Do you ever feel like what you’re writing isn’t good enough no matter how hard you worked on it?
If you do, then congratulations — you’re normal! Well. Sort of.
Everyone lives with this feeling at least every once in awhile related to their work, especially creatives. But those who deal with it often — almost in everything they do, no matter what — have what’s known as impostor syndrome.
Basically, this just makes you feel inadequate no matter what. You could work on writing and re-writing a novel for three years, and it could be one of the best things an agent has seen in the past decade — they could say this to your face — and part of you would still believe they were lying.
Even Viola Davis — brilliant, Oscar-winning MADE-OF-AWESOME Viola Davis — looks at her Oscar and feels like she doesn’t deserve it. Oh, she knows she does. But there’s that voice, that obviously false belief that you’re faking your expertise and you don’t even know it.
If Viola is still on this Earth feeling like she’s not good enough despite her many creative achievements, then I hate to break it to you … but you’re doomed.
Well. You’re never going to get over your impostor syndrome, at least.
But impostor syndrome isn’t something you just “get over.” You can train yourself to be more confident, you can refine your skills, you can start to succeed and listen to others tell you how good you are at what you do. But there will always be a very small voice inside your head telling you it’s all fake.
So writing despite your impostor syndrome isn’t about finding a “cure.” It’s about learning to live with it and thrive despite it. You will never be a good judge of whether or not something you write is worthy of publishing. So you will either have to suck it up and post it anyway, or you will have to hire someone to do the judging for you at some point.
You will very rarely look at a finished piece of writing and think, “Wow, all that hard work was worth it — this is great!” You will have those moments, of course — impostor syndrome is not the exact same as chronic self-consciousness. But when you reread what you’ve written, that doubt will likely find its way back to you. It is inescapable, but that does not mean you cannot succeed anyway.
Do your best to give compliments a chance. And take them with a smile and genuine gratitude. When someone tells you, “This is amazing!” Do not say, “Oh, it’s not that special.” Say, “Thank you, I’m glad you think so.” Even if you don’t fully believe they’re telling the truth. Honestly, strangers don’t typically go out of their way to compliment others if there’s nothing to compliment. It’s not very likely that someone will come up to you and shower you with praise unless they genuinely mean it.
And editors? They’ll tell it to you straight. They’ll give you the good and the bad. They want you to succeed. The good things they’re saying stand out as good things. Recognize, as much as you can, that feedback means you can still do even better than you already are.
And as always, never let impostor syndrome talk you out of doing something you want to do. Being terrified means you’re on the right track. Nobody ever starts out doing anything exceptionally well. Start from the bottom and work your way up, just like everyone else. You’re not imperfect — you’re just always improving. Force yourself to believe it’s worth the effort, even in the moments you don’t want to. You won’t be sorry you stuck with it.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.