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Watch Out – There’s An Impostor About!

April 16th, 2021

I shall never forget that day. It was Saturday, 6th December 2003, and I’d just spotted my book, One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human was number seven on the Sunday Times non-fiction paperback bestseller list. Gulp.

It was the strangest feeling ever. There was euphoria. There was nervousness. (What have I done?) And then there was the gut-wrenching sense that this was all some terrible mistake.

I glanced at the other names on the list: Michael Moore, Kate Adie, Nick Hornby, Michael Palin, Claire Tomalin, and Patricia Cornwell.

How did I end up on the same list as writers of that calibre? Clearly, I was an impostor among these proper writers.

That’s essentially, what Impostor Syndrome is all about. It’s a sense of self-doubt and inadequacy despite any evident success. Others may tell you that your writing is good, yet you feel incompetent. As a result, you feel a fraud. That, somehow, you are deceiving people, and one day you will be found out.

It wasn’t the first time I’d felt a fraud. I had my first walking article published in a hiking magazine in the early 1990s. At first, I was ecstatic. And then, as I flicked through the magazine and saw the names of all the other published writers, many of whom I’d looked up to for years as a reader, I panicked. Surely, regular readers would catch me out.

Here was a magazine full of features written by full-time outdoor writers, many of whom wrote for other prestigious walking magazines. And then there was my article, written by some bloke who worked Monday to Friday in the accounts department of a high street bank. I imagined the editor being inundated with angry letters from readers, horrified that I wasn’t a professional outdoor writer. Who knows? I may even have served one or two of them in the bank the previous week.

Impostor Syndrome is more common than you might think. In fact, many famous writers suffer from it, believing their success is a fluke and someone will soon find them out.

After over thirty years of writing, I still suffer from Impostor Syndrome today. But I’ve learned how to give myself a good talking to when it rears its ugly head. Impostor Syndrome thrives on a lack of knowledge or understanding. Once we understand that, we can fight it.

Imagine your short story has won a competition. Fantastic news! Then Impostor Syndrome turns up and saps your joy. “Probably didn’t have many entries this year. Yours was the best of a bad lot,” it sneers.

Whenever you feel Impostor Syndrome awakening, remember it flourishes on the unknown. To combat it, we should hit back with EVIDENCE. Who knows how many writers entered the competition? It doesn’t matter. Who won? YOU DID! Which writer pleased the judge with their words? YOU! Nobody else.

Perhaps you’ve had your first article published. Brilliant! Who researched it? YOU! Who wrote it (targeting a specific readership at a specific publication)? YOU! Who submitted it in plenty of time to make use of its topical hook? YOU DID!

You could say that Impostor Syndrome results from an active imagination. This means there’s a high probability that most of us will experience it at some point. Why? Because as writers, we’re good at making things up. Especially when we have a knowledge gap.

And that’s exactly what we do. How many writers entered the competition we won? We don’t know. So let’s make something up… Not many. Probably fewer than in previous years.

It’s easy to slip into that mindset. Even though we don’t know this as a fact, this is what we tell ourselves. And then we believe it!

Nine years ago, I wrote The Positively Productive Writer and, for a few years, it was my most borrowed book from UK libraries. So when the opportunity arose to update it, I knew I had to include Impostor Syndrome and devote an entire chapter to it.

More writers are talking and writing about it, which highlights how common it is, especially among professional writers. Considering that, perhaps we should see Impostor Syndrome as a positive. Ultimately, it means we care about what we write, which is exactly what professional writers do.

The Positively Productive Writer (Second Edition) is available now from all good retailers in ebook and paperback format. Completely revised, the second edition has 40% added positivity! For more information, visit https://www.simonwhaley.co.uk/the-positively-productive-writer/, where you can also download the first chapter for free.

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About The Author: Diana Nadin

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