“I’m Not a Real Writer”: Some Strategies for Beating Impostor Syndrome

Age 26. That’s how old I was when I first became an editor at McGraw-Hill. As an editor, I was expected to find, sign, develop, and market best-selling books. As an editor, I was expected to understand what made a book successful so I could teach my authors how to write them.

As a McGraw-Hill editor, I was expected to be an expert.

And yet, I was 26. I had never been an editor before. How could I possibly be an expert? How could I teach my authors anything? What was I even doing here??

I felt like a fraud…an impostor, and I was pretty terrified.

So I started by asking for help, and I got it. My boss and my mentors taught me how to be a good editor—step by step. When I felt like an impostor, they reassured me and showed me how to be a good editor. In time, I became one, but I could not have done it on my own.

When you think about writing that book you have always wanted to write and publish, do you have doubts? Do you ever feel like an impostor? “Who am I to write a book on this subject? There are far more qualified writers out there.”

Impostor Syndrome. It’s the insidious belief that no matter how experienced or accomplished you are, you are secretly a fraud, and one day everyone will find out. Maya Angelou summed up this feeling well: “I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”

Maya Angelou certainly wasn’t an impostor, and neither are you. You are not a fraud. You can do this. 

In my 32 years of experience in the publishing industry I learned an important fact: the difference between someone who wants to write a successful book but never does and a best-selling author, is the latter summons the courage to take that first step and find the help she needs. The former never does.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few strategies that have helped. It’s hard to make that voice in your head go away for good, but with some tools to inspire confidence and a strong support network, you can overcome self-doubt. 

  1. Build your support network: This is the single best piece of advice I can give you if you worry that others will not want to read your story. The more you talk to other writers and artists, the more you’ll realize how many people are interested in hearing what you have to say. More important, you’ll realize that they, too, sometimes have the same anxiety about writing. Knowing that other writers also struggle with this issue can help lessen its impact. Consider finding a writing group as part of your support network. Whether you meet once a week at a local coffee shop or virtually online, having people who share your struggles make it easier to push through those times you may feel like an impostor. 
  1. Celebrate the small victories: Writing a book isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. When you know you have to write 90,000 words, it’s easy to believe that you’ll never be up to the task. But can you write a single paragraph? Research a question? Create a new character? Every step you take in writing is a step toward your goal of completing and publishing your book, and that’s worth celebrating. In time, the voice worrying about failing will be replaced with a voice that reminds you of all that you’ve accomplished. 
  • Hang a pinboard above your desk and add a sticker or a note to it every time you finish a chapter. 
  • Call friends and tell them how you just worked out a tricky plot twist. 
  • Buy a fancy coffee drink when you hit your word count goal for the day. 
  • Even in an intense writer’s block, get a single sentence on the page and then celebrate that sentence. 
  1. Remember how hard you’ve worked: One of the hallmarks of impostor syndrome is believing that when you are successful, it was just luck. When you finally get a story published or land a speaking gig at a writing conference, you question whether you really deserve that success. When you start to question whether you deserve your success, stop and quantify the work that led to that success. Honestly and objectively acknowledge to yourself the time you spent researching, writing, and revising your story. Even in the times you had help, you made the decision to get the help and to make your work stronger. You did the work. You deserve your victories.
  1. Collect positive feedback: When someone gives you a compliment, do you dismiss it, telling yourself that person is just trying to be nice? Women sometimes struggle with accepting compliments and acknowledgement of good work. In those moments when you’re ready to shrug off positive statements, write them down instead. Save them. If someone is editing and commenting on your manuscript, keep that praise of a well-written sentence or a good character choice. In moments of stress and uncertainty, pull out those kudos and reread them. You’ll have a collection of reinforcing positive feedback to remind you of the good work you’ve done. 
  1. Grow from constructive feedback: No writer has ever written a perfect first draft, and even the best writers of all time didn’t write flawless books. Constructive feedback makes your writing stronger. All writers benefit from a critical eye, and it’s important to remember that. Feedback helps good writers become better ones. Don’t be afraid to share your work and ask for constructive feedback.
  1. Keep a steady writing schedule: The best way to silence the voice in your head that tells you you’re not a writer is to keep writing, no matter what. I know it’s hard. Sometimes it can feel impossible. But writing just a few words every day will remind your brain that you are a writer. The only definition for a “real” writer is “someone who is writing”. Hence, if you keep writing, you will defy your fears every day. 

Writing consistently will  help you improve your writing, and confidence is like a muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it will become. When you savor the positive and are objective about the challenges, your confidence will grow and you will have greater writing success. 

Do you have any strategies that have helped you to overcome impostor syndrome? Share your experience with the Bold Story Press writing community below.

Published by Emily Barrosse

With over 30 years experience as a strategist and leader in publishing and in her own businesses, Emily Barrosse earned her reputation as a “rainmaker” by taking bold actions that resulted in spectacular successes. As an Editor in Chief at McGraw-Hill, she transformed the sluggish culture into a competitive, hungry, growth-driven business. Fueled by explosive creativity, her division quadrupled pipeline productivity with innovative content for the future. As a coach and teacher, Emily’s passion is in empowering women to be bolder and to reach for greater success. She believes, with the right mindset, every woman can confidently achieve bolder goals. From personal experience, she knows nothing drives change and improves confidence faster than taking action.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: