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