Wicked Wednesday-Prose and Cons

Jessie: In New Hampshire where there are real signs of spring!

All this month we are discussing prose and cons. I know that one thing most writers struggle with, almost always at the beginning of their careers, but often throughout it as well, is imposter syndrome. Did you ever feel as though you weren’t a “real” writer? Did you feel like you were conning everyone when you were awarded your first contract? Does it ever happen now? If so, when and why?

Barb: I think every writer experiences imposter syndrome, probably most of the time. For one thing, there’s no formal induction into the field: no white-coat ceremony. (White quill ceremony?) There may be a day you become a published author, but the day you became a writer is known only to you. Strangely enough, just as I prepared to answer this question, I read a story in the New York Times about Aaron Sorkin, who is writing a new book for a new production of Camelot on Broadway. Here’s a quote:

“I wrote 86 episodes of ‘The West Wing,’ and every single time I finished one, I’d be happy for five minutes before it just meant that I haven’t started the next one yet, and I never thought I would be able to write the next one. Ever… I worry that if I stop worrying then I won’t do it. That it’s the worrying that’s driving me to do it.”

Edith/Maddie: Aaron SORKIN? That’s a stunning quote, Barb. Sometimes I do feel like an imposter, even now. That self-doubting inner voice nags, “Nobody’s going to want to read this drivel.” Or when it’s time to start a new book (which is happening right now, gulp), I wonder if I even have another story to tell. The voice was definitely a lot louder ten years ago when I was starting out, but it’s still there. And yet, at other times I’ll think, “Maybe this book isn’t so bad, after all.”

Liz: Wow – good to know the company is good here in imposter-syndrome land! I’ve always struggled with this – in writing and lots of other areas. I’ve learned you just have to keep going, no matter what. And it helps to realize most people feel that way at some point!

Julie: I remember back when I was writing what was going to be my second published novel, Hallie Ephron let me know that every writer struggled with the first draft, but over time you knew that you can do it. If I’m writing a cozy, I have that knowing. But when I try a different genre, or a short story, the doubt creeps in. For writers (and other artistis) I wonder if it is less about not feeling like an imposter, and more about moving forward anyway.

Sherry: Oh, before my first book came out, I was racked with insecurities. It’s not as bad now, but like everyone else there is that voice in the back of my head saying, “You can’t do this. You’re no good.” And then there is the pressure of always wanting the next book to be better than the last. Fortunately, the joy of being published outweighs all the bad stuff.

Jessie: It always amazes me how pervasive this feeling is for humans! Thanks for the quote, Barb! It really brought things home! I agree with all of you, but especially about feeling it poke up its ugly head when working in less familiar territory. The only thing I have really found that helps is to tell myself the story that I want to be true until I believe that it is. It works for me for writing and for the rest of life!

Readers, have you ever felt like an imposter?

25 Thoughts

  1. Oh, my – singing my song. Grateful that I am not alone in imposter-land – Alan Sorkin! Seriously. Well, that is a comfort. I have chapters – 3 and 13 where I am certain that I cannot do this, what I’ve written needs to be Control A- delete and I wonder just what I’m thinking. Then I remember that I’ve been there before and I soldier on. It’s always an adventure, this writing thing, and I like adventure!

  2. I’ve read of so many writers who feel that “imposter” syndrome at least once, if not more times, over their careers. I always start a book thinking there’s no way I can pull it off again. But I follow Hallie’s “hold your nose and write” advice and somehow it comes out in the end.

  3. I feel like an imposter especially when I’m working on my first draft. For me, I think it comes from the fact that I essentially starting from scratch with each new book. And there’s that question. Can I do it again?

  4. Imposter syndrome for me rears its ugly head in the effort to promote. I can write the books and have fun doing that, but who wants to read this crap? How can I put it into the world and encourage others to read it when I don’t believe it’s any good? (Traditionally published by a small press–two of them! Four books of poetry! Someone must believe…) Sigh. Maybe a few hundred years of therapy would help. LOL.

    1. Isn’t it amazing to watch our brains argue against our success even in the face of evidence like published work? The thing that has worked best for me is to name my critic and to thank that voice for trying to protect me. I let it know that I won’t send anything out into the world without consulting it first and then ask it to quiet down. After all, if I don’t write anything, there is no way for the critic to exercise its skills. So far it has really helped!

  5. “Imposter Syndrome” was alive and yelling at me this morning. And then I opened your email. I feel better in all this great company. 😉

  6. I think one of the reasons I have an “author” wardrobe for events and such — things I never wear elsewhere — is because when I put them on, I also become “Author Judy.” The rest of the time, I’m just a hacker pecking away at the keyboard, hoping it all works out!

  7. At 72, I’ve felt like an imposter much of my life. But, you know something? I’m a very successful imposter. I’ve accomplished things I never would have even dreamed of. It certainly helped to learn that I am not alone. Once I learned that, I had a lot more confidence. And, now at this age, who cares? 🙂

  8. For me, it takes a slightly different form. I never doubt that I’m a “real” writer, but I often worry that I’m not good enough or creative enough, especially when I’m contemplating something new. Or when I’m worried about sales or getting the next book contract. Then as you’ve all said, I take a deep breath and get to work. That quiets the voice, but it can speak up again at any time, unexpectedly, and trigger the whole questioning process all over again. And yes, it is helpful to name it, admit it, and talk about it.

  9. None of you are imposters. If you ever need reminders of that, hit me up and I’ll tell you again.

  10. Yes, unfortunately, I have felt like an imposter. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

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