I feel like an imposter.
Now, I don’t feel like this about everything I do. I don’t feel like a sham educator. Even though I don’t have a degree, I’m a great teacher and the kids at the afterschool program where I work would corroborate that, even without bribery. So would my boss. I also get consistently good reviews for my community ed writing classes. More than one student has told them that my classes are just the writing breakthrough they needed. No, this feeling of being a fake is very specific.
It’s as a writer, an author, that I feel like a total poser. Like I’ve made a writer suit and slipped it on while no one is looking. (It puts the lotion on its skin.)
Intellectually, I know it’s not true. I have seven novels published by major publishers. I’ve received wonderful reviews from well-respected industry outlets such as Library School Journal, Romantic Times and Kirkus. I have countless magazine articles in nationally distributed magazines. I’ve written for major websites, as well as a handful of startups.
Yet, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop and for everyone to discover that I’m nothing but a hack in author disguise.
Every rejection, every poor review, every mistake in my research, every time an editor takes the red pen to my work, every time a book doesn’t do as well as expected, I’m embarrassed—like I’ve finally been caught out.
If my current success as a novelist isn’t enough, what would be? Would making the New York Times Best Seller list do it? Would a movie deal? Would more money or more recognition ease the anxiety or would these markers of writing success simply increase my feelings of being exposed as a phony?
I’ve discovered a name to this feeling. It’s called Imposter Syndrome and it’s actually a thing. In fact, some of the world’s most successful women suffer from it. I’m not comparing myself to the likes of Emma Watson, Maya Angelou, or Cheryl Sandberg, (all of whom have said they felt like imposters), but feelings of inadequacy and the sense that we don’t deserve success can happen to anyone. Every time I credit good luck or circumstance as being responsible for my successes rather than talent and hard work, I’m giving in to that undercurrent of anxiety that when it comes right down to it, I’m just not that good of a writer.
This syndrome is often found in people who are experts in their field because experts know the more you learn, the more you have left to learn. So the more knowledge I acquire about writing, the less qualified I feel. In addition, most writers are avid readers and it’s hard not to compare… every time I read Hemingway, Conroy, Austin, Jackson, etc, I want to throw the book overboard and walk the plank.
I wish I had some kind of happy, positive solution to hand out here, but I don’t. The reason I am up at four in the morning writing this essay is because of that feeling. I only know two things: It’s just a feeling and feelings pass and I am compelled to write so I must be a writer.
At least, I think I am.