Befriending the Imposter Syndrome Beasticle – a Strategy for Writers Whose Internal Editor is a Special Brand of Nasty


Of all the voices of the Inner Critic, one of the most virulent is that of the Imposter Syndrome — my personal vulnerability. What is the IS? You might suffer from it if you:

  • *Carry a sense of fraudulence.
  • *Believe you’re one step away from being exposed as the big, fungating example of hype-without-substance you know yourself to be.
  • *Hear feedback in a selective manner. That is to say, when people say your work has flaws, their word become emblazoned in your mind as truthful; but let them find something to praise, and oh my goodness, find those people some antipsychotics stat! They need to be reintroduced to reality.

So, what should one do when faced with the beast? Most people will metaphorically lock him behind the cellar door, then go through the “Ping” sisters in sequence, trying to find the means to banish him. 

Moping

This is the stage of victimhood, when you’ve bought into the IS’s story so thoroughly, you scour your surroundings for proof that he’s right. (No offence to the men in the audience, but I’m imagining my IS as a male this time around.) In my case, it’s marked by passivity, slouched posture, and a hand that might as well be velcroed to my forehead.

Unfortunately, I’ve received a gold star in the moping category. I even stick the landing. Eventually, though, something gives and I move into the next stage.

Coping

This stage is marked by a scramble for resources, which might include:

  • a course designed specifically to silence the Inner Critic, registration for which ends Oct. 18. ←Please note the date was extended!
  • a community and/or group of friends who can hold your hope for you, when you’re not up to the task.
  • a website all about the Imposter Syndrome. (Note: I haven’t bought the course advertised, but found the posts themselves to be quite helpful.)

Hoping:

I don’t wish to denigrate Coping, which I’ve actually come to think of as the Western way of approaching problems in a direct, militarist manner. However, I find this Ping sister most helpful. Without her, Coping can shove a ton of resources under my nose, but they don’t work.
“What would a hopeful person do in this situation?”One of Hoping’s gifts is the following question:

I’ve already worked this through in a thousand different ways, albeit in a different world. As a doctor, I dealt with angry patients all the time — otherwise reasonable people rendered hostile by the force of their physical, emotional or spiritual pain. If you are a parent, have worked in customer service or sales, or have ever worked in a dysfunctional work setting, chances are you have competence here, too.


What does a hopeful person do when confronted with an angry person, or in this case, an Imposter Syndrome Beastie?

Barring a life-threatening situation, I’ve found the best defence to be one of openness and hopeful expectation. So…

Unlock the door which holds your Imposter Syndrome imprisoned. The barrier does no good. He’s been whispering foul things to you anyway.

Invite him to take a shower and sit down to a hot meal. When he’s sitting at the table and sneers at what you’ve prepared; when you’re bathed in sulfurous breath and watch saliva drip to the table where it forms sizzling, vomitous puddles; when  he starts hurtling accusations at you in a deep and trollish voice, then…

Offer to cut up his potatoes, because his paws make him clumsy with a knife.

Speak of a makeover for his bedroom, because even monsters like to stretch out when they sleep.

Feel the hope, and then ask him “why?” What fear or anxiety lies behind his aggressive behavior? What truth does he want you to see?

In my case, beyond the usual fears of failure and success, I discovered something quite surprising. Those whispers from my subconscious, from my Imposter Syndrome, were to tell me I was placing too much emphasis on the outer world’s opinions as I write. Know what? That’s a reasonable concern. When I write from that outwardly oriented place, if I succeed, I risk a fragile state of megalomania. If I fail, devastation. In my case, the Imposter Syndrome acts like a misguided parent who believes his harshness is preparing me for the world. I can work with that. I know how to work with that. Since this realization, in fact, I’ve been restored to proactivity and productivity in writing decisions.

How about you? If you suffer from the Imposter Syndrome, what resources can you recommend? Where have you found your hope? And if you don’t suffer from the Imposter Syndrome, what core beliefs protect you?

23 thoughts on “Befriending the Imposter Syndrome Beasticle – a Strategy for Writers Whose Internal Editor is a Special Brand of Nasty

  1. Yes – I suffer from this! OMG it is so true. This is truly one of the stages of revision, I’m sure of it. Great post.:)

  2. I think this is something everyone suffers from at some point. The symptoms vary a bit, perhaps, by where we are in our writing. I deal by writing through it, and remembering that I write by choice. It’s that or maybe watching TV. Which one would I rather do? I have to entertain myself first.

  3. I believe I’m in the moping stage right now. I’ve partially ventured into coping – I’ve joined an online writing community and bought a book about writer’s block – but I’m not sure how I’m going to get out of this one right now. Usually, when I get this stuck, I change projects, but I’m trying to resist the urge because that strategy is bad for my overall completion rate.

    1. Sorry! Your comment was stuck in the spam catcher.

      You’ve made some good decisions there to find resources, BH, and I see a nugget of hope. A non-hopeful person wouldn’t have bothered; they’d have thrown in the towel.

      I don’t know which book you found, but one of the most helpful to me is SEVEN STEPS ON THE WRITER’S PATH. I have a review in the archives here, if you’re interested. They describe moping as a predictable step that often signifies the writer is about to dig deeper. I’m discovering that’s true for me. I mope when I’m afraid of the next big step — big to me, that is.

      Also, re the non-finishing: I know an author who started and abandoned five manuscripts. She sold her sixth in a deal that will make her famous. Just because you haven’t finished yet doesn’t mean you won’t!

  4. Thank you — you said it all and in such an entertaining style.

    My resources have centered around moping until I grow bored with my whining. So I’m headed off to check out your recommendations. The core belief that’s helped the most over the past year (prior to that I had none), is a sudden understanding of what “voice” is and that I need to be true to that voice.

  5. Jenn, thank you. And yes, I think the IS hits a lot of people during revisions. Good luck with yours!

    Tracey, I agree that the element of choice is powerful. Thanks for that reminder. And you are one of my hope models, you know? You’re the not-so-little writer who could and does. 🙂

    Cathryn, oh, yes, voice! That was a powerful lesson for me, too. It’s another of those writing things one can’t defeat anyway, but when we quit fighting outselves… That’s a honey-sweet moment for sure.

  6. Those are possibly the cutest little monsters I’ve evern seen!

    Oddly, I find myself strangely protected from reality or potential failure. I think it is that about 3 decades ago I rejected public opinion pretty much entirely. While I WANT people to like what I do, somehow I just know there will always be a large group of people just not nearly hip enough to GET me *cough*

    Seriously though–I probably exaggerate my eccentrecities so I have something to blame when people don’t really like my stuff.

  7. My fears regarding this revolve around the issue of not wanting to copy other writers. When I’m looking for a fresh approach I tend to avoid reading other creative material that is even remotely related to my topic. This often results in finding inspiration in highly unlikely places…which isn’t a bad thing IMHO. Some of my readers respond to my writing with comments like ‘you have quite the imagination,’ usually while raising an eyebrow.

    It was a relief to have the editorial evaluation team say that my first novel concept was unique. When I tried to think of possible comparisons there were a few but they were quite a stretch. It might have all been written before but our job is to look for the fresh angle. Our ‘uniqueness’ is the one thing we should all have in common.

  8. Great post, and oh-so-true! Getting out of my own head is the only thing that helps, and the only way I’ve found to do that is to focus on someone else. (With two little ones at home, relatively easy to do.)

  9. Hart, I changed the avatars to that a while ago, but I never even thought how appropriate they would be to today’s post. I’m glad you feel immune! I wish I had half your writerly output; insecurity is a huge time and energy waste.

    Phyllis, love this: “our ‘uniqueness’ is the one thing we all have in common.” Well said. Also, I understand there are many writers who won’t read their genre while they’re in first or second drafts for exactly that reason. Mary Balogh doesn’t read romance at all.

    Liz, that works for me too: both the physical change from writing and the reminder there are other, more important things than odd squiggles on the page or screen.

  10. Great suggestions. After a day of moping–i.e., aimlessly web-surfing while telling myself I’ll start working in just five more minutes–I often wish I would have admitted that I was not going to get anything done, and stepped away from the computer. Maybe next time I’ll invite the monster to sit down with me, instead of pretending it’s not there. Of course, introspection requires actual work…

  11. MJ, from what I observe, you are a very hard worker. But yes, when I’m not on-task and I take a break from the computer, I often notice there’s something amiss. Maybe I need to move, to eat, to drink, to play; maybe I need to set myself up without Internet access to push past the fear or boredom of whatever it is I’m fighting. All I know is that until I take the time to notice, I can spend hours spinning my wheels.

  12. Jan/ MJ – one of the workshops I just listened to on the RWA disk talked about setting a timer for 20mins. I think the workshop was about social networking and she was discussing getting ‘lost’ online but I think it works for getting lost offline or away from our work or away from a task as well. Sometimes we need that time. But sometimes we need a reminder to come back to work and stop hiding. Hence the timer.

  13. Back again to say THANK YOU. My issue isn’t usually Imposter Syndrome, because when the doubts hit, I can reassure myself with a solid record of success. But every so often a Mope Monster settles onto my spirit. This week it ate up Tuesday and Thursday.

    So yesterday I thought about your post and took my monster along when I walked – including a stop at the library to check out “Seven Steps” again. Our chat uncovered a couple revelations (a big one: if I let work expand to fill all available time, I don’t have to deal with other stuff). And the monster said (through a mouthful of Pringles) that it’s here because I feed it, and if I ask, it will leave.

    I won’t send it away for good. Sometimes I need a crash day. But when things MUST get done, I have a new strategy. Thanks again, Jan!

  14. Stephanie, that’s a great idea and reminder. My recent timer purchase is a piece of junk and I need to get a better model. Thanks for that!

    Medeia, if you can hold that belief, that strikes me as a powerful one. Good for you. 🙂

    MJ, how wonderful to hear! Hee. I sometimes do these posts, feel very exposed, and wonder if they do any good for other people. I know they work for me, but then, well, to borrow Hart’s phrase, I’m eccentric. 😉 Keep me posted, if not here, then at the other place.

  15. Neat post. My mother told me about imposter syndrome, and says most successful people have it. I have a friend who, not long ago, dejectedly denied being an expert at anything–this is the man who proved the California Gnatcatcher is a separate species (of bird–little gray hoppy guy), among other accomplishments. I often think I can’t possibly be a real adult, even though I’m in my mid-thirties and engaged to marry. The way I look at it, feelings can be just plain wrong, and we can also be wrong about what our feelings mean. We think being an expert, or a novelist, or whatever else should feel a certain way, and it doesn’t, so we conclude we aren’t REALLY whatever we are. But maybe this is just what success feels like.

    1. “But maybe this is just what success feels like.”
      Caroline, what a lovely, philosophic comment! Thank you for that.

      And you’re describing emotional logic perfectly — the belief that a strongly held feeling implies truthfulness. This is definitely one of the IS’s tricks.

  16. Oooh, this is a familiar theme for me – one that I discovered lurked in other areas of my life besides writing! The good thing is that once I realized IS had taken over my life and found ways to tame and disprove IS’s theories, things started looking more positive on all fronts, including my writing. Then again, there are those days where I have to decide to just put on my “big-girl panties” and deal; suck it up, buttercup, lol. Admitting to myself that my poetry writing is “niche” and won’t appeal to everyone, so just write what works for me is the best decision I ever made – and gave me the courage to throw myself out there (and pray there wasn’t a bus lurking to run over me, hehehe.) Move over, IS, you’ve got competition now! LOL! Great post, very helpful, thank you! ~ Julie 🙂

    1. Julie, that’s my experience too–that my errors in thinking aren’t confined to writing but are more generalized, and that working to be more accurate in my thinking in one area causes global improvement. Isn’t that cool how it works out?

      Have you heard of Byron Katie? I suspect you’d like what she does. (My psychologist friend’s do, so that’s a nice endorsement.)

      My favorite quote of hers: “When you argue with reality you lose, but only 100% of the time.”

      🙂 Thanks for visiting and I’m glad you found this helpful.

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