I started to write a concise list of ways to fight Impostor Syndrome and then I decided I didn’t know enough about it to come up with a list that long.
This is how Impostor Syndrome starts. I have an idea, I write it down and think, “Yes, I like this!” Then I do lots of free writing until I come to the conclusion that I am useless as a writer and a person. That was me as teenager trying to give life to my ideas. A million brilliant starts that burnt out in a fizzle of self doubt. This was also because I was a total pantser (someone who writes with no plan) which, for me, meant I couldn’t sustain an idea through my self doubt to ever complete a project. Oh the many of episodes of MacGyver that I didn’t complete. The world is less for the lack of them.
Later, when I learned to write in a stricter academic setting, I found I could sustain ideas to an end goal well in subjects I liked but especially for teachers that I admired. Nothing gets me to write a shiny dissertation faster than a lovely old woman in cardigan telling me how much she’d like to see my thoughts on _literally anything_. This type of writing though is a game. You learn what the person wants to hear, their pet theories, the shiny keys into their good graces. I was and am good at that type of writing. I can song and dance you all day. But it won’t be authentic.
Years go by and I have degrees. Yes, plural. I gain experience, knowledge, and wisdom. I learn my strengths as a writer and editor. I leave academic writing behind and start to focus on my fiction skills. I read* those books you’re supposed to about plot, character, style, and world building. As I share my writing more widely, people seem to like it. As I edit more, those relationships seem good too. I write three complete manuscripts over five years, editing each one several times. One of them gets some buzz, seems to be going somewhere and I feel pretty confident about its future.
Cured, right? Never. Never. It just never goes away people! I wrote a 700+ word essay on my own experience and opinion for literary blog and I was totally certain they were just going to laugh it off – thanks but no thanks lady who thinks she can write. It went live today. I shared the opening of my current MS with a successful writer I know via Twitter. I convinced myself she was going to reply about the long road ahead towards getting into publishable shape. She loved it (had some good suggestions too).
I know I’m not alone in these feelings. Why do we do this? Why do we insist to ourselves that our words and ideas aren’t good enough? Writers with 20 books published feel this way as often or more so than those of us reaching for that agent contract. Obviously, it is partly because these works are parts of our soul. It’s like walking naked into a crowd and going, “So take a look and get back to me with your thoughts.”
Is the only way through to join a nudist colony? I think it might help. The more I share my work as well as my skills with others, the better I feel. Not because of compliments or awards, though those are very very nice, but because of the company and support. What a brilliant group of people writers (often) are and what supportive community we have (ignore those trolls). So for at least the seventh time on this blog, I will recommend sharing your work. Get out there, strip down and someone will offer you a blanket and tea.
*By read, I mean start. I have started a lot of books about writing. And, even the best ones, eventually I just can’t take it anymore and I have to stop because they make me want to write. It’s like reading about ice cream or amazing pasta. Eventually it’s just torture to be reading rather than writing. Honestly, I am a better writer for it. At least I think I am.