We've all been there...
You've worked hard to achieve what you have to this point. Whether you are just finishing your first draft, manuscript, or you've already published dozens of books, you've felt it. It lingers in the back of your mind, and on your best days you ignore it. With your shield in hand you fend off the attacks of self-doubt, hyper-criticism, and feelings of fraudulence. Those days feel good. They feel really good. But as it is true in every other walk of like, the writer's life has a sinister parasite that attacks us when we are down. It has a name. It is called Impostor Syndrome.
Turns out just about everyone on the planet has felt this way...
Fledgling writers and seasoned vets feel the same crushing self-doubt, and quite a few have shared their views on this phenomenon. In fact a quick google search of Impostor Syndrome in writers, will show you that greats like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Maya Angelou have spoken out on the subject. The reason I am writing this blog today is because it is an issue that I struggle with. While this article may be cathartic to me, I also hope that what I present can help you if you feel the same weight. There are a ton of perspectives out there, and although this blog is targeted at writers, I think something has been missed.
It's not a writer's problem, it is a human problem...
Sometimes as writers we get so wrapped up in our words, and more aptly our label as wordsmiths that we forget that we were first human. Doubt is a human experience, and it is one of the best teachers we have available. It let's us know when we have something to work on, and we have plenty to improve on as writers. It springs from fear. Fear keeps us alive in some cases, and cripples us in others. If we take it further, we realize that doubt in itself a mental state, and as such it can be change. The best part is that it can be changed, even if it can sometimes feel like it weighs a thousand pounds. To help get a grip on how it comes about I want to ask you three questions.
Why do you write?
Who gave you permission?
Who can take it away from you?
If you've answered honestly then you are on track to finding your sword in this battle against doubt. Just for fun I have put my answers here in case you've struggled to answer for yourself.
Why I write?
I write because it is in my blood. Not in so much as my family have been writers, in fact no one in my immediate living family have published to my knowledge. What I mean is, doubt is a human experience. The same is true about storytelling. I am keen on telling people that I am storyteller first and a writer second. The reason is that writing is the sacred vehicle for the relation of information that we as humans want to share with others. When we write, all we are trying to do is to tell a story. To share an experience that we have had. I know that when I write, whether it be blogs, fiction, or poetry it is because I want someone else to experience the ethereal worlds that I have. I write because it is in my nature, and I am sure it is no different for you. Of course there is the aspect of fame and fortune. Who doesn't want that? But if you are truly looking deep enough you will see that the drive comes from a more primitive, magical place than being monetarily rewarded or critically lauded.
Who gave me permission?
Now logically we can think about answering this question by taking a pragmatic approach. Your readers did right? The people who pay for you to keep writing. Self-published authors or even "aspiring authors", more on why I despise that term in a moment, are more conflicted by Impostor Syndrome than traditionally published authors. It seems obvious, because we require more validation to make us "feel" like we are writers, or authors. This entire subject is about feeling. Whether or not we feel like we are truly, successfully writers. I want to stop you right there and go over two things that are massively important, at least in my own life philosophy.
1: As long as you call yourself an "aspiring" author, you will always be just that.
2: Validation is good, but unnecessary
3: What you "feel" directly impacts what happens externally
Now that may sound like a bunch of new-age hippie dippy crap, but I am here to tell you it is true in more than one way. If you go back to our previous point that doubt is a mental state, one that can be changed quickly and easily then you have to know that by enacting the reversal or the anti-thesis will provide a shift in mental state. For instance, the "aspiring author" label. It limits our possibilities by creating a mental state that we have not yet achieved our goal, which in the beginning was to write. Now it may have become inflated over time to include other things like being a "best-selling author" or being "critically-acclaimed", that is fine. But it overshadows the original goal, the building block of your success. To simple write! Everyone who has every achieved something knows this truth, that bigger goals are only met by achieving smaller goals. When we achieve the smaller goals the bigger goals begin to crumble in front of you. The most productive and successful people in the world have told us this for time immemorial. As writers we know that you cannot write a book without writing chapters, chapters without writing paragraphs, paragraphs without writing sentences, sentences without writing words. If you were looking for validation, then you have it. You've written something. If you have done any of the aforementioned things than I want you to take a second and think about something.
NOW...Not Later, Not in a few years, NOW
Take that and chew on it for a minute. Really dig deep, think about it, congratulate yourself, and feel it. Feeling it is the most important part. When you feel the gooey internal goodness of finishing a great sentence, or paragraph, or chapter it leads to the creation of a good feeling book. This is how you crash through feeling like an impostor. How and Why? Because you are achieving the smaller goals. Because you are matching your internal reality with your external reality, and when you do that you can dramatically increase your output in writing. When you dramatically increase your output, not only in quantity, but in quality then you set upon achieving the secondary goals like getting on a best-seller list. Now you have more validation, and the good "feeling" keeps on rolling in.
Then something really special happens... A realization and an answer to two of the questions I asked you to ask yourself.
Now I know it sounds easy. It is and it is not!
Christopher Lee is the indie author of Nemeton, an avid history buff, mythologist, bardic poet, and keeper of the old ways.