Today I have a special treat for you! Today we have the privilege of a guest writer, Rose Atkinson-Carter, a writer with Reedsy. She also is a writer-adviser, and she has agreed to share with us why imposter syndrome is not just a problem, it can be a sign of growth! Thank you so much for sharing with us about imposter syndrome, Rose!
Why Imposter Syndrome is a Sign that You Are Growing as a Writer
Writing can bring great joy to your life, letting you flex your creativity and explore different
stories, themes, and characters. But sharing your work with others — whether friends, readers,
editors, or publishers — can be scary, and moments of doubt may soon start cropping up. Is
your story really as good as everyone says it is? Did you somehow trick people into thinking
you’re a good writer when you know you’re mediocre at best? There’s so much you could
These thoughts are classic signs that you are suffering from imposter syndrome. Psychology
Today defines this as when people “…believe that they are undeserving of their achievements
and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as
competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the
truth about them.” This kind of persistent fear and self-doubt can slow you down and keep you
from writing altogether.
I could write a whole piece about how to fight back against imposter syndrome, but I want to
take a different approach. What if we viewed imposter syndrome as a positive thing?
Specifically, as an invitation to reflect on our growth and increased understanding of our craft.
Maybe we could use it to our advantage and make it a motivator, rather than a cause of writer’s
Becoming More Critical of Our Work
I know that when I first started writing fiction in earnest, I didn’t really pay attention to whether it
was good. I got so caught up in the process of creation that the question of quality was
secondary. If you started young, like I did, you may have been working under the feverish hubris
of youth too. How could anything you write be bad? Your ideas are fresh and new and exciting!
But then, with the first critiques and a dash of maturity, you become more serious. Maybe you
take some writing classes where you learn a thing or two about plotting and character
development. Or you brush up on your grammar and figure out that varying sentence length and
structure affect your writing quite a bit. Now you know where things can go wrong and you start
seeing it everywhere in your own stories. You start to wonder how anyone can think your writing
is good when it has so many problems, and you begin to latch on to anything resembling
negative feedback because it confirms your fears.
When this happens, what’s really going on is that you’re holding yourself to a higher standard
than you used to. You’re also probably being more critical than you would be to others if you
were providing feedback in a critique circle. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if you learn
how to balance these feelings, it can be a good thing! As you develop your skills, you start
understanding more about what works and what doesn’t, what’s good and what’s bad. You’re
seeing the success alongside the room for growth. And that means you’re more equipped to
Other people, even editors, are rarely as critical of our work as we are of ourselves. They praise
us because they see potential, which in our head has morphed into the big bad monster of
imposter syndrome. But we can start to tame that monster by reminding ourselves of how far
We Want to be Better
When I look through my old notebooks, I’m always struck by how much I’ve improved. Even
things I wrote as late as last year feel like they came from a stranger, and I wonder how anyone
could have possibly agreed to publish them or given me any kind of positive feedback.
It’s frustrating when it seems everyone you show your work to only has compliments. That’s
where the imposter syndrome finds its way in. But I’ve found that this frustration is really a sign
of ambition. It’s a sign that we want to learn and improve because we know we could be better.
Our goals become ever bigger and loftier as we gain experience and confidence. And because
we can sometimes be blinded by the gap between what we want and where we really are, it can
be hard to accept praise from others when we’re not meeting our own expectations.
How you approach this catch-22 really makes all the difference. Your imposter syndrome tells
you that you’re not good enough and your writing is a shadow of what it could be, and
eventually, everyone is going to realize that. This cycle of self-doubt, fuelled by internal pressure
to perform — or, seen more positively, ambition — can be hard to get out of. The best way I
have found is to acknowledge that there’s still work to be done, and that you’ll get there eventually,
but for now, where you are is still pretty great.
And it helps to know that we’re not alone in feeling like this.
Remember, It Happens to All of Us
As you grow as a writer, you can’t help comparing yourself to others, especially the greats:
those people you look up to and who are well-known in the community. You want to write prose
with the same tension, finesse, and verve. We base our goals on their accomplishments and
feel like frauds because our work isn’t as good as theirs.
But I’m going to let you in on a secret. Those celebrated authors feel the same way as you do.
They wonder how their readers will receive their work and how they could possibly be any good
when there are people around them who are so much more talented, who will soon discover
that they’re actually a hack who just has an excellent marketing team behind them. You have a
lot more in common with your favorite authors than you think, and there’s no better marker of
your like-mindedness than having the same thoughts as them.
If you need any proof of this, Neil Gaiman writes candidly and humorously about his
experiences with imposter syndrome in this blog post. I highly encourage you to find author
blogs like this because they offer a lot of comfort in moments of doubt.
None of this is to say that imposter syndrome isn’t a difficult thought pattern to break out of. All I
suggest is that if you’re not quite at the point where you can put yourself on the top rung of the
ladder, try looking at how far you’ve climbed on your journey as a writer so far. This will
hopefully, give you some perspective and the clarity to tame — or even befriend — that
Rose Atkinson-Carter is a writer with Reedsy, advising authors on all things publishing, from
explaining the role of ghostwriters to understanding book genres like literary fiction.