The Impostor Syndrome – Overcoming Deep-Seated Fears as A Writer

Last March, I published my very first book, The Freelancer’s Bible for Pinoys, thereby sealing the “author” title. It then reached #1 on Amazon’s Best Seller list, so I could already put the word “best-selling” before the author title – which makes it even better.

Whenever people ask me, how did you write a book and get published, I’d give them the steps I took: I formulated a thesis and structure, I wrote every day, edited when everything was done, got an ISBN from the National Library, had the book printed, then published it in Amazon. (I also founded my own publishing house later on, but that’s another story)

When I enumerate these steps, it all sounds so easy: especially when it’s organized in a step by step manner. Done with step one? Next step, and so on.

But what most people don’t see are the demons every writer – especially newbies – has to battle to get through the day.

These demons start with a whisper, and as the number of words and pages grow, the demons’ voices become louder and louder until it becomes a roaring and intimidating shout that immobilizes the writer and renders him helpless.

What does the writer hear?

You are nobody.
Nobody cares about your thoughts.
No one will care about your book.
You will be judged, ridiculed and made fun of.
There is no point in trying.


What is the Impostor Syndrome

imposter defined imposter syndrome perfectly:

In a nutshell, imposter syndrome is a mental pattern of self-doubt.

You have this nagging feeling in the back of your mind that if people ever looked too closely, they’d realize that you have no idea what you’re doing. You’re not qualified to write.

Because this definition is perfect, I chose to use it verbatim.

Every writer at some point in their lives experiences this self-doubt.

Paul Tremblay, author of the award-winning novel A Head Full of Ghosts, has this to say about the subject:

I struggle with self-doubt every time I sit down to write. Its severity fluctuates, but it's always there, and some level of it should be there, frankly. I think it's healthy...Every writer is different but doubt, at times, drives me, and makes me want to get better.

One of my favorite authors, Stephen King, even has this to say, in his memoir, On Writing:

Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.


How Does it Affect Writers?

1. It prevents you from sharing your message 

imposter syndromeI started writing my book with one goal – to reach more people and send my message.

When I started out writing the first chapters of my book, I was very excited and had a lot of ideas. I finished chapters in a span of minutes. I dreamed of the impact the book would make, how it would help and guide people, how it would change lives.

But along the way, as I write and as I start putting my ideas on paper, I gradually begin to question the worth of my message. Is this message really worth sharing? Will this book just be another printed paper that nobody would care to read?

And had I not battled these demons and pushed further – now I know that the internal war writers go through is not an easy feat – I wouldn’t have been able to finish the book and had it published.


2. It makes you procrastinate

After having finished around 50% of the book, I found myself putting off writing for other “more important things” – work, my kid, ministry duties, anything to pass off as an excuse for not writing.

I also started to doubt myself, my skills and my worth – I knew I had a message, I knew I had a goal. But somehow, the more I come close to finishing the book, the bigger my self-doubt gets.


3. Depression and Mental Health Issues

With this feeling of self-doubt comes a slew of negative vibes, stress, depression, anxiety and many more of the same family of feelings.

Last week at the Feast – a Catholic community my family goes to every Sunday – the preacher talked about feeling your feelings. Negative feelings like stress and anxiety are normal and should be acknowledged. They need to be felt. Suppress them, and they manifest in different forms – more stress and anxiety, unexplained feelings, outbursts, and sometimes even as worse as physical illnesses.

However, the thing about feeling your feelings is that sometimes, your feelings take control over you. This is when you start hearing demeaning things, and most of the time you believe them.

You start seeing a negative version of the future and it’s just one of the three – an unpublished book, a published book that nobody cares about, or published book that sucks so much that you’ll be famous all your life for a badly written book.

And because you already saw the future, it frustrates you so much that you’d just stop writing.


How Can Writers Overcome It

1. Don’t be afraid to fail

imposter syndromeAtychiphobia is the irrational and persistent fear of failure – yes, it’s real!

A lot of us are afraid to fail. Some of us are even so afraid of failing that we live mediocre lives, have mediocre jobs, live our lives with such calculation and stability that we make sure everything is fail-proof.

There is really nothing wrong with mediocrity if that’s what makes us happy.

What’s not right is living our lives in mediocrity and being frustrated that we could’ve written that book, or started that business, or took up that activity, or asked that person out—but didn’t, because we were afraid it would turn out the way we hoped.

I will keep on saying these four words, because I need to hear it, too: IT’S OK TO FAIL.

Without failure, we’ll never get to the next level.

Without failure, we’ll never appreciate our wins.

Without failure, we’ll never learn anything.


2. Share your fears with other writers

imposter syndromeMore than halfway through my book, I really found it harder and harder to organize my thoughts and write. It got harder and harder to concentrate.

I knew I needed to brush off these feelings and continue if I wanted to finish my work. So I did my research and checked out if what I was feeling was normal.

I also reached out to fellow authors and asked other writers if at a certain point in their writing lives they felt what I was feeling. I also joined a lot of groups whose members were writers and authors.

As I did my research, I found out about the imposter syndrome, how such feelings were NORMAL and that almost all authors, at some point in their lives go through with it – for some the syndrome vanishes at the publication of the first book, for others, it never goes away.

Moreover, joining FB and discussion groups turned out to be a great thing, too. A lot of them reached out to me and gave messages of hope, some even wrote to me about that they went through prior to publishing the book – which made me realize that is was really normal.

But if I let this feeling control me, I will not only have an unpublished book, I’ll also have an unfulfilled dream and an unsent message – so continued writing.


3. Don’t aim for perfection, I’m for progress

I read in a book written by Bo Sanchez to “always fail. Make something so bad only your mother will be proud of your work.” Does that make any sense? Yes, and I learned it the hard way.

When I dreamed of becoming a published author, I dreamed of travel opportunities, awards, workshops, speaking engagements, fame, people falling in line for an autograph… really big things. (Talk about #realtalk)

But then, as I came close to finishing my book, reality gradually dawned on me that things like these don’t come in a snap of a finger. It’s not that easy. Things take time.

It can be quite frustrating to dream of big things, only to realize all of the consistency, hard work, effort and time one needs to invest to reach that perfect goal.

But here’s a little secret to avoid getting frustrated.

If we look at the goal and realize how far off we still are, that can be quite frustrating. But if we focus on the progress, no matter how small, it would be enough to inspire us to keep moving.

A turtle’s steps, no matter how small, will get him to the finish line, as long as he doesn’t stop walking.


4. Give yourself the credit you deserve

Sha Nacino, founder of the 90-day Book Writing Challenge, tells us that you don’t need to be a writer to write a book. If you have a message, share it. Wouldn’t it be worth it if at least one person was blessed by your message?

You may feel right now that you are a nobody, you have no authority, and that no one would care about your story. You may not have graduated in Journalism, you may not have any paid writing experience, no book or published articles to give you credibility.

But there’s one thing that you have, and that alone will give you enough credibility that no one can take away – you have a story, you have a message – and it deserves to be read.


Don’t just be an aspiring author. Be one.

I’ve seen a lot of social media sites of bloggers and article writers whose titles start with the word “aspiring” before the actual title.

One big secret to battle imposter syndrome and finally make yourself an expert? Claim it.

Don’t just think of yourself as an ‘aspiring’ writer, and tell yourself, “I’ll remove that word when I have my book or article published.” Claim it, consistently write, be brave and hit that publish button. After doing that whole process, it’s time to start writing again!

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