Even the most famous of artists have doubts about what they do, and when starting out as a writer it’s hard to generate self-belief. My attitude is, that if you’ve had an idea for a story and you’ve made a start at putting it down, then you’re a writer. You’ve already done loads more than those who keep the idea captive in their mind.
Trying to get the publishing world to believe in you is another matter. And, as for making readers loyal fans, who think of you as one of their favourite authors, that notion appears to be outside the realm of possibility. Impostor syndrome manifests itself in various ways, including overworking, perfectionism leading to an obsession with details, undermining what you’ve achieved. You disregard praise. Fear of failure haunts you.
The highest of achievers continue to doubt themselves. Maya Angelou confessed:
“I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find [me] out now.”
Neil Gaiman wondered if he had real talent or had he just been lucky? Then he encountered another famous Neil.
Neal Stephenson, Neil Armstrong & Neil Gaiman
Perhaps having doubts is proof of your own wisdom, showing a balance that’s lacking in fantasists and psychopaths. Watching any television talent show will prove how delusional some people can be. Bertrand Russell reflected,
“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”
It’s a sad fact of life, that in publishing your writing isn’t going to be recognised as worthy unless it sells to readers. This doesn’t mean to say that bestsellers are great literature, but if your finely-honed manuscript is languishing in the bottom drawer, then impostor syndrome will start to grow on you like grey mould on overripe fruit!
After six years of writing and making 650 submissions, I’ve learned to turn any rejection and doubt into ammunition for my creativity. That could be labelled ‘self-belief’— though, I’m simply aware that I can tell a good story—I’ve got the gift of the gab. When I’m feeling down, I recall the advice given by Henry Ford, who was not the nicest of men, but who knew about grim determination:
Do any of you feel like fakes?
What validates your life as a writer—the praise of friends and family—publication in a journal or being long-listed in a competition?
Is being a writer your darkest secret, only to be revealed when you’re finally published?