The Truth About Imposter Syndrome – For Writers
I just discovered something and it made me physically ill. I have participated in cultivating someone else’s imposter syndrome – and it wasn’t even intentional. A recent series of events made me seriously analyze why, after a successful career with many milestones reached including the BA degree in English – Creative Writing, book awards and award nominations, and a writer-of-the-year award, not to mention over 100 books written and a long 12 year stint spent making a living from my writing, people were still expecting me to prove myself just so I could pay it forward and speak in front of a group of writers.
When you’re a new writer, you’re constantly asked how many books or stories you’ve completed. Because it isn’t just enough to write. You have to complete something to prove to everyone you are worthy to be called a writer.
When you finally complete something, you have to constantly be working on the next thing or actively seeking publication for the first thing in order to maintain that writer status in the eyes of others — and people, even well-meaning people who love us — will keep asking us where we’re at and will only take us seriously about our status as a writer if we’re working on the new thing.
Once you get that first publishing contract, it continues. We’re asked things like, “Is this your only book?” and “What else have you written?” And if we ask to speak to our fellow writers, we’re asked about our, degrees, awards and accolades.
So then we pursue degrees or awards and accolades to build up our professional resume, and, depending on the group of writers you go to with these new additions to your resume they’re either impressed or are like, “Is that it?”
So you build up to having published 5 books. Depending where you’re published either garners respect or disdain depending on the group. If you’re self published, well, then you couldn’t get a real publisher. If you are published by a traditional publisher, is it a big publisher or a small publisher? The bigger the publisher, the more qualified you become. The smaller the publisher, meh.
Finally, you’re on your fifteenth book, you’ve indie published nine, and traditionally published six. You have a few writing awards, a degree, and some street cred under your belt. You apply for an anthology. Well – you’re not a bestselling author. Whelp, you aren’t good enough to be in that club.
So you struggle to get a bestseller, which you manage after a lot of time, luck, and ten more books. FINALLY, you have had a bestseller. You have thousands of readers on your mailing lists, you’re making a living from your work, and you’ve built up a pretty impressive resume. And yet every time you submit a proposal to speak to writers or apply to join an anthology, or anything like that — there is always the risk that if you don’t give them a full resume with all your credentials – you’ll be rejected or considered not good enough. You also run the risk of being considered too snooty or too accomplished depending on the writers.
It’s a crap shoot.
It’s like at every part of the process and every step in the journey into a writing career or hobby- you’re judged and made to continually prove yourself and your right to be there. And the sadder fact is that writers all participate – often without realizing we’re doing it (myself included). Back when self-publishing was a faux pas, I was one of those assholes that looked down my nose at independently published authors. As a career author, I’ve found myself frustrated in different groups of writers whose goals were different than mine because the writers were at a different level and needed/wanted different things. It wasn’t their fault, we just had different needs and I was trying to get my needs met in a group that wasn’t for that. I imagine I made some of those writers feel like they had to prove themselves without meaning to.
Zero to two-figure writers have to prove themselves to three-figure writers. Three-figure writers have to prove themselves to four-figure writers. Four-figure writers have to prove themselves to five-figure writers. Five-figure writers have to prove themselves to six-figure writers. Six-figure writers have to prove themselves to seven-figure writers. And on and on and on. And in some cases, six-figure writers have to prove themselves to unpublished writers who don’t see the degrees, awards, and bestseller marks after one’s name. It sucks and maybe it doesn’t just happen in the writing world. Maybe it happens in every industry.
While I get it’s important to prove you have the skills to participate in a professional anthology, or teaching conference, or panel, or whatever it is — it does get exhausting having prove you belong at the table repeatedly, over and over again.
A meme I saw in January sums up perfectly how I’ve been feeling and it’s reminded me that comparison is truly the thief of joy.