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?