The Impostor Syndrome

I often have internal dialogues. Sometimes they’re mostly peaceful but usually they’re highly argumentative. Yes, I often disagree with myself and I get on my nerves a lot being stubborn about stuff. Such as the impostor syndrome.

My intense feeling that I do not deserve to call myself a writer is one of the most heated topics of internal debate. The debate usually goes as follows:

“You wrote a book. You got it published. About a dozen people read it. You’re a writer. (I speak to myself in the second person. It’s a dialogue, after all.)”

“Yeah, okay, but 99 percent of this dozen people are your friends. They don’t count. You’re not a real writer. Never will be.”

“I wrote a book. I wrote it. Then I wrote another. And another. And another. I write therefore I’m a writer and you’re an evil bitch.”

“Not a real writer and you know it.”

And so on. It’s an endless argument because I strongly suspect the only people not suffering from the impostor syndrome are Stephen King, James Patterson, and all the others that have sold a billion copies of their books. They have a billion pieces of proof they are writers. I suppose there are also many ultraconfident people who call themselves writers without having finished a single book but that’s a whole other field of discussion.

Maybe with time and active work on insecurities, the impostor syndrome goes away. Or maybe, it could go away more quickly, as I found out recently.

You see, the thing is I don’t only feel like an impostor in fiction writing. I feel like an impostor in energy writing, too. I’ve been doing it for almost a decade now and I still have this suspicion I only pretend to understand all the things I’ve learned during these years. I realise how preposterous this sounds on a purely objective level but I can’t help it and no amount of what I might call testimonials for lack of a better word could change my mind about it. Until someone did.

I was asked last week to do an interview for a company that does strategic analyses for several industries, including energy. I was flattered at first, of course, but then my internal cynic woke up and sneered that they’d probably been forced to ask me rather than a real energy journalist because they couldn’t afford them. Which wasn’t a fair thing to say and I have since apologised to both myself and the company (in my thoughts. I’m not that insane).

The interview was a blast, which was surprising, given I do not normally enjoy speaking, in any language. But this time I spoke almost without stopping for forty-five minutes, I loved the questions (I loved them! It was weird.) and I was prepared to talk for another forty-five minutes not for money but for pleasure. And then, when we said bye and hung up it dawned on me I actually know quite a lot about, well, quite a lot in energy, at least relative to normal people. I couldn’t be an impostor if I could talk about this for more than half an hour and enjoy every minute of it instead of freaking out the interviewers would call my impostoring, could I?

The effect of this realisation was a burst of motivation that caught me unawares. I was really looking forward to this weekend after a week that felt as long as a month. Most weeks lately have been longish for some reason. I hope it’s remote schooling and now that that’s over, things will get back to normal. Anyway, I was particularly looking forward to Saturday, with hard plans to spend the day doing absolutely nothing productive. I woke up at six bursting at the seams with article topics I’d love to write about and before I could stop myself I even started mentally drafting one of the articles and listing potential sources.

To say this is not my normal Saturday mode is to put things mildly. I cherish my Saturdays. Sundays can be work days, I don’t mind that but Saturdays are work-free because I’m human. Not this one, apparently, and all because of an interview that went great and the people who conducted it somehow made me believe I was not an unreal journalist. In fact, I’m as real as the best among them, I’m just not that good. Yet. Feel the motivation-caused confidence? I’m going to bask in it until it drains away sometime tomorrow, most likely.

So, it seems that sometimes all it takes to beat the impostor syndrome is to have the luck of getting a chance to talk about what you love doing for, say, more than half an hour. It’s tricky with fiction writing, I have to admit. Anyone can talk about writing for more than half an hour. Even those who hate reading, I expect, can spend half an hour telling the world exactly why they hate reading. The tricky part is to talk about it from a position of knowledge.

I couldn’t do it. If I keep writing and there are people who keep reading what I write, even a dozen but hopefully more, I might consider myself ready to talk about writing for more than a couple of erm- and uh-infested minutes in about a decade or so. I’m just not confident enough yet. I don’t have the proof I’m good enough to talk about writing and the proof, I’m afraid, is reader numbers.

It’s the only proof that matters. One of my most intimate dreams is to have as many readers for any my books as my least-read — that’s right, least-reаd — news story. That’s a couple of thousand people, in case you were wondering. I write for a popular website, what can I say. Sо, since I’m hardly likely to get that kind of readership I’ll probably never beat that impostor syndrome. But you know what? I’m fine with that. It won’t stop me from writing. There are too many stories I want to read that haven’t been written yet. Can’t wait around for someone else to write them.

4 thoughts on “The Impostor Syndrome”

  1. Reblogged this on JM Williams and commented:
    This hit me so hard in the feels, I needed to reblog. I’ve been feeling some heavy imposter syndrome these days. This is such a great way of looking at it. I’ve had those 45-minute rants plenty of times in my professional field, but it never clicked how meaningful that is. Thanks for sharing your insights!


  2. Impostor ? High on my list of possibly ( probably) incurable conditions – but I thought too about the times extremely successful people have submitted work under another name – only to be rejected, as Doris Lessing was.
    Being told ‘ You’re not a writer’ hurt – and yet might be true…
    Told ‘ You’re not an artist’, I hope my artist cousin would know
    at once that it wasn’t true… – yet she feels ‘ impostor’ too.
    but one of the Five – Hachette, – Hodder & Stoughton, had linked my writing to one of their authors…
    Meanwhile, washing machine in the residence where we can’t reside, 30 km away, * dirty clothes here in the office, I almost enjoyed being a washerwoman, spreading sheets on bushes, …
    * No water, & anyway, must remain where one of us is officially WFH.


    1. Big Five recognition definitely counts as proof of writerness. I’ll include it next time I rant about it.
      So, you’re living the time travel life, then? hand-washing here, no water there… Any chance of things beginning to normalise any time soon?


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