions of others. If I let that crap traumatize me, I’d never do or say anything again.”

How to cope with impostor feelings

If you’ve experienced impostor feelings during your writing career, you’ll recognize one or more of the following coping mechanisms people use to deal with it.

While these coping mechanisms can help protect you from feeling like a fraud, they come at a price. And if you aren’t careful, that price could negatively impact your career.

#1. Over-preparing

Have you ever found yourself researching an article or subject well beyond what others would consider wise?

If so, you may be guilty of over-preparing to prove your capabilities. While hard work is necessary for success, going too far in preparing for an assignment could be detrimental to your output.

As Dr. Young notes, “Such behavior is driven by the belief that the only reason you’re successful is because of your Herculean effort. So every aspect of your work is approached as if it were crucial.”

#2. Holding back

Are you guilty of not bidding for jobs, being slow to pitch guest posts, or deferring work on your book until you feel more “ready?” If so, holding back may be your coping mechanism of choice.

Dr. Young cites this common rationalization for taking this approach:

“It’s far less painful not to try than to expose yourself to others’ judgment of your work and risk falling short. Plus, if you never really give it your best shot, you can always claim (if only to yourself) that you could have been a great writer, artist, leader, or lawyer—that is, if you’d really tried.”

#3. Procrastination

Do you put off your writing until the last minute? Do you find yourself doing every possible task to avoid putting your butt in the chair to get your work done?

If so, procrastination is what you’re using to avoid exposing yourself. You prefer to delay, until the last minute, the anxiety that comes with putting your work out there.

#4. Never finishing

Do you have several half-written blog posts or the draft of a book collecting dust on your hard drive?

When you can say you are “still working” on your masterpiece, you can save yourself from others being able to judge it.

How to keep writing despite feeling like a fraud 

Follow the proven path of these successful writers, to prevent impostor feelings robbing you of your potential.

#1. Ship

Here’s what Maya Angelou said about feeling like a fraud:

“I’ve written eleven books, but each time I think, “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”

And Seth Godin:

“I feel like a fraud as I read you this, as I brush my teeth, and every time I go on stage. This is part of the human condition. Accept it. Now what?”

And Tina Fey:

“Ah, the impostor syndrome!? The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania, and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh god, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud. Seriously, I’ve just realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.”

The common theme is that they feel these feelings, but keep shipping in spite of it.

Maya Angelou felt like a fraud, but she still published eleven books, and many plays, poems and essays.

Seth Godin feels like a fraud, but he’s written eighteen books, and publishes a blog post every day.

Tina Fey feels like a fraud, but she written a book, movies, and television shows including Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock.

If you want to thrive as a writer, you must keep writing and publishing—no matter how you feel.

#2. Assemble a posse

Don’t make your writing journey alone. Engage often with other writers and creative people.

Express your feelings, and share the projects you’re working on. Kyle Eschenroeder of Startup Bros recommends you find at least one person to say “I feel like a fraud” to. That simple admission defangs the feelings and robs them of their power.

Your crew can give you moral support and feedback to help you along with your work. They can also hold you accountable, and knock some sense into you, should they notice you’re letting impostor feelings get the better of you.

#3. Make yourself bulletproof

If you want to succeed as a writer, you’ve got to write.

How others respond to your art should have no impact on how you view yourself or your work. You’ve got to put your focus on the work, and divorce yourself from the outcome of it.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the famous author of Eat, Pray, Love, provided some wonderful advice on how she did it:

“So after the weird, disorienting success that I went through with Eat, Pray, Love, I realized that all I had to do was exactly the same thing that I used to have to do all the time when I was an equally disoriented failure. I had to get my ass back to work, and that’s what I did, and that’s how, in 2010, I was able to publish the dreaded follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love. 

And you know what happened with that book? It bombed, and I was fine. Actually, I kind of felt bulletproof, because I knew that I had broken the spell and I had found my way back home to writing for the sheer devotion of it. And I stayed in my home of writing after that, and I wrote another book that just came out last year and that one was really beautifully received, which is very nice, but not my point.

My point is that I’m writing another one now, and I’ll write another book after that and another and another and another and many of them will fail, and some of them might succeed, but I will always be safe from the random hurricanes of outcome as long as I never forget where I rightfully live.”

You are not a fraud…

… But if you let impostor feelings prevent you from writing, then the vicious voice of your inner critic will win. Your feelings will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Because if feeling like a fraud prevents you from writing, then you are not a writer.

Writers write. They publish.

And they do it again and again.

No matter how they feel.

So the next time those impostor feelings show up, say hello, acknowledge them, and then – keep writing.

Because you have something to say. And the world needs to hear it.

What will you do today to ensure impostor syndrome doesn’t stop you? Tell us in the comments below.

If you liked this post, please share it on social media!

About the author: 

Sonia Thompson is a content marketing strategist and the founder of TRY Business School where she’s on a mission to help you build your dream business by combining the right mindset with the right strategy. Grab your free 3-part video series on how to think like an elite entrepreneur now! 

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73 thoughts on “How To Keep Writing Even When You Feel Like a Fraud”

  • David Jensen says:

    Great post, and perfect timing, Sonia. Looking back, I see that I’ve had a good product more than I haven’t. It’s those few not-so-good products that I stew over. Your article will change that. Thanks!

    • Hey David – I’m so happy you found this post useful!

      We are too often our own worst critic -which can cause us to focus on the minor mess ups, rather than the mountain of good things we’ve produced.

      Keep producing great work! 🙂

  • PJ Acker says:

    ‘Because we were raised by humans’, perfect! All part of the package it seems. We’re socialized to the place where, as humans, its second nature for us to feel self-conscious or afraid of ridicule, before we do anything that might make us stand out from the pack. Breaking those childhood behavior structures, those agreements, is releasing ourselves from their bonds. It’s a very personal metamorphosis. And the process appears to waft in and out in many stages and levels much like our process of accepting any other form death.

    • Hey PJ – yes, overcoming imposter feelings is definitely a process. But once you’re able to identify them, as well as any behaviors that stem from childhood that aren’t serving you well, you can get on the path to moving past them so they don’t hold you back. 🙂

  • Thoughtfully written, beautifully presented. Thank you.

  • Umesh Singh says:

    Great post! This post inspired to write. When I was reading this I felt like it was my story.

    Thanks

  • Abraham says:

    Hi Sonia,

    You’ve done great justice to this post that I had to bookmark it in my Diigo account.

    After all, who doesn’t need something to reassure him/her that it’s alright to feel like a fraud?

    I’ll be referring to this article often. Thanks for this.

    Abraham.

  • Irina says:

    Hello, Sonia! I’m guilty of over-preparing to prove my capabilities. Now I understand that I’m not alone 🙂 The best advice – keep writing. Thank you for such a useful article.

    • My pleasure Irina. So often we think we’re the “only ones” going through a particular struggle – but we are not alone. And that knowing somehow gives us strength to push past these barriers so they don’t hold us back 🙂

  • Umesh Singh says:

    Great post! This post inspired to write. When I was reading this I felt like it was my story.

    Thanks

  • Lady Lagoon says:

    For me,I just keep moving on.When I feel those thoughts in my head,I write them out.That is how my blog got the name”The Mind of Lady Lagoon”because I write what’s in my mind,even if it isn’t the popular opinion in society.

    Great Blog Post.
    Vivere Una Vita Bella!
    Lady Lagoon

  • Keiko says:

    Hello Sonia,

    What a great post and perfect timing! I was just procrastinating to write another post and a book that I really want because of the syndrome. I felt that I wasn’t ready, and the voice in my head was asking me, “Ok, but when are you going to be ready then?” I knew the answer to the question, but my whole body was rejecting to start writing. Now that I read this article and feel much lighter. I will start writing today.

    Thank you, Sonia, for a wonderful encouragement!

    In love & gratitude,
    Keiko

    • Hey Keiko – I’m so glad this helped you get out of procrastination! Hopefully you were able to accomplish a lot today writing your post and on your book. Keep going! 🙂

  • This is exactly what I needed to read. Thank you so much Sonia. I have struggled with what I have been calling “writers block” a lot lately. I have been feeling like a fraud and this post helped me get the perspective I’ve needed, for what seems like so long now, to move past my “blocks”.

    • Hey Tracey – so glad this post was able to help you! You are not a fraud – and all you have to do to prove it to yourself is write. 🙂

      I hope you get lots of it done today!

  • david throop says:

    Sonia – I can echo the comments thus far that this is a great post and perfect timing.

    I’ve been struggling with this burden, and the pendulum throws, that comes with being a writer.
    When people ask how my writing’s going, outwardly I tell them the usual, “it’s going well” or “coming along” but inside I’m thinking “damn I’m a fraud and they know it.”

    I appreciate the form of your post, with identifying three problems and then following with three solutions, especially with quotes from well-known published authors. I would add that for many, writing is a solo adventure, and having a social support group is great, but perhaps the social is also why we feel like a fraud?

    Fish don’t think about swimming. Birds don’t think about flying. In the same blissful way, writers shouldn’t think about writing.

    They should just do.

    The point is, like you said, I get my butt back in the chair and write some more.

    Thanks for your post!

    • Hey David – so glad you enjoyed the post.

      You bring up a good point. Writing is definitely a solo venture – but if interacting with other writers in a group setting contributes to you feeling more like a fraud – then I’d consider not engaging.

      You want solutions that work for you – not that perpetuate unhelpful feelings.

      But totally agree – fish don’t think about swimming, they just swim. So we need not think about how well we’re doing at writing, we only need to write.

  • So clearly out Sonia – I can see how this goes beyond writing too. It’s strange how creative roles seem to challenge our self-belief more than others. Telling others you’re a writer can seem a daunting step. This will definitely help enormously. Thanks.

    • Hey Laura – yes, these struggles reach far beyond writing – too many facets of entrepreneurship and creative endeavors.

      So glad this post will help you – and I hope you start telling more people more often that you are a writer :).

      It’ll get easier each time you say it!

  • Quinn Eurich says:

    Hey Sonia,

    Great article – it’s nice to know that other people out there have the same worries and qualms. I must admit though that after a lunch with some former co-workers I’d rather be dealing with my own creative insecurities than be back in corporate America!

  • Thanks for the uplifting article. I especially like the phrase “divorce yourself from the outcome”. How much of what we do as writers is focused on the final product rather than the journey of writing and exploring story?

    As a new writer engaged in literary fantasy fiction, I find it extremely difficult to separate myself from the outcome of creating a good book that will be bought, read, and understood, much less appreciated. I think for those of us struggling in the field, we need a stronger way to disassociate ourselves from the genre world of writing and its hidden motivations where so much hinges on success and financial reward versus the literary world that does not owe anyone anything beyond the artist and his art. The level of self doubt doubles for us knowing most of our works might be failures on multiple levels. So in that respect, finding ways for literary writers to build self respect and find constant joy in one’s work is even more important.

    That is why I appreciate these articles that continue to emphasize the writing and the author as important versus motivation backed by financial reward, multiple completions of books, fame, social media success, or successful marketing campaigns. None of the latter matter to us quite as much as the art. Anything we can do to find even more joy in the art and erase self doubt is critical, I think, for those of us in the literary fiction world.

    • Hey Mitchell – I agree. Divorcing yourself from the outcome can be quite difficult -especially when our environment seems to be focused on the outcomes.

      But the cool thing is, we can control the things we focus on and the thoughts we let linger in our heads.

      With focused effort, I’m getting better about thinking less about the outcome, and more about my effort. Did I write today? Did I write enough today? Am I proud of what I put together? Am I growing as a writer?

      When I focus my energy there – on things I can control – I find that the outcomes begin to take care of themselves, and my own mental state is much healthier. 🙂

  • Wonderfully well-written, wonderfully well-timed. Thank you Sonia! I really needed to hear this right now. 🙂

  • It makes me feel so much better to hear that others feel this way. I only started writing after I retired from teaching and often think I’m not as good as I should be.

    Incidentally, I also felt the same way about my teaching until I was found by ex-pupils on Facebook. Their comments confirmed that I was actually quite adequate if not good.

    • Vivienne – (such a beautiful name!) – we are often our own worst critic. So glad to hear you got validation from a teaching front.

      And now, I hope as you continue to write you’ll be able to validate yourself and your abilities as you grow. 🙂

      It’ll make the process a whole heck of a lot easier!

  • Another tactic I’ve found helpful is to write a short piece (flash fiction) and read it at gatherings for that purpose. I also took on the editorship of an organization’s newsletter. Doing those things has given me a feeling of competence. So now I don’t feel like an imposter and can’t wait to get to my “real” writing project.

  • I procrastinate way to much by planing. But I’m getting better! I self-published a small children’s book last month, and the only people to really read it were family. It took so much courage to get it out there, and then nothing (the problem with self-publishing… unless you work at it). I totally agree it is easy to get stuck in your head.

    “Writers write. They publish.”
    Thank you for this timeless advice!

    • Rachael – congrats on publishing the book! That’s an amazing accomplishment.

      And now that you’ve got it under your belt – keep going. Keep writing. You know what you’re capable of, and now you just have to keep putting your ideas out into the world. And there are ways to help make sure people see it – but the important thing is to keep writing 🙂

  • Danie Botha says:

    Absolutely! Do what writers do: write.
    You (each one of us) have a voice.
    Write. Publish.
    Write truth. Write quality.
    Let your voice be heard.
    Thanks, Sonia!

  • Eden Esmarosa says:

    Thank you for this post. I have moments of struggle and I read a quote to write like no one is going to read. I try to have fun with writing and being creative. My issue with the writing has mostly been #2 but all these I have gone through and have had mental hash outs. I love the support and encouragement from WTD and the supportive blogs from authors/writers. I’m Thankful that others share and mentor what I thought was just me going through and I don’t feel alone or that it’s just me. Thank you fellow writers. Regards, Eden(aka KLo)

    • Eden – you are definitely not alone. And the good news is that we don’t need to suffer in silence. Speaking out helps us take some of our power back and diminish the impact of impostor feelings.

      Glad you’re getting the support you need – this is an awesome community for writers! 🙂

  • Ruchama says:

    I’ve never had what I consider writer’s block; sitting in front of a screen or typewriter (in the old days) or with a yellow pad and pencil, I can always write. So what do I do? I refuse to open the program and delve in to my outline or notes. I can find a million reasons why this is not the time to get going. I’ve definitely over-prepared, years of research and there’s always a new book to read to be sure my work is historically accurate. I spent several years doing the famous “morning pages,” resulting in stacks of spiral notebooks my heirs would have had to pursue dutifully looking for the late lamented me. Mercifully, they were left out in the rain. I disposed of the soggy water stained remains. What I need to do is my work. The story, maybe even stories, I need to tell. So once again, I’ll try…..tomorrow.

    • Ruchama – sounds like you’ve got a good handle on what your coping mechanisms are. Now you just need to move forward with conquering them so you can publish. I hope you get lots of writing done today! 🙂

  • b b taylor says:

    This article sums me up perfectly!

  • Dawn says:

    I find self-doubt crippling when it comes to singing. I’m a much better writer than I am a singer, but of course, both are creative processes. I feel so much more vulnerable when I’m singing than writing. At least with writing, you put the work out there and you’re not around to see people’s reactions. I wish I could overcome my fear of singing solo. It’s something I’d really like to do but have no confidence and feel totally vulnerable putting myself out there. It’s scary as hell to stand up in front of people and sing. I also focus on the outcome rather than enjoying the journey.

  • Dawn says:

    Great post! I find self-doubt crippling when it comes to singing rather than writing. I’m a much better writer than I am a singer and yet singing solo is an unfulfilled dream. I’ve tried it a couple of times but have had what amounts to panic attacks each time. As a writer, I don’t mind putting myself “out there” because I’m not around to see readers’ reactions. When you’re singing solo in front of people, that’s scary as hell. My inner critic won’t shut up: You’re flat, you’re not as good as (fill in the blank), you don’t have what it takes to do this, and so on in an endless loop. I also focus on the outcome rather than the journey, so I can relate to what others have said.

  • Hey Sonia –
    Your post struck a resonant “been there, done that” chord with me. It’s encouraging to know that I’m not alone with these conflicted feelings.

    I feel like it’s my insecure inner child’s voice. I’ve learned to take her from pouting to playing by using a mini-morning pages technique where I take 5 to 10 minutes of timed free-writing anything that comes into my mind. That allows me to refocus and dig into my writing task at hand with a renewed sense of purpose.

    Thank you for your insights into this all too common writer’s challenge. Keep up the good work!

  • melinda crow says:

    I needed this sooooo much right now. After riding an 18 month high of success writing for Yahoo Travel, it was gone in a puff of purple smoke because of corporate restructuring. I have had to tell myself over and over that I was a writer before Yahoo and am a writer today. It’s who we are. Thanks for the words of wisdom!

  • Vimmy says:

    Great post, Sonia. I procrastinate horribly. I like what you said about Writers Write. Great quotes, too. Many thanks.

  • SJ Watkins says:

    This post came at a perfect time for me and has motivated me to get back to writing TODAY. I have two articles and one book in process. Although qualified to write in my genre (I am a historian), and have had many articles published (one of which was a lead article in an academic journal), the feeling of inadequacy still haunts me and frequently stops me actually sitting down to write. So thank you for the timely push forward….

  • This is superb. I really want to thank you for this post. Lately I have been quiet a lot away from my writing routine as I had the very thought “I don’t have what it takes.” sometimes when I looked back at my writing I really wondered if it was me who wrote it or did I find it somewhere and noted it. It was that bad. But this is really inspiring and amazing. Literally perfect timing. Thanks again. Take care.
    Kalyani.

  • Aditya says:

    I am an eleven year old and i don’t know that from where should i get material. Every time a brilliant book i start to write, i know it is gonna beva good hit, but i can’t finish it. I just have a rough sketch in my mind and don’t know how to execute it. Provide some tips

  • This is a wonderful post! I hope to read more of your post which is very informative and useful to all the readers.

  • Alex says:

    Indeed great post Sonia. This post inspired to write and never stop. When I was reading this I felt like this is story of every writer.

    Regards,
    Alex

  • How comforting to know that our self-defeating thoughts don’t actually have to defeat us! I appreciate knowing how other writers cope with feelings of inadequacy and the like. Communities like this are essential to remember you’re not alone! While on the topic of raw emotions and feeling vulnerable, I just wrote a post about how it’s okay to cry:)

  • Samanta says:

    Sometimes i do feel like that fraud. Actually, i cant write well in the mood. I will put these tips into work.

  • Meiji Zapico says:

    What a wonderful post! This just came right, because for months now, I haven’t been able to write, and now, you’ve shined a light on this and summed up all my feelings in one word: fraud. I guess I’ll be going back to writing again now. I hope I succeed.

  • Great piece. I understand the imposter syndrome intimately. And for years it kept me from even trying. Not anymore, though it can still get the better of me on occasion. I’m out there now and determined to stay out there writing and photographing and sharing my work with others.

  • Thanks for posting this, and at the right time. I am beginning my online writing adventure and can identify with the information as I have fallen victim…even fear had a visit with my brain prior, during, and after writing this comment. Thanks for sharing and normalizing such a construct.

    Thank you!

  • Such a amazing article i am very lazy person so i don’t usually write things on my own but after reading your article it seems like i can also do the job

    thanks man

  • Shaheen Alam says:

    I loved this post and learned also.

  • Kingston says:

    Thank you so much for this. It absolutely came at the right time. I often exceed my limits when making preparations for my work and this takes a great deal of my time. In addition, Procrastination comes to play when it seems I have a lot on my neck and the pressure keeps coming. At least, now I know how to handle it without breaking a sweat. Thank you.

  • apm says:

    Thank you for your great information.

  • Hi Sonia.
    Great post. I like what you said about Writers. Write can’t stop writing. Never give up !!

    Regards,
    Vaibhav

  • Lynn says:

    Admin, if not okay please remove!

    Our facebook group “selfless” is spending this month spreading awareness on prostate cancer & research with a custom t-shirt design. Purchase proceeds will go to cancer.org, as listed on the shirt and shirt design.

    http://www.teespring.com/prostate-cancer-research

    Thanks

  • waled khan says:

    well I love to write new content about modern day tech all because of your motivation

  • MistyWojcik says:

    Hiii….buddy…
    Yes, sometimes people have unfair expectations. Sometimes people read far more into your words than you ever meant to put in there. That doesn’t make you a fraud. It just means that other people also have their imaginations and every reader sees your work through the lens of their own personality and history.
    That will never change. The only thing that can change is how you react to it.
    Writing helps me process a lot of my emotions. This can be very helpful when I’m feeling unworthy or not completely comfortable….
    Keep posting…Have a nice day!!!!!

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