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Imposter Syndrome: One Writer’s Experience

by Jennifer on July 21, 2010

By Kate Kennedy

Be brave enough to admit who you really are.

I am a writer.  Go ahead, say it out loud, it feels nice, if not a little uncertain.

I have been gearing up to start my writing career for years now.  I’ve read hundreds of articles, started many idea journals and have spent countless hours in bookstores carefully inspecting every hardcover and paperback that assures to unlock the secret of writing success.

All of this preparation and yet, this is my first official article since my decision to be a writer.

Why do I want to write?  This is a question I have asked myself on many occasions when I’m frustrated over the fact that, well, I haven’t actually written a thing.

For starters, I love paper.  Stationary, buck slips, greeting cards, photo albums and of course, the most beautiful: a newly bound, crisp novel.

When I walk into a bookstore I feel calm.  I lose all sense of time and feel my typically tense shoulders relax and lower.

I take deeper breaths when I’m surrounded by tall shelves and beautiful display tables of recently discounted paperbacks.  I can’t get enough of the smell of freshly printed paper and cherish the moment when I find the right book for me.

I’m often hesitant about diving in and creasing the perfect binding because, to me, a new book is beautiful and so full of possibility.

Clearly any career counselor would tell me that this passion for paper and reading would almost demand that I write for my profession.

I’ve demanded it of myself as well, but something has always held me back. Now I have discovered that “something.”

I am afraid of being an imposter.

I hold works of writing up to the highest standard and treasure the art of a well-crafted piece of fiction, a beautifully told memoir or a non-fiction biography.

So, what if I don’t measure up?

During one of my feel-good writing escapades, I attended a three-hour seminar on how to write your first memoir with author, Sue Shapiro.  I thought a little inspirational speech would propel me into the career of my dreams and help me realize my potential.

While sitting in the audience, I enjoyed the class so much and experienced such excitement over writing that I could barely keep my legs from shaking.  I felt motivated, if not completely compelled to run to my laptop and start writing my story.

That is, until the question-and-answer session of the evening.

“Hi, Sue.  I’m such a fan!  I’m currently working on my second memoir and wanted to ask you how you deal with the pressures of alienating your friends and family through your writing?”

Wait.  One.  Second.  I have to alienate my family and friends in order to write?  My excitement turned to dread and a realization that I would never want to jeopardize any of my most trustworthy relationships.

It didn’t occur to me at the time that this was just the opinion of one audience member.  I do not know why.  Or do I?

Of course, it was yet another excuse that held me back from my fear of being a person that perhaps I was not meant or destined to be in this world.

I braced myself and listened to the rest of the questions and answers hearing multiple times about all of the accomplishments of the room full of writers in the audience.  Could they tell?  Could they sense that I was not really one of them?

As the session ended, the moderator encouraged us to purchase one of Sue’s books and have her sign it.

Well, sure, why not?  She was a pretty cool woman and I had a feeling I would like her writing based on her self-deprecating, yet oddly optimistic sense of humor; quite similar to mine, in fact.

I made my purchase, Five Men Who Broke My Heart, and walked over to the crowded table where writers continued to praise themselves and their literary accomplishments.

Sue was actually doing what she loves and lives for; all the while I was wasting 40 hours per week creating Excel spreadsheets and tracking other co-workers creative endeavors at my Media Project Coordinator “career.”

I was next in line and was embarrassed to realize my hand had formed a sweat imprint on the first page of what had moments before been a pristine paperback.

Sue looked up and caught my eye.  “Imposter.  Imposter!” she yelled, if only in my mind.  In actuality she looked me genuinely in the eyes and smiled. I smiled back, much more at ease until she asked the dreaded question: “So, are you a writer?”

I want to be a writer and I plan to be a writer, but does that give me the right to say that I am?

I did my best, “Well, I’m starting to write and I aspire to be a writer.”

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” she told me with confidence and signed the inside cover with flair: To Kate, A fellow writer.  Good luck & good karma. –Sue.

While I’m sure this phrase has made its way into many books she has signed, looking back, it was just the boost I needed.  I mean, if a real, live, professional writer couldn’t tell I was an imposter; maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t one after all.

How have you dealt with “imposter syndrome” in your  writing life?

About the Author: Kate Kennedy is a writer and multi-platform content producer in the DC Metro area. Through her blog, writing and everyday life, she aims to “Live 1000 Lives,” to experience all the world has to offer. Follow her thoughts, musings and adventures on Twitter @ruacreative.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joanne Elliott aka soulsprite July 21, 2010 at 12:58 pm

It’s only been in the past year or so that I’ve felt brave enough to call myself a writer. Why is that so hard for some of us?

I’m glad you owned it and glad I’m learning to own it, too.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Joanne (Writer)

2 Brittany July 21, 2010 at 1:17 pm

“When I walk into a bookstore I feel calm. I lose all sense of time and feel my typically tense shoulders relax and lower.”

That describes me, too. I LOVE bookstores!

Great article! 🙂

3 Mandy July 22, 2010 at 4:57 am

I sat down tonight to write about how I felt like a fraud calling myself a writer and then I read this post and all I want to say is:

ditto.

And thank you.

4 Andrew Toynbee July 23, 2010 at 7:25 am

I’ve been a writer since I was at junior school. It’s only in the past ten months that I’ve aspired to become an Author rather than a writer (for me, the distinction is important and has become a personal goal).
I’ve often felt the Imposter vibes starting within me, especially (ironically, since you describe the opposite effect) when I walk into a bookshop. My first thought is always; ‘what chance do I have with this lot as competition?’
But lately, I’ve been reading up on other author’s experiences on geting started. Actors and musicians too. Many of them go through exactly the same thing, and it makes them more human to my eyes.
Billy Connolly often quips ‘I’m just waiting for the guys from the shipyard to come and get me – to tell me that I’m still just wee Billy the Welder.”
Even Billy Connolly thinks he’s still an imposter?? Wow!
Doesn’t that make it all right for the rest of us to live with that feeling?

I’ve driven the feeling down lately – and I may be getting ahead of myself by doing this – by imagining the interviews, the magazine articles and the book signings where people ask me where I get my inspiration from, etc.
This has already begun in a small way because I tell everyone who will listen that I’m a Writer, but what I really want to be is an Author.
Most of them understand the distinction and wish me well.
So stop thinking like an Imposter – start imagining yourself as a fully-fledged Writer twelve months from now.

5 David C August 5, 2010 at 7:33 am

Hello Kate, what a brave person you are, you have touch a nerve because i feel the same way, it is precise that fear that have haunted me for a long time.
Thank you for sharing,
David C

6 Barefoot Baroness March 7, 2012 at 3:54 am

Thank you for such inspiring encouragement. This post is just the thing needed when the voice in your mind is second guessing. I’m not afraid, yet I’m shy. I’m procrastinating, yet I’m prolific.

The double edged sword just started to glean a bit sharper, thanks so much. I will be sharing with my readers your valuable blog.

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