Imposter Syndrome – Ditch the Self-doubt

I’ve often heard writers say that – at times – they don’t feel justified in calling themselves an author. Self-doubt has set in. They feel as if they’re a fraud, playing down their accomplishments and just waiting for someone to tap them on the shoulder and get out the handcuffs to charge them with portraying themselves as someone they aren’t. And I totally get this. I’ve just finished a new project which is far more emotional than my previous books and I’ve had lots of wobbles – that inner voice asking me if I’m really up to the job. So here are my tips – what has worked for me –  on how to quash the critical inner soundtrack each of us has and prove that the title of writer is one you fully deserve.

Imposter

 

Firstly – no question about it – whether you are just starting out or writing your tenth novel, if you put words to paper on a regular basis, if you craft each sentence, read how-to books, devour other authors’ work to pick up tips, care passionately about your creativity… you ARE a writer. It can be hard to believe this if you are at the aspiring author stage, with no formal validation for your work. And it’s obvious but there is only one answer to this: start showing your work to other people who will give you honest feedback.

I’ll never forget the very first page of my very first book. No one knew I’d been writing. I shoved it under the bathroom door to my husband one day. It was the first time I’d ever shown my work to anyone. Impatiently I waited outside whilst he read. “Yeah – it’s not bad,” he said. He hadn’t laughed at me. That was all I needed to continue.

The next step was to join an online writing group and upload my work to a forum where other writers would critique my work. This was nerve-wracking as the criticisms came in – but I realised this process was making me a writer. I was mixing with my peers and – more importantly – learning. And still no one laughed at me. It felt good.

Next is to send your work out to an agent or publisher. Nerve-wracking again as the standard rejections or negative comments fly back. But it just took the odd positive comment to encourage me and silence the voices in my head suggesting that I would never, ever become a proper member of this profession.

Once published, of course, the self-doubt doesn’t magically disappear, the causes of it simply alter. Poor reviews and low rankings can feed the negativity. A trip into GoodReads or onto Amazon can be all it takes to burst your balloon of confidence about BEING AN AUTHOR. On those occasions, I suggest re-reading your good reviews. Or look up one of your favourite author’s books – read the bad comments about their stories which you will hotly disagree with, thus proving, as a writer, you can NEVER please everyone so you shouldn’t take the 1*s to heart.

Try to take a positive slant on the revisions that come in from your editor. They aren’t saying your book is lacking. Nor are they doubting your talent. Quite the opposite in fact – the message is, we trust in you to make this the book the very best it can be and here are our suggestions; we value you and your work enough – we are excited about this project enough –  to have spent our time going through and putting forward ideas to make it even stronger.

And don’t compare yourself to other authors – there will always be a writer with a higher ranking or better sales. It doesn’t devalue your work. There are lots of reasons why some books sell and others don’t – the publisher, the marketing, the title, the cover, a little bit of luck… My summer romance, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun is out in July and I am already telling myself not to be disappointed if it doesn’t end up as a Hollywood movie, with Chris Hemsworth playing one of the starring roles and accompanying me on the red carpet!

Finally, network and get yourself a band of writing buddies who will be there for you no matter what. I’ve declared a hundred times I am going to give up writing – because of rejections flocking in or the stress of a bad review. I wouldn’t still be putting finger to keyboard today – and believing in myself – if it wasn’t for those writerly friends who understand and have either told me to man up or offer a bucket-load of virtual chocolate.

 

27 comments

  1. Lilian Butterwick (pen name Rebecca Holmes) says:

    Thanks for the positivity, Sam. Writing can be a lonely business which I think gives self-doubt even more opportunity to dig itself in and kick you hard when you’re feeling down. We all need reminding that it doesn’t have to be like that x

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks for popping by, Lilian. Yes, you are absolutely right. The solitude of our job can really magnify those negative voices in our heads. I don’t know what I would have done, sometimes, without my friends’ and family’s logic and perspective. x

  2. Icy Sedgwick says:

    Even when you have a few books out you often continue to feel like an imposter! I think a lot of it is similar to the idea of “Well if I can do this, then anyone can”. It’s really easy to devalue how hard writing actually is!

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Yes I think you are right Icy – there are so many authors out there nowadays and so much competition, it’s almost as if you sometimes feel you have to stand out to feel validated. x

  3. Karen says:

    I used to say ‘library assistant’ when people asked ‘what do you do?’ as I doubted the word writer applied to me, and still find it hard to say, now I’m no longer at the library and write full time!

    • Sam Tonge says:

      You need to embrace who you really are, Karen, and stand proud! I know what you mean though – it is hard especially when people expect us to all sell and earn like JK Rowling. I have to say, though that on the whole, I have only ever been confronted with curiosity and warm interest when I’ve told people I write. Sam x

  4. Diane Need says:

    Just what I needed to read at the moment, Sam. Sometimes it feels like I’ll never get my book finished, but the wanting to do it and actually enjoying it is a real driver. Very encouraging post, thank you. xx

  5. Kasey Roper says:

    This was simple, yet nice to read. I struggle with self-doubt almost everyday, but it’s getting better!

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks Kasey. I think many writers are plagued with self-doubt. We just have to try to control that negative inner voice!

  6. Anne John-Ligali says:

    Wonderful and positive post Sam. Your advice and tips feels like a big warm hug and how having the right mindset is key. Thank you.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Aw thanks, Anne. Yes, it’s too easy to see the negatives sometimes and think it is only us, but I reckon most writers suffer from the confidence wobbles. Thanks for popping by Sam x

  7. Chrinstine says:

    Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better!
    Going through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He constantly kept preaching about this. I am going
    to forward this article to him. Pretty sure he’s going to have a great read.
    I appreciate you for sharing!

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