Imposter Syndrome for Writers: 8 Steps to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Mike Acker
January 16, 2020 | 10 mins

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Imposter syndrome for writers… it’s a real thing, and it can hold you back from your own success.

It can prevent you from doing the one thing you know you were meant to do: Write a book

Have you ever felt like you don’t match up to those around you? Do you feel like you are out of place, or less than others? Do you wonder if you are a ‘real’ author or a ‘real’ success?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you might be struggling with imposter syndrome. 

In this article, we’ll help you discover how to gain clarity, feel understood, and find a path forward in your author career, even when you feel like a phony.

Here’s how writers can defeat imposter syndrome: 

  1. What is imposter syndrome?
  2. Recognize the feelings of imposter syndrome
  3. Banish the misconceptions
  4. Think differently about success
  5. Believe in yourself
  6. Own your success
  7. Ignore the critics
  8. Lean into supporters

A personal example of imposter syndrome

In 2005 I took a visit to spend some time with a friend who was obtaining his Ph.D. from Harvard. Meanwhile, I was working to begin my Masters. We met up at a local pub full of students with very high IQs and very impressive curriculum vitae.

A lengthy political debate started, and we all started arguing our positions. By the end, I felt I had lost. Though I was college-educated and had been part of a nationally ranked debate team, I still felt out of place. 

The next day I roamed the city of Boston. I didn’t feel like I belonged. As I visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I began perusing the yearbooks from the 1950s, and there he was. My grandfather’s image stared back at me and reminded me of the current version of myself… except for education.

My friend was a Harvard doctorate student. My grandfather was a rocket scientist from M.I.T. 

Who was I? 

I finished the trip to Boston feeling depressed due to the comparisons I drew with others. Even though I had my own accomplishments, I felt like I was phony and fake. 

Can you relate? Do you feel like you are not really an author? 

Maybe you have a book you are writing. You have even reached out to publishers only to be rejected (I can relate). Or… you have written a book, but are stuck on the idea that it’s “only self-published.

Have you heard those words before? Worse yet, have you said them? 

If you hear yourself say those words on your journey to self-publish a book or after you self-published a book then you have fallen into the first part of the imposter syndrome.

An external example of imposter syndrome

“Mike, I have a presentation this week and I am scared s#!^less.” 

Each week I work with people to improve their speaking and gain confidence through communication. This woman was intelligent, hard-working, and successful. However, she was overcome by fear and anxiety.

“I just feel like everyone is going to find me out.”

Despite being “intelligent, hard-working, and successful” she didn't have the formal education or training for the position she found herself in. She had risen to an executive role through grit and determination, not through connections and education. This incredible woman was successful but still felt like a failure.

We often attribute value to the accomplishments of others while devaluing our own accomplishments.

On May 23, 2019, I followed the coaching from the Self-Publishing School and published my best-selling book Speak With No Fear

My book has been wildly popular. It’s an Amazon bestseller. It earned over $1,000 in the first month. Then I heard the words in my head, “It's only self-published.”

Wait a minute! What am I thinking? I wrote a book! I published a successful book that earned eighty-two 4-5 star ratings in the first month! I am an author! I am successful! I earned my rating! 

So… Why don't I feel successful sometimes? It’s because of imposter syndrome, and it’s time we learn how to overcome it. 

YouTube video

How to overcome imposter syndrome as a writer or author

Feeling out of place, or like your achievements aren’t measuring up to those around you, is not a positive place to operate out of. 

Imposter syndrome negatively affects the way you perceive yourself, and others around you. You get stuck in a cycle of endless comparisons, and it prevents you from feeling self-confident, which hinders your performance. 

We know that we don’t like the way imposter syndrome makes us feel, and we also know that almost every person – even those we consider extremely successful – have struggled with these feelings at one point or another. 

So how do we start to overcome something as inevitable, and common, as imposter syndrome? 

Let’s take a look!

#1 – What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern that causes self-doubt and an internalized fear of not belonging, or being a fraud. It can expose itself in various ways, depending on the individual. Overall, imposter syndrome is the feeling or sense that you are not capable, or are undeserving of a particular achievement or accomplishment. 

Awareness is key, so knowing what imposter syndrome is will be the first step in overcoming it. 

Here are some definitions to further clarify: 

“Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that overrides any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.” – Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that overrides any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.” -Gill Corkindale, Harvard Business Review

The imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. 

Megan Dalla-Camina, Psychology Today

“A false and sometimes crippling belief that one's successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill.” – Miriam-Webster Dictionary

#2 – Recognize the feelings of imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome rears its ugly head in a variety of ways. Being able to recognize that what you’re feeling is related to your imposter syndrome is the second step towards overcoming it. 

For example, there are some ways that imposter syndrome can appear, specifically for authors.

Maybe you self-published a book, but you feel like it doesn’t really count since it is ‘only’ self-published.

Or, maybe you succeed outwardly as an author, but inwardly you feel like a phony or that you don’t belong. 

Perhaps you feel stuck with your writing, because any words or content you produce doesn’t feel good enough. 

Thousands of other writers have felt those exact same ways. That is why there are websites like these. That is why I write to you. 

You are not alone on this journey; you are part of a real community of authors who know what you’re feeling, and can provide support and encouragement along the way. 

#3 – Banish the misconceptions 

For the sake of clarity and encouragement read this next sentence out loud: 

When I publish a book, I am a published author. 

That’s the logic of it. You’ve published a book, and you are a published author!

Or, if you’re working on publishing a book, you are an aspiring author who is writing a book!

Banish those misconceptions about what you think constitutes being an author or writer, and get out of your own head.

Let’s look at an example. My friend once offhandedly told me, “Mike, you’re not really a CrossFitter.” He said this despite the fact that I went to CrossFit four times each week, continuously improved my strength and performance, and paid for gym access each month. 

So what did he mean? He meant that I didn’t fit the generalizations, stereotypes, or notions in his own mind. 

But all generalizations aside, when you look at the hard and true facts, I was a CrossFitter.

Apply logic to the writing and publishing of a book. If you have written and published a book, you are a published author. 

You are NOT an imposter. You are authentic, legitimate, and the real deal.

#4 – Think differently about success

Why do people feel like imposters? Part of the reason is attributing their success to luck and chance. But that idea of success is wrong. 

Success is a mixture of hard work, grit, and (sometimes) a little luck. 

Let me explain.  I am very, very lucky. I did nothing to earn the privilege of being born in a land of opportunity. I did nothing to pick parents who encouraged my education. All of that happened to me. I was lucky.

But I’ve also worked very, very hard and acquired self-discipline. I trained myself in public speaking. I paid my way through college. I purposefully woke up every morning at 5 a.m. to write my book. I took on extra work to pay for my editor, formatter, and cover designer. 

Success is always partly coincidental. You have been dealt with a handful of cards in life. Sometimes the cards given are amazing. Sometimes they are very difficult. These cards will absolutely affect what you can or cannot do.

Success is always partly purposeful. No matter how lucky you are, true success cannot just happen. It can start there with great raw material, but you are the one who has to turn it into something more. 

You have some percentage of coincidental success. You have some percentage of purposeful success. Both are part of YOUR story. 

#5 – Believe in yourself

You must believe that you are capable, and worthy. You must believe that your story and knowledge is worth sharing. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should ignore areas of improvement for yourself, or be unwilling to acknowledge when you’re not strong in a particular skill set or topic. But instead of giving up, work to improve yourself. 

Fight against the imposter syndrome. It will suck the joy out of your accomplishments as an author. The syndrome will take you away from increasing your success and lead you towards self-pity and the annoying action of fishing for compliments.

Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Be proud of what you can do with what you have.

#6 – Own your success

Why are inventions patented? Why do books obtain a copyright? Because there are people who want to steal the success of others.

Don’t let others steal your success by attributing it to luck. Don’t become deflated by feelings of self-doubt. 

You are responsible for the work. You are the force behind everything you’ve accomplished and will accomplish. 

Only you did that. Own your success.

With humble confidence talk about your success with others. You earned the right to do that. 

#7 – Ignore the critics

There will always be people who say you didn’t do what the dictionary says you did. And there will always be people who try to devalue the worth of your work.

After I published my book a friend picked it up. She kindly read it and called me on the phone. She was complimentary, while also dismissive about my self-published work. See, she had published a book through a large publishing house. She had worked very hard and had done it the ‘professional’ way. In the end, she produced a really great product. However, it didn't get the traction she wanted. 

She told me that next time I should get a ‘real’ publisher. She didn’t mean to be mean, but it could come across that way. So what did I do? Did I argue? Did I get depressed? No. It wasn’t worth it. 

I ignored the critic.

I could have gotten “down and out” by her criticism or instead I can relish the incredible sensation of creating something out of nothing.

#8 – Lean into supporters

The Internet is filled with trolls. Celebrities trip up against trolls all the time. An actress posts a picture with her family and some no-name person criticizes her body weight. Unfortunately, these celebrities often get discouraged by the one bad critique instead of being encouraged by the thousands of ‘likes’, ‘hearts’, and gushing compliments. 

You are probably not a celebrity. I know that I do not fit that category. But as part of the self-publishing community, we do have something in common with celebrities: 

There are thousands of supporters in the self-publishing community.

On websites such as this, there are thousands upon thousands of people who want you to succeed. There are experienced authors who want to coach you. There are self-publishing courses, books, and training programs which employ people full time to back you up. There are webinars, podcasts, and Facebook groups aimed at creating a place where you belong.

When you lean into the supporters guess what you will find? SUPPORT.

You are not alone. You have a team of people that are rooting for you.

Take action today

My hope is that you gained clarity to cut through the confusion coming from the haters (or even your negative self-talk).

My desire is that you feel understood on this journey to publish your work.

My goal is that you see your path forward.

It’s time to expose the imposter syndrome and to believe the truth. As a community of self-publishing authors, we have a message for you: “You are the real deal.”

Share this article with someone else who struggles with imposter syndrome!

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