Imposter Syndrome is an actually recognized condition. It’s where you feel like they’re fraud and believe you’ll be discovered at any moment. That’s right, if you feel that way you’re not alone. It’s quite common, particularly in creative fields and among those who’ve already booked several successes.
Authors like Maya Angelou suffered from it even after she wrote seven autobiographies, three essay and poetry collections, as well as scripts for plays and movies. “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.’”
Similarly, widely respected novelist Niel Gaiman had this to say about the phenomenon, “The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It's Impostor Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.”
When suffering from this creativity plague many people find their writing slowing down or even grinding to a complete halt. Generally, they suffer from a mixture of the following five problems.
Every comma, every word, every sentence has to be reexamined, rewritten and ultimately recycled. Nothing is ever good enough and everything is suspect. Rather than editing three or four times, they edit thirty or forty times, certain that something isn’t quite right and therefore the whole text is all wrong.
Suddenly people that were incredibly productive find themselves constantly checking what’s in their fridge, email box or favorite newspaper. They get distracted by cleaning, books and television shows. They find excuses, alternatives and other ways to occupy themselves. They, in short, procrastinate so as to put off the moment they’ve got to deal with feeling like an imposter.
Alternatively, they keep working and working, never finishing and always putting off the moment that others can judge their work. And thereby putting of the moment where they believe they’ll be discovered for the fake they are.
Or they keep trying to find that extra bit of information that they feel the need. It can be anything at all, really. Just as long as looking for it makes certain that they can put off that moment when they have to begin writing just that little bit longer.
And finally there are those that write, but don’t really commit themselves to their writing. In this way if the writing isn’t appreciated they can always claim it wasn’t their best work anyway, that it was only half-assed and wasn’t wholehearted.
Recognize yourself in there? That’s a good start. Recognition is half the battle. For the other half consider these strategies:
When we started most of us never thought we’d really get anywhere. If we had wanted to get somewhere, we would have become a stock trader or joined a firm. Instead, we wrote because we loved to write. And that’s why we should still do it. Don’t worry about the people out there and what they think. Worry about what you think. Rediscover your passion and focus on the only person’s opinion that originally mattered (since nobody else would read your work) – and that should matter today.
Or do the opposite. Get other people involved. After all, writing is a lonely business. You spent hours separated from the world, with only your thoughts and words for company. Do that for long enough and you forget what’s good and what isn’t. This is particularly true if you edit a lot as you’ll grow used to those bits that work well and instead only see what doesn’t.
The best antidote is to find other writers with who you can share your thoughts and your words. You might well find that their encouragements, as well as their critiques, give you the confidence to once again trust yourself and your work. Even if that doesn’t happen, at least you’ll be able to enjoy procrastinating that bit more!
Not everything you write is going to be great. Nor does it need to be. Even if you have a miss in there, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a writer. It’s never down to just one work. It’s your whole history, and your future, as a writer that forms your legacy. So don’t worry about the individual pieces, for it’s the whole of it that will ultimately define you.
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. Will you let their expectations silence you? Or will you instead silence your inner critic and get on with doing what you love? The choice is yours.