How to Kick Imposter Syndrome to the Curb

I wrote my first short story when I was in the second grade. The teacher loved it, made much over it, took it home to read it to her family, and dubbed me ‘a writer.’ You could call this my first brush with fame.

It was also my first brush with imposter syndrome.

I vaguely remember the story was about two kids exploring the cave, and one kid was always hungry, and there was this magical ham sandwich … ok so I don’t really remember a whole lot more about it. I was 6.

But I do remember, under the weight of all the praise I received, feeling like I didn’t deserve it. I had read another story, you see, about spelunking and cave investigation. I don’t think there was a magical ham sandwich in that story, or a kid who was always hungry, or maybe not even any kids at all. I vaguely remember it being about teenagers hunting a cave-dwelling ghost. But because I was 6-ish and hadn’t had the benefit of any college-level courses on the psychology of creativity, I thought the story I had written didn’t count. Because, you know, someone else had thought of most of it first.

Much MUCH later in graduate school, a professor would say to me, “Everything has already been done. What’s important is how you choose to do it.” I didn’t know Susanne Cockrell when I was 6–in fact, I’m pretty sure she hadn’t been born yet. So 6 year old me adopted this mantle of “the writer” and also of “the imposter” simultaneously and carried that well into adulthood.

It’s something every writer seems to experience. That piece we churn out with excitement runs the gamut from “I smell Pulitzer” to “most impossible piece of shit ever written.” The truth about most stories is somewhere in the middle.

Here are a few tips to help you kick the beast out of your way.

  1. Step back and let that writing percolate. Stop worrying over it and pestering it to do better. Let it sit. Come back to it in a day or a week and see how you feel.
  2. Get feedback from a reliable source. Have a critique partner, or even a friend? Ask them what they think.
  3. Read for a minute. Sometimes if we read our favorites, we get perspective on our writing that can shore us up and help us improve.
  4. Know that this happens literally to everyone. Margaret Atwood. Nora Roberts. Jane Austen. Hemingway. Everybody.
  5. Dunning-Kruger effect. Look it up.

The only writing that is truly irredeemable is the work that doesn’t get done. So embrace your imposter syndrome, write that thing anyway, and let it percolate. It’s probably better than you think.

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