Imposter! – Making Sense Of, and Combatting, Writer’s Doubt

I don’t think I’m good enough – I don’t think I’ll ever be good enough. I feel like I don’t belong, like an imposter. How long until someone realises that I’m not like them? That I’m not a real writer?

Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or an accomplished writer, chances are that you’ve experienced these kinds of thoughts. Imposter syndrome is incredibly common among creative people and is often the source of much anxiety and dread. It can take several forms, all of which deal with feelings of self-doubt.

‘I’m not as good as…’

Often it can be a matter of feeling inferior, of comparing yourself to the ‘greats’ of the literary world and finding that you just can’t measure up. You find yourself looking at your work as if it ought to be the next Harry Potter and find yourself extremely put-out when it’s not even close. You might not even compare yourself to the prodigies of the creative world. You might find yourself feeling inferior around your circle of writing friends. They seem so confident. You’re certain they’re going to do well – much better than you ever could. You feel like a fake – you’re pretending to be one of them but really you’re just a wannabe.

The best way to overcome this feeling of inferiority is to take a step back and realise that you aren’t the only one who feels like they aren’t good enough. The truth is that even big name authors feel the sting of inadequacy from time to time. It’s also important to remember that being a writer isn’t about being the best of the best – after all, those kinds of distinctions are subjective. What matters is that you create the best work that you can. Your work is uniquely your own and can’t be compared with the work of others. Your success can’t be measured in the same way as someone else’s. Especially when it comes to the unruly and unpredictable world of publishing. Never measure your worth as a writer by things as superficial as how many books you’ve published or how many followers you have on Twitter or Instagram. Look at your own personal milestones and be proud of what you’ve achieved while working your way towards doing even more.

‘I just can’t get it right…’

Another form of doubt is in the quality of your work. You’ll find no harsher critic than yourself, or so the old adage says. It’s not uncommon to find yourself looking at your work and thinking that there is nothing to salvage, that every bit of it is rubbish. But before you delete that manuscript or burn that notebook remember that no work is perfect. Perfectionism is a writer’s worst enemy and, unfortunately, one of their oldest bosom pals. Everything always seems to come together nicely in our heads but then turns into a poor imitation when we see it on the page. Nothing is as poetic, as dramatic or as lush in detail when we write it down – and that’s just plain disheartening.

Many, and I mean many, writers get hung up on their own imperfection. They want their creative project to be perfect! They’ll write and rewrite in the hopes of making their work exactly as they think it should be. While this seems an admirable goal it’s also a sure-fire way to never finish anything. I myself have rewritten the opening chapter of one manuscript fourteen times and, it pains to me say it, it still isn’t perfect. But I have to ask myself if it ever will be, or, if perfection is really a goal worth striving for at all.

Of course the answer is a resounding ‘no!’. Every book you see when you walk into the library or the store is imperfect. At some point the author has realised that their work will never reach perfection and that it doesn’t need to. A good book is a good book. It doesn’t need to be the best thing to ever happen to the English language. It just needs to be something that the author is proud of and that readers can enjoy. It doesn’t hurt to lower your standards if your standards are unachievable. Perfectionism only gets in the way of your work and leaves you feeling like rubbish. Throw that sucker in the bin and write because you love it and because you have a story to tell – a story which, like you, isn’t perfect.

‘Do I even have what it takes?’

There are days when you feel like you were born to write – this is your calling, after all. Then there are days when you think that you are the world’s biggest fraud and, what’s worse, you’ve managed to con even yourself. You don’t seem to have any of the skills or the natural talent of other writers. So what makes you think you have any chance of succeeding at your craft? You might fumble your way through a few workshops, maybe read up on some writing blogs, and find that you are way out of your depth with this whole writing gig.

A good writer always aims to improve their craft, gain new skills and try new things. There is always room for improvement. Everyone starts in a different place with different skills, and different writing strengths and weaknesses. If you feel like you’re at the bottom of the ladder don’t let that stop you from writing. You have to start somewhere to get to where you want to be. Embrace the chance to develop your skills – see it as a welcome challenge rather than something that separates you from the pros.

Doubt is an ever-present scourge of writers everywhere but it can be managed. The most important thing to remember in times of self-doubt are that writing is something you have chosen to do because you enjoy it. It means something to you and what you create should be a product of your passion and determination. There is no bar by which to measure your success compared to others because your own writing experience is unique. There will be times when writing is hard, perhaps even impossible, and nothing seems to work. But remember that there is always time to edit, to improve and to grow as a writer. The journey is just as important as the finished product at the end.

Words by Lisandra Linde

Lisandra is an editor, writer, and Hons. student. She has been an editor and designer for Empire Times Magazine and runs advertising and promotion for Speakeasy Flinders and Quart Shorts. She writes Fantasy and essays and frequently performs at spoken word events around Adelaide. She tweets at @KrestianLullaby

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