Monday, December 4, 2017

Battling Back Imposter Syndrome

Last week I was talking to a teacher friend about how difficult it can be to find a balance between the time demands of teaching and the other parts of life. She mentioned she no longer brings school work home at night because she needs a break from it and has too many other things going on. “And I know that makes me a bad teacher,” she said, speaking to the guilt we teachers typically pile on ourselves. Anyone working in education knows the workload usually leaves us feeling like we aren’t measuring up to what we expect of ourselves or what we see our colleagues accomplishing.

It occurred to me that feeling this way isn’t so different from a writer experiencing Imposter Syndrome.

I’m guessing you've heard of Imposter Syndrome before. The idea that despite whatever you’ve achieved as a writer leaves you feel like you still aren’t good enough, and you don’t deserve to celebrate whatever successes you’ve had? It seems like most of us deal with this at some point, whether you’re struggling to finish drafting your first full-length manuscript or if you’re a veteran author with several published titles to your name.

I’ve been battling with Imposter Syndrome quite a bit recently, even though, in some ways, my writing year has been successful. No, you know what? There are traces of Imposter Syndrome even in the way I just phrased that. My writing year has been very successful! I’m closing off the year with a new manuscript I’ve both written and revised within the confines of 2017, after starting with a brand-new story idea that hadn’t even existed as late as March. A whole new manuscript from idea to revision inside of a year? I should feel okay to celebrate an accomplishment like that, shouldn’t I?

At first I was pretty happy with what I’d written, but after spending some time away from it I started to mentally pick apart everything that could be wrong. The things I liked at first didn’t seem as valid anymore. If one of my few beta readers offered any compliments, I was usually ready to counter with a criticism to balance out the positives. Fortunately I eventually figured out what I was doing to myself and how counterproductive it was, and took a few steps to work out of feeling that way.

Maybe if you ever find yourself traveling down that same rabbit hole, some of these ideas might help you find your way out:

*Remind yourself that whatever it is you’ve accomplished, you’ve earned the right to feel good about it. When I thought of how quickly my new manuscript came together this year, it was easier to think of it in terms of how it only took x number of months to finish. When I reframed that and reminded myself of the hundreds of hours spent in front of the computer and how I was constantly taking random notes throughout the planning stages, it seemed like more of an accomplishment.

*Remember the value of self-care. Shari wrote a post about this not long ago that’s worth checking out if you didn’t see it before. Writing can be consuming, and it’s important to do what’s necessary to keep a healthy balance in your life.

*Give yourself permission to take time off from writing if you need it. Here’s where I might have messed up a little, because I went from finishing my revisions into NaNoWriMo only days later. I pushed myself hard to reach the goal and win (hooray), but it was no small amount of work to make that happen. When the writing feels more like something I have to do than something I want to do, that’s usually a sign, for me at least, that something isn’t going well. I’m happy I won another NaNoWriMo, but in retrospect it probably would have been better to take this year off.

*Don’t compare your journey. This is the kind of nugget that fits onto any writing advice list, but there’s a reason for that. Not only is everyone’s situation different, but none of us really know what anyone else had to go through to get where they are, or what they’re still going through now.

We’re all following different paths. From that perspective, there shouldn’t ever be any time wasted on something like Imposter Syndrome. You can't be an imposter when you're figuring out your own way. All any of us can do is be who we are and write what we write.


Unknown said...

Excellent post. I needed this! Thank you.

Shari Green said...

I love this post. Imposter syndrome is a nasty beast, rearing its head even at the most unlikely times. Thanks for sharing these tips. And this -- "none of us really know what anyone else had to go through to get where they are, or what they’re still going through now" -- I love that. So important to remember.

WendyMcLeodMacKnight said...

Great post, Tom! Timely reminder!