Weekend Writing Inspiration: 5 Ways to Overcome Impostor Syndrome
August 28, 2020
Do you ever feel like an impostor? Like you’re receiving credit or accolades or attention for something you haven’t earned or don’t deserve? That maybe luck or error has gotten you to where you are? Or that perhaps you’ve been cheating your way through life, and you’re on the verge of being found out or called out at any moment for being a fraud, a fake, undeserving, or under-qualified?
If so, you’re not alone.
Turns out, many (maybe even most of us) feel this way, and often. This is what we call “impostor syndrome.” It can be paralyzing, and it stops us from stepping fully into actualizing our goals and visions for our lives, if we let it. After all, if we don’t believe we deserve our dreams, it’s hard to take action on them.
Neil Gaiman described impostor syndrome (particularly as it relates to even limited success) in his 2012 commencement address to the University of the Arts as “. . . the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you . . . In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard . . . would be there to tell me it was all over, and they caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job . . .”
Here are five thoughts on how to move forward with your writing even when you might be feeling like an impostor.
1. Start by recognizing that you’re not alone
Psychologist Pauline Rose Clance, who first wrote about impostor syndrome, found that impostor syndrome is widespread across many professions and demographics, though there is an intensified sense of it in people in underrepresented groups.
This means that even though you might think you’re the only one who’s on the verge of being called out as fraudulent, pretty much everyone around you feels that way.
Depending on your age, you might remember the episode on The Brady Bunch (I know, I’m dating myself) where Mike Brady tells Jan to imagine everyone in their underwear as a way of handling public speaking fears.
It’s perhaps cliché advice to imagine people naked or in their underwear, but at the same time, the concept holds value. Remind yourself that everyone around you — no matter their apparent social standing — is an imperfect, flawed human being dealing with self-doubt, just like you.
You’re not less than.
Neither are they.
No one belongs up on a pedestal, including you. Even that teacher you admire. Even that leader. Even that other author or screenwriter. Even Neil Gaiman, Maya Angelou and Albert Einstein, all of whom have dealt with feeling like an impostor. Even me. (Ironically, even writing about impostor syndrome triggers impostor syndrome!)
2. Lean into the truth
You don’t have to pretend you know something when you don’t.
One of the best things I did in my career as a coach was to start my Called to Write coaching program, where I participate as both a member and a leader. In that space, I can be vulnerable and authentic about my writing challenges, without feeling like I have to “perform” at a certain level or know everything. I’ve made a point to get comfortable with saying things like, “I don’t know,” “let me look into that,” and ask questions. Rather than trying to be the expert, I’m part of the conversation, learning and growing as part of the group. I see our community as a place where we support each other in exploration and discovery, not as a place where I have to know all the answers.
I’m reminded of something one of my early screenwriting mentors, Chris Soth, said; which was approximately along the lines of, “You don’t have to be the writer who’s capable of writing the script you’re writing until you’re done writing it.”
In other words, you don’t have to be pre-qualified or vetted or approved before beginning a screenplay.
You get to grow into writing your script as you go.
3. Shine a light on what feels like darkness
Sharing self-doubt is a powerful way of illuminating the darker inner feelings you’re having while also normalizing them for yourself and for others.
When you share your authentic experience with safe listeners, you’ll feel a sense of relief, and it will become easier to move forward with writing despite the doubts.
Even just saying something like, “I don’t know how I’m ever going to finish this script” (words uttered from my own mouth just the other day) is relieving.
It’s a fear, not a truth. It’s a doubt, not a fact. Naming a fear out loud (or in writing) is a way of releasing it. Holding it inside allows it to fester and grow.
Release your fear by sharing it with a safe witness, and then make plans to move forward with your work.
4. Inventory your progress
When you find yourself faltering, remind yourself of what you have accomplished. This is when it pays to have kept a log of your work so you can refer back to it and see how many scripts you’ve written, how many rewrites you’ve navigated your way through, and all the other writing you’ve done. I like to inventory my work on a yearly basis at a minimum, so I can track back and see what I’ve done.
5. Keep reaching for more
The good news about impostor syndrome is that if you’re feeling it, you’re most likely reaching outside your comfort zone and trying something new. Good for you! When you take a leap and get yourself in over your head, celebrate your courage, keep swimming, ask for help, and do what you can.
Like Mike Cannon-Brookes describes in his TED talk about impostor syndrome, use your feelings of being an impostor to challenge yourself to grow and accomplish great things. After all, if it doesn’t scare you (at least a little), you might not be dreaming big enough.
Your weekend writer’s assignment
If you notice yourself feeling like a fraud, try doing some journaling about it. Sometimes all it takes is seeing limiting thoughts in black and white to realize they aren’t as powerful or accurate as they feel. Or, talk to a colleague or mentor you trust and admire. It helps to realize you’re not alone. You might even notice that you’re reaching and dreaming big, and celebrate it.
Written by: Jenna AveryJenna Avery is a screenwriter, columnist, and blogger who redesigned her life and career to support her calling to write. She specializes in sci-fi action and space fantasy, and her most recent project is a post-apocalyptic coming-of-age story for a Canadian producer. Jenna is also a writing coach and the founder of Called to Write, where she has helped hundreds of writers overcome procrastination, perfectionism, and resistance so they can get their writing onto the page and into the world where it belongs. Jenna writes about writing, creativity, and calling at calledtowrite.com, for ScriptMag, for Final Draft, and teaches for Screenwriter’s University. Download Jenna’s free guidebooks for writers when you join her mailing list at https://www.calledtowrite.com/mailing-list