Friday, July 2, 2010

Imposter Syndrome

Be brave enough to admit who you really are.

I am a writer. Go ahead, say it out loud, it feels nice, if not a little uncertain.

I have been gearing up to start my writing career for over a year now. I’ve read hundreds of articles, started many idea journals and have spent countless hours in bookstores carefully inspecting every hardcover and paperback that assures to unlock the secret of writing success. All of this preparation and yet, this is my first official article since my decision to be a writer.

Why do I want to write? This is a question I have asked myself on many occasions when I’m frustrated over the fact that, well, I haven’t actually written a thing. For starters, I love paper. Stationary, buck slips, greeting cards, photo albums and of course, the most beautiful: a newly bound, crisp novel. When I walk into a bookstore I feel calm. I lose all sense of time and feel my typically tense shoulders relax and lower. I take deeper breaths when I’m surrounded by tall shelves and beautiful display tables of recently discounted paperbacks. I can’t get enough of the smell of freshly printed paper and cherish the moment when I find the right book for me. I’m often hesitant about diving in and creasing the perfect binding because, to me, a new book is beautiful and so full of possibility.

Clearly any career counselor would tell me that this passion for paper and reading would almost demand that I write for my profession. I’ve demanded it of myself as well, but something has always held me back. Now I have discovered that “something.” I am afraid of being an imposter. I hold works of writing up to the highest standard and treasure the art of a well-crafted piece of fiction, a beautifully told memoir or a non-fiction biography.

So, what if I don’t measure up?

During one of my feel-good writing escapades, I attended a three-hour seminar on how to write your first memoir with author, Sue Shapiro. I thought a little inspirational speech would propel me into the career of my dreams, and help me realize my potential. While sitting in the audience, I enjoyed the class so much and experienced such excitement over writing that I could barely keep my legs from shaking. I felt motivated, if not completely compelled to run to my laptop and start writing my story. That is, until the question and answer session of the evening.

“Hi, Sue. I’m such a fan! I’m currently working on my second memoir and wanted to ask you how you deal with the pressures ofalienating your friends and family through your writing?”

Wait. One. Second. I have to alienate my family and friends in order to write? My excitement turned to dread and a realization that I would never want to jeopardize any of my most trustworthy relationships. Why it didn’t occur to me at that time that this was the opinion of just one audience member? I do not know. Or do I? Of course, it was yet another excuse that held me back from my fear of being a person that perhaps I was not meant or destined to be in this world. I braced myself and listened to the rest of the questions and answers hearing multiple times about all of the accomplishments of the room full of writers in the audience. Could they tell? Could they sense that I was not really one of them?

As the session ended, the moderator encouraged us to purchase one of Sue’s books in the hallway for her to sign. Well, sure, why not? She was a pretty cool woman and I had a feeling I would like her writing based on her self-deprecating, yet oddly optimistic sense of humor; quite similar to mine, in fact.

I made my purchase, The Five Men Who Broke My Heart, and walked over to the crowded table where writers continued to praise themselves and their literary accomplishments. People, this woman is here to promote her writing, not to help the world discover yours. I was feeling a little bit better at this point; at least I wasn’t desperate…yet. I walked closer to Sue, admiring her more than ever. This woman was actually doing what she loves and lives for; all the while I was wasting 40 hours per week creating excel spreadsheets and tracking other co-workers creative endeavors at my media project coordinator “career.” I was next in line and was embarrassed to realize my hand had formed a sweat imprint on the first page of what had moments before been a pristine paperback.

Sue looked up and caught my eye. “Imposter. Imposter!” she yelled, if only in my mind. In actuality she looked at me genuinely in the eye and smiled. I smiled back, much more at ease until she asked the dreaded question, “So, are you a writer?”

I did the equivalent of a face plant with how I stumbled over my words. As I struggled with what to say, my mind wandered to the moment in A Christmas Story when Ralphie could barely tell Santa his need for his most desired present, the Red Ryder BB gun. Should I just shout out “football” to Sue and be on my way? Or would that leave me wanting to crawl my way back up the slide to say what I really meant? I want to be a writer and I plan to be a writer, but does that give me the right to say that I am?

So I did my best, “Well, I’m starting to write and I aspire to be a writer.”

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” she told me with confidence and signed the inside cover with flair. Not too bad. Must have pulled it off okay, or maybe she was just used to dealing with whack jobs having existential meltdowns like me. She handed me my newly purchased book and I walked away. I opened it up to look at her signature and was surprised to see a little more.

“To Kate, A fellow writer. Good luck & good karma. –Sue”

While I’m sure this phrase has made its way into many books she has signed, looking back, it was just the boost I needed. I mean, if a real, live, professional writer couldn’t tell I was an imposter; maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t one after all.

Note: I wrote this article years ago, but felt it was appropriate to kick things off on this blog. I hope you enjoyed my first "official" piece as a writer.


  1. You could be my psychological twin (well, the "you" at the time you wrote this article.) I'm still the Imposter (in my own mind). But you've made something click for me. So thanks for that. And congrats on the blog! I'll be following you. (Discovered you at Procrastinating Writers.)

  2. Yes, i totally agree with you... that is all that i want and love... i love books, i love the feel and smell of new unopened books. And in all the places in this earth, there is no place that makes me feel more at home than in a library, even if its a weird tech library in an engineering college where the librarian keeps staring at you cause you are the only one who hangs out at the one row of novels they have going there. And also, just like you, (when u wrote this) i am trying to be a writer and i am lost. I just finished an engineering degree, which i did cause i was too scared to actually go and write and earn of it.
    Now that I know I have absolutely no interest in anything technical, I do want to take up writing, but everyday i sit down for it, it just doesn't happen. The beginning that is... i had a blog going...but i left it some time back... there are a million things i want to be, yes, but know that a writer is the most important one. I'll admit it, its a bit lazy talk, but I do want to work... just that thing that pushes people doesn't come to me easy...
    Dont misunderstand me... I am not out tell my sad story too all souls for wishes, its just that when i read this article and then your blog, i just thought i should let you know how awesome you have it now. And also, how awesome you are as a writer. This is a wonderful, very well written article. For everything I congratulate you and wish you luck. Take care.