Hello, everyone. My name is Kate M. Colby, and I suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Some of you may have heard of it. Many of you may suffer from it yourselves, whether you know the name or not. It’s been called fear, writer’s block, artistic drought, and several other names — depending on the particular strain that affects you. What exactly is it?
Imposter Syndrome is that nagging feeling that you don’t have the necessary skills and/or authority to accomplish your goals. After all, you don’t have a creative writing degree! Who are you to write a novel? You don’t have a publishing contract! Who are you to give writing advice? You don’t have a successful podcast or social media platform! Why would anyone listen to you or read your work? There are already millions of books out there written by millions of talented, educated authors! Why does the world need your book?
My strain of Imposter Syndrome is the “I’m not _____ enough.” variety. Last year, it was “I’m not creative enough to write a novel. And I’m definitely not disciplined enough to write a novel.” This year, with the novel writing behind me, it has mutated to a strain of “I’m not smart enough to publish this novel. I’m not qualified enough to be a professional copywriter and author. I’m not prepared enough to tackle my business and artistic goals.” In short, I have zero right, zero authority, and absolutely no business being an “author,” “writer,” or “entrepreneur.”
Another variety that affects me is the general, “I’m not artistic enough.” My entire life, I have been one of the more creative people in my family and friendship circles. However, I don’t feel like an artist. Frida Kahlo, with her gorgeously painted expressions of loss, feminism, and Mexican pride, is an artist. Gerard Way, who penned “Oh how wrong we were to think that immortality meant never dying” and a thousand other lines I envy, is an artist. Stanley Kubrick, with his innovative filmography style whose messages I can hardly fathom, is an artist.
ME? No way. To be an artist, I’d have to die my hair a weird color (I did do a red streak once), post brilliantly obscure Instagram photos that get 1,000 likes (incense stick protruding from banana anyone?), cover my body in tattoos (I only have 3…and that’s debatable), and be able to spout poetry at the snap of a finger (um…roses are…crimson?). As much as I would love to have that overflowing vat of random, spontaneous, carefree, meaningful artistic juice dripping from my brain 24/7, the truth is…I just don’t.
So, how do you conquer the feelings of inadequacy and sense of “stepping-out-of-bounds” that Imposter Syndrome creates? And, if you have similar strain to mine, how do you overcome the idea that you’re not _____ enough? I don’t know. But here are my best guesses.
1. Savor the credentials you do have.
Okay, maybe you don’t have an MFA. Maybe you don’t even know what MFA stands for (Master of Fine Arts). But, maybe you already have a book self-published on Amazon. Maybe you have 15 (partially or entirely) finished drafts on your hard drive. Maybe you rock the local cafe’s open mic night. Hell, maybe you just make a bitchin’ grilled cheese sandwich (that’s right, I’m looking in you, mirror). Whatever you have on your side, use it for all it’s worth.
2. Acknowledge that you’re not alone.
Research some of your favorite best-selling authors. Several of them won’t have formal education in writing. Look into successful self-published authors — the same will be true. Then, take it a step closer to home. Do others in your critique group or your Twitter feed have a back catalog full of brilliant novels? Are any of them really more qualified than you? Even if they are, do they feel incredibly confident? When push comes to shove and the ugly truth comes out, we’re all insecure and terrified — to different degrees, of different things, in different ways.
3. Remember, no one else is 100% you.
My favorite quote comes from the aforementioned Mr. Way. “Talent can only take you so far. It’s your point of view on the world that makes a difference.” That’s right, folks. Natural ability and, I would argue, fancy credentials only get you so far. If you don’t put them to use, if you don’t combine them with your unique perspective and truth, then what are they really doing for you? No one in the known universe has the exact same personality, experiences, feelings, and perspective as you. Therefore, no one else in the world can write your novel. So get off your ass and write it.
4. Define and redefine what’s stopping you.
What is your “I’m not _____ enough?” Figure it out. You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what it is. Got it? Good. Now go out and get it. Take an online writing course. Read that book on Amazon keywords. Dye that hair.
Can’t do whatever it is you need to do? No worries. Redefine it. I’m not “qualified” enough? I’m not “prepared” enough? Kurt Vonnegut didn’t have an English degree (In fact, he dropped out of college altogether to join the army). When J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter, she was broke and scribbled the first inklings on a napkin. Surely you can figure out how to make-do, too.
Do you share my “I’m not artistic enough” hang up? Well, why does an artist have to be someone with an outwardly recognizable appearance and a knack for spontaneous bursts of random creativity? Maybe, an artist is someone who generates a consistent flow of creativity and productivity, who learns to marry craft and business, who doesn’t need legions of social media followers to constantly reaffirm his/her genius. You know, I think that definition could work for me.
5. Just do it.
No matter what variation of Imposter Syndrome you have, “you must do the thing you think you cannot do” (Eleanor Roosevelt). It’s as difficult and as simple as this: if you overcome or deny your internal objections and just do the damn thing, you will no longer be an imposter. You will, slowly but surely, become an authority.
And when, as an authority, you feel like an imposter, return to step one.
What is your brand of insecurity and Imposter Syndrome? How do you overcome it? Share your tips below!