That Imposter Syndrome Thing - by Liz Carter



Imposter Syndrome.

Something we all struggle with, from time to time - and I'd guess that this is even more the case with writers. Have you ever had your writing praised and felt as though somehow you have duped people into thinking it's worth something? Have you won something and decided that you're actually a fraud and that others must be better than you, it's just a fluke, and soon they'll see right through you?

It's happened to me this week. I won a local poetry competition and am now Resident Poet of my town for this year. My mind was full of all the usual lines: I'm not as good as others, the judges must have been having a bad day. Maybe I was the only entry. Maybe they just wanted the vicar's wife. Maybe they'll hate me when they see me for who I really am. I allowed the script to play into my head and then I soon descended from that into comparison (Ruth Leigh wrote an excellent post on just that topic the other day.)

I compared myself to the Resident Poet from last year, who is wonderful. I compared myself to other poets in the town who I know entered the competition and really should have won - it wasn't fair on them that a fake like me won, was it? I did all the comparing and all the imposter-ing, and it left me in a pretty rubbish place. It wasn't a healthy place, and I knew that, but still went there. We can't seem to stop ourselves, can we? We can't seem to stop visiting that old ground and settling in for a little sit down there. Somewhere deep down we know it's not true; we know people really do mean to praise our writing, we know we deserved to win that prize, we know we really are authors, yet we still wallow in that place of comparison and self-disdain. Maybe it's too easy to go to that place. Maybe it's learned behaviour and we can't seem to pull ourselves away from it. Either way, it's not good for the soul...

So how do we conquer imposter syndrome? How do we walk tall, with confidence and certainty that we can do this thing? How do we keep our own voice in our writing without feeling as though that voice is fraudulent and not worth listening to?

There's one main thing I want to say to you today, and it's this: You don't have to be somebody else. You don't have to take on another author's voice or another author's style. God created you to be unique - amazing, exceptional, one-of-a-kind you. God didn't create you to be like Jenny down the road or Mark who wrote that book everyone raves about. God created you to be you - and you are brilliant.  I hope you know that. So when imposter syndrome strikes your heel, kick it away with the knowledge that you don't have to be like anyone else. You don't have to be the same as the last person who won that prize. You won it because of your work, not somebody else's work - and so you can shine with your own light. 

Here's another thing: we all think we are frauds, somewhere deep down. We all feel like we're still ten years old, stuck in a much older and much too wrinkly body, but with the uncertainty and lack of confidence we had then. We all think people will see through us one day and see our frailty and our failures. Even Stephen King said he occasionally suffers from imposter syndrome. So when you see other writers and think that they have made it, that they are everything you want to be, remember that deep down they may feel just as scared and small. 

Because of this, the best thing we can do is to support one another. To recognise that we all struggle with comparison and feeling we are not enough, so we need encouragement. We need honest critique, of course, but we need to build one another up, too. I think this is something ACW is really brilliant at doing.

One of the pieces of advice given to people who suffer imposter syndrome is to 'fake it until you make it.' In some senses it's a sound piece of advice: when you're up there on stage you just go for it, and you may be quaking in your boots, but you still do it (and you are wonderful!) But I'd counter that with advice to remove your mask; to tell safe people about how you really feel, to share your struggle. Because they're probably feeling similar themselves. They will get it. And there's something about vulnerability and authenticity that helps us to grow - as people, and as authors, and as followers of Christ. If we are all plastering our faces with great big fake smiles and pretending everything is good, we are not going to feel good about ourselves in the end. We might need to do that for certain moments - especially professionally - but let's not allow ourselves to be caught up in that kind of narrative in our normal day-to-day lives. Let's lay ourselves out before one another, to ask for honest feedback, to name our struggle.

In the end, for me, it's about reminding myself how God sees me. I was reminded this week of when I did a study on Ephesians 2:10, which says this:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The word for handiwork is actually translated to something like 'poem'. We are God's poetry, created to do the work we are called to. We will sometimes feel ill equipped for the task, and sometimes feel as though we are making it up as we go along, but God will always see us as a beautiful poem, crafted lovingly and spoken out with joy. So when we feel that imposter syndrome crashing down on us, let's remember these words and stand tall and proud with the knowledge that we are loved so much and created to do what we are doing.

Keep writing, folks, and keep on keeping on, and as to that imposter syndrome, tell it where to go...

Liz Carter is an author, poet and editor from Shropshire. She loves to write about the difficult and painful times in life, and how we can find gold in the mess. Her books Catching Contentment and Treasure in Dark Places are available in online bookstores. You can find her at www.greatadventure.carterclan.me.uk and she’s signed a contract for her next book with The Good Book Company, coming 2023. She's just brought out a new prayer journal which is filled with verses and poetry about creation, and now works freelance to proofread, format and design books. 

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