Writers and Impostor Syndrome

by amy

One of the many afflictions that writers endure is “imposter syndrome”–which is just as it sounds–the feeling that one is playing a part, rather than inhabiting an authentic persona. Last week, on a (lovely) weekend jaunt to NYC with an old friend, she made an offhanded comment about the fact that the two of us were writers.

I’ll admit that I had a moment of internal pause–me, a writer? Sure, my friend, who writes for a living qualified. But me? I had my doubts. When I considered it further, though, I realized that she was right. I write for work, I write to create, and I write to share my work with others. Which is what a writer does, right?

Interestingly enough, I first met the above-mentioned friend when we were both writers for our college newspaper. It is funny how I didn’t have a problem calling myself a writer then, but as time went on, it has become more difficult. (The irony being that my writing has likely improved and certainly progressed from writing polemic fraternity house exposés for my college paper!)

Writer Jazmine Hughes describes this phenomenon in her piece, “Do You Have Imposter Syndrome?” Hughes notes that even upon having a series of well-received publication credits under her belt (including one at The New Yorker!) she felt ill-equipped for her job editing The Hairpin.

The struggle is real.

So why do we have such a hard time adopting the descriptor? Is it that we feel we need to have a certain number of publications to our credit–or publication in a particular outlet to own the identity?

Last weekend, I heard a piece on NPR about a woman who was working as a waitress while she aspired to grow a career as a writer. Despite her ambitions, she struggled to produce any significant writing output. It wasn’t until a regular customer at her restaurant asked her what she “really did” that she mustered the courage to call herself a writer. And even though at that point she had only produced ten pages of continuous text, she took the step forward to inhabit that identity of WRITER. And you know what, it worked. Once she started calling herself a writer, she started thinking of herself that way. And soon after, another customer (himself a writer) put her on a writing schedule and she started working on what would be her first script. Which was eventually optioned by Columbia at the behest of Nora Ephron. Really. And changing her mindset in this way helped Diane Ruggiero-Wright (writer of the cult favorite Veronica Mars and the forthcoming iZombie) reach her dreams. Such an inspiring story! Listen to the podcast or read the transcript here.

There is no secret to success except hard work and getting something indefinable which we call ‘the breaks.’ In order for a writer to succeed, I suggest three things – read and write – and wait.
-Countee Cullen
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