I’m not a real writer. I’ll never succeed. Why do I continue trying? I’ll never be published. Why would anyone care what I have to say? These thoughts and more pass through my mind on any given day. You’d think it’d get better the more jobs and recognition I get but, counter-intuitively, it gets worse. After all, what have I done to deserve any attention or praise? This train of thought is quite common among writers, often known as “imposter syndrome.”
The magazine Poets & Writers published an interesting article on the matter back in April 2016. I immediately connect with the experiences and doubts expressed by published poet Leigh Stein. The process which Stein went through when commissioned to write an essay on an artist’s work is the exact process I go through with everything from writing contests to book reviews and even school essays. I think that there’s no way I can do well, no matter how many times I’ve done it before, and convince myself that the worst will happen. Then, when I receive an honorable mention, praise from the author, or a high grade, I ride a new high. (Immediately after I usually berate myself and tell myself that I can do better, but that has nothing to do with imposter syndrome and everything to do with my anxiety and depression.)
I’m pretty sure my readers are familiar with this pride-desperation-pride cycle from their own writing. After all, a writer who grows too comfortable with his/her success will soon see their work suffer. Still, the mental anguish of imposter syndrome–the feeling that we’re not “real” writers and therefore will fail or are unworthy of praise–can be too much to handle.
Everyone will encounter this issue at some point in their lives, whether they’re writers or not. Even Maya Angelou once said, regarding herself as a writer:
I have 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.”
Everyone around you will think you know what you’re doing but, deep down, you feel like you’re drowning it. The important thing is to not let self-doubt or success get to your head. Too little confidence and you’ll freeze up, unable to do anything; too much confidence and you’ll grow sloppy, producing half-baked work that will make readers wonder what happened to you.
What do you think? Have you encountered imposter syndrome? How do you overcome it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.