After years of taking writing seriously, of small successes and countless not-so-near misses, two upcoming events have triggered my fear of failure. Big time. I usually try to ignore the fear and press on, but this time I feel the need to address it. It’s time to talk about the elephant in the room—imposter syndrome.
Next week I begin a two-week intensive Fast Flash course run by Kathy Fish, a master of flash fiction. I’m a huge fan of Kathy’s writing, and every flash fiction writer I admire has done her course. I had to go in a ballot to win a place. But I haven’t written a lot of flash lately and haven’t had a story accepted in ages. And I have to squeeze the course into two busy working weeks. What if I can’t come up with the goods? What if my stories are the worst abominations in the history of the course? What if they realise my previous publications were a fluke?
In addition to worrying about the course, yesterday I received an email inviting me to read my work at a live reading event in an art gallery. I should be thrilled, but the piece they’ve invited me to read is the first flash fiction piece I ever wrote. And there’s no way I want to read it to an audience, because to my eyes now, it’s cringeworthy. If I’m being honest, I’m also terrified about the prospect of getting up in front of strangers to expose my flaws.
I’ve dealt with imposter syndrome on and off for my whole life. Most of us do. In my day job, I’ve progressed to a senior level. I’m knowledgeable, experienced and respected. Even so, from time to time I still feel like a fraud, usually when taking on a new level of responsibility or a management role. These days, I just crack on with the task that scares me. And invariably I cope, the sky doesn’t fall down and the feeling of inadequacy lifts.
If I feel that way about a profession which I’ve spent decades mastering, you can imagine how I feel about writing. Because I want this writing gig to become a career. It matters to me. It’s my future, and I take it seriously. I don’t want to be seen as a phoney, a try-hard typing blog posts and never getting any closer to achieving my publication goals.
I know I need to take the lessons I’ve learned in my day job and put them into practice with my writing, so here goes. Some of these points might also strike a chord with others who grapple with imposter syndrome.
My plan to deal with imposter syndrome:
- Interrogate the feeling of fraud. Is it justified? Accept your successes and be kind to yourself. A reflection on your achievements might help here.
- Ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ So what if I write terrible stories in a course or stumble over my reading? Nobody will care and my writing dream will survive intact.
- Share the self-doubt with a trusted friend or mentor. This is where networking, immersing yourself in a group of supportive writers, comes in handy.
- Reframe the negative thoughts. Self-doubt can be beneficial. Not knowing everything doesn’t make you a fake. It’s an opportunity to learn from the experience, to develop skills. Value the process rather than the results.
- Try not to compare your failures with others’ successes. Difficult on social media, but of vital importance.
- Acknowledge the fear, but do it anyway. Here’s the key point, people. Do. It. Anyway.
For now, I’m putting a brave face on and getting ready to tackle the next couple of weeks. I’m still not sure about the live reading, but I am looking forward to the flash fiction course and the prospect of learning from talented writers.
Do you suffer from imposter syndrome, and if so, how do you deal with it?
Good luck with your course, Lisa. Thanks also for sharing your thoughts here so honestly. I guess the only good thing about Imposter Syndrome is that we all go through it and understand exactly what you’re feeling.
Thanks, KM. Most of us are well acquainted with imposter syndrome. Thank goodness I meet it less frequently these days and I recognise it when it does resurface.
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Hi Lisa I won’t reply publicly but wanted to thank you for writing this beautifully honest piece. You are not alone! As a (female???relevant) doctor trying to write too, i would echo every word and sentiment you shared. Even as my second book is about to be published I’m convinced everyone has got it wrong. I’m sure the publisher has made a mistake, that they’re just being nice. I’m convinced that after every event I’ve spoken at they’re crossing my name off next year’s list while other more “serious” writers are looking down on my book. It sucks. As for your flash fiction, I can see objectively that your have been CHOSEN on your merits to speak at the event, to do the course. They have read your work and deceived you are worthy. Why is it so easy to see this in others and not in ourselves? Maybe there’s a piece of flash fiction in this! Wishing you the best with your events and thanks for the great tips. You are so close to the success you deserve Lisa, though it could be argued that you’re already a huge success and well-respected in the writerly community. Warmest wishes, Jo Sent from my iPad
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Hi Jo, thanks for your thoughtful reply. The fact that you feel the same has more to do with your high standards than anything. I’m sure you know, objectively, that publishers would never publish to be nice and nor would anyone invite you to speak as a favour. You are a talented, hard-working inspiration and a lovely person. We must catch up again soon. Good luck with your new novel, Lisa
Such a poignant piece… beautifully written. You have great talent Lisa and your honesty and eloquence is inspirational.
Take care of yourself and good luck “reading out the piece”… any vulnerabilities will generate acceptance and encouragement (and even admiration) I think.
Having been there I know the feeling but how wonderful to be asked. Just. Do. It.
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Hi Judy! Thanks for reading and for your generous comments and kind words of encouragement regarding the reading. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment.
Oh yes, this sounds familiar! That feeling you’re going to be ‘found out’ somehow. It happened to me when I was working in senior management. I’m sure it’s more common than people are prepared to admit.
I eventually overcame the fear of public speaking by just doing it and by being very prepared. Eventually I’d ‘put in the time’ and it was no longer a hurdle. One piece advice I was given was to imagine your audience naked. It can help… it can put a smile on your face to replace the grimace of terror.
But always concentrate on the positives. And have a wonderful time on the course!
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Thanks for the tips, Chris. I’ve done public speaking before, of course, but this feels different. Thanks for the words of encouragement.
Hi Lisa, congratulations on both these lovely acknowledgments of your talent! I know you’re having feelings of doubt, but I agree with all your tips & especially the reflection on how far you’ve come already. I am a big fan of your writing!
Yep, I suffer from imposter syndrome and also the ‘why am I so uncool’ syndrome which is another debilitating condition in which you realise that everyone else writes cool, funky stories with Part A and Part B or in email format which are also hilariously funny and you don’t. I don’t have an answer at all, I seem to just push on, as per your tip number 6. Persistence is key. Stubbornness is key. Writing even when we fear we are terrible is how we write the very best work.
Best of luck for your reading. Someone told me to remember pitch (mix it up), pace (vary it), pause (briefly for significant parts of the story), volume. Lots of eye contact. I bet the audience will be so busy enjoying your performance, they won’t be micro-critiquing your work. Wish I could come along to cheer you on! xx
Hi Fiona, thanks for the encouragement and the tips. For what it’s worth, I think you’re extremely talented and cool 😀
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Thank you Lisa, words to cheer me on as I attempt to write today! x