‘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.

Ever felt like a fraud telling people you are a writer? You aren’t alone. Feelings of inadequacy and the fear that you will never measure up are common. Even the most successful authors, including Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Safran Foer and Maya Angelou, have talked about feeling like imposters, despite working hard to achieve success. The name for this phenomenon: imposter syndrome.

It’s a feeling that can affect anyone in any field, but authors are especially vulnerable. Writing a book is a very personal endeavor and writing is typically done in isolation. Without constant feedback and encouragement doubts can start to creep in. Like all creative fields, writing is also a subjective art. What one reader loves another will find mind-numbingly dull. These feeling of inadequacy are increased by comparing ourselves unfavorably with others.

Where are the ‘real’ writers?

Imposter syndrome is characterized by:

  • Doubt and anxiety about your skills and accomplishments.

  • Negative self-talk and difficulty internalizing praise.

  • Feelings of inadequacy. Feeling like you ‘faked’ your way to success.

  • Fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.

Imposter syndrome can stop you from chasing new opportunities. You hold yourself back from querying that manuscript, approaching that agent or entering that writing competition. Ultimately it limits you to staying within a restrictive comfort zone and not pushing your work out into the world.

Imposter Syndrome Cartoon. Credit to the artist

How to break free

While imposter syndrome may never leave you there are some ways that you can stop letting it hold you back.

1. Change your perspective

Imposter syndrome is all about your perception of yourself as a fraud. It is dictated by your fears and doubts, not your reality. To succeed as an author you have to take risks and put your work out to be judged. The fact that someone does not like your work does not make you any less of a writer. Rejection is only the end of your writing career if you allow it to be. Many successful authors were rejected numerous times before releasing their best-selling books. Aim to get comfortable with taking risks. Force yourself to make those scary moves to get to where you want to be.

2. Stop the comparison game

Making comparisons inevitably makes us feel bad about our own progress. Comparing our scrappy first draft with another author’s polished book can be demoralizing. Recognize when you are doing this and put the focus back on your own journey. You have your own path to follow. It doesn’t matter that you are not a flawless writer because no writer is, even if they seem to be.

3. Focus on what you love about writing

I doubt that you started writing to make everyone else happy. So why base all your happiness now on what they may (or may not) think of your writing? Focus on what you love about writing. Know the why behind your story. Instead of worrying about what others will think focus on the story at hand.

4. Celebrate your wins

Celebrate each milestone. Keep a record (a file, a noticeboard or a box) of your good reviews and uplifting reader feedback. Look over it when you are feeling discouraged. Recognize that it is not just timing or luck that has brought you to where you are now. Surround yourself with others who believe in your work and encourage you when you need it the most.

You may never banish the sensation of being an imposter entirely but you can recognize your feelings of doubt for what they are and move on in spite of your fears. Be proud of how hard you are trying and know that your life is as good as your mindset.