When Impostor Syndrome Clouds Your Future

It’s not just about cringing at your past accomplishments.

There is no cure for impostor syndrome.

There isn’t a course you can take or a magic pill you can consume that instantly erases those feelings of “they’re saying I did a good thing, but I don’t think I deserve their praise.”

Even though impostor syndrome can manifest differently for everyone it plagues, it poses the same set of problems across the board. Many times, it isn’t just looking back at your past accomplishments that triggers feelings of doubt and self-consciousness.

Sometimes, it’s trying to look ahead to the future that causes mental — even emotional — distress.

So much so that many people find themselves unable to write something new.

John Green, who published The Fault In Our Stars in January 2012, has a new book coming out in October 2017. It took him awhile to finish Turtles All The Way Down because — among a number of reasons — he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to write a book as “good” as his previous success.

He talked about it in a Vlogbrothers video almost exactly a year ago.

Many of us feel we’re not ready or we’re incapable of starting (and/or finishing) new projects because we are afraid of failing. Regardless of how much success we may or may not have had up until now, there’s this crippling anxiety that comes with the possibility of never living up to our own expectations.

When you add impostor syndrome to the formula, there’s the added hinderance of feeling like you are never going to do anything well, even if you DO succeed far beyond your own expectations.

The key to crushing these worries, of course, is to write anyway, despite our own self-doubt. But that’s a major mental barrier many writers struggle to move past. Even our dear friend John, whose young adult fiction has captivated audiences for the past 11 years (off and on, but still).

When we lack the confidence to create, overcoming that can seem even more challenging than the actual writing part of the endeavor. Especially when you have created something before, and cannot help but worry that you’ll either never be able to produce something that good again … or you never did in the first place, so what’s the point of another attempt?

Despite our questions and our worries, we have to keep writing anyway. Even if we never end up finishing what we start. Even if what we finish doesn’t work out. Because even though we are writers, and we write things for other people to read, at the end of the day, creating is about self-expression. We should never feel like we can’t write something because it might turn out terrible. That’s not fair to our brains, which itch to create whether we’re consistently able to act upon that desire or not.

I have dealt with these feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty for years. Maybe you have, too.

But after awhile, you come to learn that your opinions of your work and others’ opinions of your work are two very different things. You have to separate the two, with the understanding that one does not necessarily influence the other (or shouldn’t).

You never know — you might end up writing a story someone will fall in love with. Even if you’re afraid to write it, give that person — whoever they may be — the chance to find a story they can hold dear.

Keep writing. Because deep down, you do love it. Even if your brain keeps trying to convince you you’re not good enough to turn that passion into something real.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.

Join now.

You Cannot Cure Impostor Syndrome — But You Can Learn to Thrive Despite It

You’re not alone, and this is not the end.

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.