Impostor Syndrome: It’s a Thing

Many of us suffer from the feeling that we’re about to be found out. If someone digs a little deeper, they will discover that I’m not what I pretend to be. That I’m not as smart, talented, or praiseworthy as they think. It’s not only creative people who feel this way, though I suspect that creatives feel it more intensely.

It’s called Impostor Syndrome, and it is a very real thing. Carl Richards, an artist, gives a little background on it in his article “Learning to Deal With the Impostor Syndrome.”

Richards says that just being able to name this feeling is the first step to dealing with it. The next is knowing you’re not alone.

That’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this article. Coming off of Realm Makers and preparing for the Florida Writers Conference in October, I’m still dealing with the feelings a lot of writers have around this issue.


Photo by Marc Garrido i Puig • FreeImages

We’re afraid to pitch because we feel as if we don’t know what we’re doing.

When we get a request for proposal, we’re afraid it won’t be what the editor expects.

When we get a request for a full manuscript, we’re afraid it won’t measure up against others.

We’re afraid someone will discover we’re impostors.

We’ve tried to fake it until we make it, but then even when you make it, you still feel like you are faking.

I often hear editors and agents say that a large percentage of the people they request pages from never submit them. Why? Impostor Syndrome. The writers are afraid that the editor or agent will discover they’re faking it.

There are any of a number of things that may be at the root of Impostor Syndrome. Insecurity, fear, a sense of inferiority…who knows what all else.

Whatever it is for you, Richards identifies the need to understand your reasoning as the third step to overcoming Impostor Syndrome.

Let’s say that fear of failure is at the root of your Impostor Syndrome. OK, that’s actually mine. I know that I must push through my fear and submit anyway. Maybe the editor will decide I’m not ready and will reject me. Then what? I eat it for breakfast, as Avily would say, and try again.

That’s what the writing business is all about. As Richards notes in his article, the last step to dealing with Impostor Syndrome is to accept that it’s part of us, and work around it.

What we must resist is believing the lie that we’re not good enough. In an episode of Writing Excuses about this topic, Dan Wells said Impostor Syndrome “can also make you kind of self-select your way out of a lot of opportunities, because you think ‘Well, I don’t deserve to be a panelist there,’ or ‘I don’t deserve to be a guest at this thing.’ Sure you do. Of course you do. You’re awesome.”

Listen to this episode of Writing Excuses for more suggestions on overcoming Impostor Syndrome. By the way, this is the best writing podcast ever and you all should be subscribing to it anyway.

There is a chance that we think we’re ready for publication before we really are. In the above-referenced podcast, Brandon Sanderson confessed to that one. It seems to me that the newest writers are more likely to fall into false confidence, while experienced writers—the ones who’ve eaten their fill of rejection—are more likely to fall into Impostor Syndrome. I know when I was young I thought I was the best writer ever. A few rejections knocked some sense into me. Maybe once you’ve made the circuit a few times you’ve compared yourself to more people. And comparison is a great instigator of Impostor Syndrome.

Do you ever wrestle with Impostor Syndrome? How do you cope with it?



About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

16 comments on “Impostor Syndrome: It’s a Thing

  1. I not only suffer from Impostor Syndrome, I have a related issue where I don’t think people will believe me even when I’m telling the truth (as I always am). I remember calling my dad to tell him when my first daughter was born and being so sure he wouldn’t believe me! It does hold me back but for the most part I’ve learned to just make myself do what I should do even though there is that nagging fear that somehow I’ll be “found out.”

  2. When you posted on Facebook that you were writing about this topic I looked it up and thought it didn’t apply to me. Reading deeper I realized how much it does apply. This part really resonated with me, “when we get a request for proposal, we’re afraid it won’t be what the editor expects. When we get a request for a full manuscript, we’re afraid it won’t measure up against others.”

  3. Wow. So eerie that I read this today, Kristen. I feel this way sometimes as a writer, but mostly as a nurse. Just last night, I had a patient go bad, and for the rest of the night after I got home I played the mental game of should have/could have. I do this quite often. I dug a little deeper and realized the prime concern isn’t about my capability as a nurse, but what my co-workers and others think. Very revealing.

    Again, thanks for posting this. I know you meant for this to be more about writing, but it was a real eye-opener for me and I’m sure the two overlap in some ways.

  4. I’ve struggled with Imposter Syndrome pretty much ever since I got into a place in life where I was no longer a child being bullied to an emotional pulp at school and at home by parents who believed in using fear and the like to crush kids into obedient, robotic, extensions of themselves. I spent too many years scared any minute, people would discover whatever terrible defect that had made me so unlikeable and worthy of ill-treatment and then my new peers would get angry, dislike me, and ill-treat me, too. I’ve had to grow into my identity in Christ, ground myself in who I am before God, and let that be the rock I stand on in life.

  5. Yeah, I am pretty sure I actually AM an imposter. Also, a “wannabe” and/or a “has-been”. I didn’t always feel this way, but I think my sales records speak for themselves. It’s not that I doubt my mechanical ability to compose, write dialog, or have great grammar/spelling/punctuation. It’s that I cannot come up with stories that other people want to read. My stories are great in my own head, but that doesn’t quite cut it commercially. I gave it my all for two decades and I just didn’t measure up. While it might be fun to keep trying, I have bills I can no longer ignore. I have to find a job that actually pays. I don’t know that I will have the stamina to write in “spare time” even if I have it. Besides, I was most likely just deluding myself all along.

    • Ugh. This is whiney and bitter, so I tried to delete it, but there is no way on my end. Feel free to delete it on my behalf. I need to keep my inner grouch away from keyboards.

      • My dear Caprice, I wish there was a way to convince you your worth as a writer is not tied to your sales. They really don’t have anything to do with each other. I’ll just have to believe it for the both of us.

        • Maybe not my worth as a writer, but as a contributing member of society, there is some sort of correlation. I tried bringing books to the bank instead of mortgage payments, but they just won’t take them. :/

          But thank you for the kind words anyway.

        • I agree with Robynn. We’ve seen bestsellers that were crap and great books like yours that fail to find their audience. The fault isn’t with you. The world is broken. And so are we. Press ahead with whatever the Lord is showing you to do.

  6. Great post, Kristen. I’d toss in that this issue, syndrome, is in every facet of life since our society is performance driven. Everyone has to be a Super Dad, Super Mom, Super Weekend Athlete, Super Pinterest Poster, Super Financial Wizard…
    I suppose the trick is to identify where we start getting “off track” AND then learning to take steps to go against the current. For me, that’s when I have to turn to God; I’m incapable of doing this on my own. I either become hyper critical of myself OR blind to the real issues.

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