Impostor Syndrome

Impostor Syndrome

Did those words send a little worm of self-doubt turning in your belly? Did they bring up an uncomfortable memory or rush of emotions, or slide a knife of uncertainty about your own writing between your ribs?

At some time in our lives, I think most of us have experienced something like impostor syndrome—that feeling that we don’t deserve or aren’t qualified for whatever endeavor we’re attempting…or even succeeding at. If you’ll indulge me in turning the narrative onto myself for a moment, I wanted to share with you my recent bout of it, and what I learned from it—and how I hope those takeaways might be of use to you in your writing career.

My book Intuitive Editing released about two months ago—the product of more than 25 years of experience working as an editor in the publishing industry, and a passion project I’d dreamed of for years. It’s having some success—it became an Amazon bestseller in several categories almost right away, and I’ve been so gratified at the number of people I’ve heard from who have said they’ve found the book helpful in their writing and revising. It’s everything I could have hoped for, honestly.

And yet a few weeks ago I found myself beginning the insidious slide into self-doubt. As I am working on developing a series of online courses for authors, including a master class based on the book, I started wondering why I was bothering—what I thought I had to add to this crowded space of craft books and courses, and just who I thought I was to set myself up as an expert.

This is after spending my entire career in this field—almost three decades!—working with major publishers, and on hundreds if not thousands of books, many by NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and USA Today bestsellers. Impostor syndrome is not logical.

But here’s what I finally realized as I recognized what was happening to me and took proactive steps to stop it in its tracks before it could continue to drain me of my inspiration, my determination—my dreams: Impostor syndrome is also not really tied to whether you’ve “earned” the right to pursue whatever it is this malignant little syndrome wants to make you doubt.

That’s how it misdirects you—it focuses on your achievements and holds them up against the entire historical spectrum of human accomplishment to batter you with just how insignificant your ability or knowledge or experience really is in order to distract you from the real truth of creative work: It has nothing to do with your “qualifications.” You don’t have to “earn” your right to share what you know and think and believe. You don’t have “prove” anything to anyone.

I had unwittingly subscribed to that false narrative—that I had to hold myself up against every other editor, every other writing teacher, every other book or class on craft, and earn my place in the pecking order.

I do not.

I’m not in competition with anyone—in any field. I have some ideas I want to share, and I feel they are of value to others in my arena.

That’s all—that’s it, the simple little secret impostor syndrome doesn’t want you to know. Like the monster under the bed, it’s scary only until you actually take a look under there and see that it’s only empty shadows, ephemeral as air, without substance.

The answer to impostor syndrome, as with any inner demon, is simply to refuse to believe in it. It’s the bully who’s all bluster till you actually face him down, when he folds like origami. Impostor syndrome wants to convince you that you have to earn your “ticket to ride.” You don’t, friends. You are enough. Your writing matters. It has merit by virtue of simply existing, of being yours. It’s worth pursuing, and you have something valuable to share with the world—just as you are, whether this is your fiftieth bestselling book or your very first attempt to write.

If I can turn the camera back onto my own experience for one last point… Fully making this realization a part of my psyche meant looking into all the places where I’d allowed impostor syndrome to dupe me into self-doubt, and one of those is with my own fiction writing.

For many years I’ve written under a pen name and kept that part of my life rigidly separate from my work as an editor. I told myself it was because while I love writing, editing is my priority and my soul (which is true), and that I never wanted the authors I work with to feel they weren’t my main focus.

But I finally admitted the rest of my reasons too, the darker ones I hid even from myself: I doubted myself as a writer. I worried that my books weren’t as good as those I’m privileged to work on, or even that I might sacrifice some standing as an editor if I admitted I also have been and am in the trenches with every other author seeing representation or publication or sales or reviews. I was afraid I hadn’t earned my place as an author the way I was generally confident that I’d done as an editor.

I realized that defanging my monster under the bed meant bringing all aspects of myself out of the shadows and fully into the light.

My fifth novel written as Phoebe Fox, A Little Bit of Grace, publishes August 11 from Berkley/Penguin. I’m excited and nervous and hopeful and anxious—all the things almost every author goes through in her career. All the things I went through with the publication of Intuitive Editing as well. I hope readers like it. I hope it does well. I hope I get to publish more books—fiction and nonfiction.

But I’m not scared. Not anymore. I stuck my flashlight under the bed and found out my monster was only in my head all along.

Now go write your stories, authors. You are already everything you need to be.

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