Five Tips for Overcoming Impostor Syndrome


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Hello, blogosphere!

As some of you have probably noticed, I haven’t posted here in a while (almost a month). This is partially because lots of dramatic crap has been happening in my life. I was sick with what I thought was THE PLAGUE for about two to three weeks, and I discovered during that time that it was actually my super old apartment building that landlord doesn’t exactly keep up very well that was making me sick. So then I had to move. I am going to move in with one of my old friends from high school (actually, I’ve known her since middle school!) but she had to get out of her lease and there was other complicated stuff. So I had to move to my parents house for the time being until I can move in with her in early September.

Anyway, so with the combination of being sick and then moving, I’ve been feeling very scattered and I’ve hardly had enough energy to do anything.

That is certainly part of why I haven’t written, but also I’ve felt uninspired and blocked. And all of this waiting around for something to happen with The Muses has made me feel like maybe I am not that great of a writer. Maybe I shouldn’t be posting writing advice or writing exercises because who am I? I haven’t even gotten a book deal yet. And then I went down the familiar spiral of negative thinking. I’m not good enough. No one gives a shit about my writing/music/art. I’m a failure. etc. etc.

And then I snapped out of it and realized that while I haven’t gotten a book deal yet, I do have an MFA in Creative Writing, a BA in English, a history of multiple publications of poetry and plays, productions of plays and a film I wrote that got into film festivals, a literary agent who loves my work, and–oh yeah–about 20 years of writing experience. And I make my living nowadays writing web content, editing other people’s manuscripts, and selling my own e-books. So maybe I do know what I’m talking about. A little bit.

I am a member of several writing groups online, and I’ve found that this impostor syndrome is a very common thing with writers–especially female writers. I think this is because as women, we are conditioned to compare ourselves to other women constantly–in a way that men aren’t–but let’s leave gender studies out of this for a moment and just talk about writers. I’ve seen writers who have several books published with major publishers posting about how they feel like one day, everyone’s going to figure out that they actually can’t write or that the success they have had was all just some practical joke that the world has been playing on them.

This is a common problem. On the one hand, it can be productive. A good artist never stops trying to learn more and to grow. Sometimes the impostor syndrome can motivate us to read that book about craft that we wouldn’t otherwise pick up or take an acting class even when we’ve been acting for years. But it’s never good to get stuck in this place. (“Get to the tips already!” you’re saying. Alright, alright.)

Here are some tips for how to proceed next time you feel like an impostor and it prevents you from creating art:

1. Stop comparing yourself to other people. This is great advice for life in general, but especially for artists. There is enough room in this world for many different voices, and just because one person succeeds doesn’t mean that you can’t. I have a musician friend who always used to get jealous whenever I would take him to see any live band. This seemed ridiculous to me. There is enough room in the world for Bob Dylan and Justin Beiber and Morrissey and Widespread Panic and Jennifer Nettles. These people have different styles of music, different voices, and different audiences in most cases.

2. Appreciate the things you have accomplished. Sometimes we can get so hung up on that one goal we haven’t achieved yet that we forget about all of the things we have. Even if you haven’t published much yet, think about all of the things you have actually written or a degree you might have gotten or that play you were in once. It doesn’t have to be related to the field  you are in now. The important thing is that you remember how it felt to accomplish something and hold onto that feeling. You will feel it again.

3. Give yourself time to feel like crap. I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling down about myself, all of the people who say things like “well, just think positive!” really get on my nerves. If you are feeling like an impostor, give yourself time to process that feeling. Write about it in your journal, listen to sad music, eat ice cream, cry while watching Dirty Dancing, whatever your thing is. The important thing is to make sure you don’t stay in that place and you pull yourself out of it once you have processed the negative feelings. And not to believe every thought that comes into your head when you are in this place because about 99% of the thoughts aren’t true.

4. Read inspirational books or watch inspirational films. There are tons of stories online or documentaries or books about people who overcame major obstacles. I don’t know about you guys, but when I hear a story about a writer who was unlikely to succeed but did anyway, I feel super inspired. JK Rowling was on welfare before she published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Stephenie Meyer was a housewife who had never written anything before Twilight, and then it became a bestseller. Virginia Wade makes 30k a month writing Bigfoot porn for God’s sake. There are people in the world who will pay for Bigfoot porn, so there have to be a ton of other people who want to read your stories. If that’s not inspirational, I don’t know what is.

5. Keep track of your wins. Did you write 500 words today? Did you read a book? Did you go see a play? Were you inspired by an album or a TV show? Did you have an idea for a new poem? Did you write a thoughtful blog post? Did you go for a walk or meditate? In my opinion, these are all wins because all of these things will help you as an artist. Keep track of these things so that you can see that you actually are making progress and are on the right path.

Above all, remember that you are worthy, you are good enough, and don’t ever stop creating.

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