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5 Lies Imposter Syndrome Tells Writers (and How to Fight Back)

June 2, 2022

I often see writers deprecating themselves on social media. Or hesitating to share their work. Imposter syndrome—the belief that you’re not good enough, qualified enough, or capable enough—spoils the victories of creatives across the globe. Do you suffer from it too?

 

Ask yourself a few questions to detect the symptoms. Have you ever compared your writing to someone else’s and judged yourself as awful? Do you dismiss positive feedback? Do you tense up around other writers, as if waiting for them to expose you as a fraud? Do you bypass opportunities to enter contests because you can’t picture yourself winning? When an editor accepts one of your submissions for publication, do you downplay it as luck?

 

If you answered yes to any of the above, don’t be discouraged. Even I struggle with confidence, and I’m a bestselling children’s author. Neither of us needs to change who we are (we’re not fakes, and our worth is vested in Christ), but we do need to change how we perceive ourselves.

 

Lie #1: You’re Not Called to Be a Writer

When God appointed Jeremiah as a prophet, he shied away. He was young, inexperienced—or, as an aspiring writer might argue, unpublished—so how could he speak with any authority? No one would take him seriously. The vision must be a mistake. But when God heard Jeremiah’s self-doubt, He didn’t retract His decision. He validated Jeremiah’s mission by putting words in his mouth (Jeremiah 1:9).

 

Although you may be prone to forget, God is always present when you write—nudging your characters and plots, whispering wisdom into your themes, and flickering hope through your scenes. Writing then becomes an act of obedience. And since, by definition, a writer is someone who writes, you, dear one, are a writer.

 

Every time you open a document or pick up a notebook (or napkin or store receipt) to jot down an idea, remind yourself that the compulsion proves you’re a writer. Listen to compliments and count them as blessings. Listen to criticisms and count those as blessings too. Otherwise, how would you grow? Most importantly, refer to yourself as a writer, and say it with conviction.

 

Lie #2: You’re Not Skilled

You know what’s missing that makes this thought a lie? Tack on the word yet, and you’ll transform the meaning to “Each day you become a better writer than you were yesterday.” When you keep placing one letter in front of another, you’ll never flatline. You’ll glance back at the stories you drafted months ago and realize you have a clearer understanding of techniques you stumbled over before.

 

The problem? Humans tend to be impatient and expect immediate results, so disappointment and frustration seeps in after only a couple attempts. But here’s a secret that seasoned authors live by: no matter how many manuscripts you’ve written, revised, and released, the margin for improvement never disappears. Writing is a continuous process of learning and discovery. That’s one of the reasons it’s fun!

 

The humility of Paul’s letter to the Philippians comes to mind. In it, he listed all of his accomplishments. He was a Pharisee from the tribe of Benjamin and flawless in his adherence to the law. But even with those credentials, he claimed that he still pursued a more valuable prize. He encouraged Christians to adopt his attitude and, in the meantime, “Live up to what we have already attained” (Philippians 3:16).

 

Although Paul was talking about his faith, the principle can also apply to writing. Start where you are, draw strength from “yet,” and press on for a bigger goal. Take workshops on how to properly execute query letters, pitches, and proposals. Study articles (like the ones here at Story Embers) on deepening your plot, developing your characters, and editing your manuscript. Last but not least, give yourself grace.

 

Lie #3: Everyone Is Better Than You

Writing is a broad spectrum, and all of us have different gifts. I often marvel at the composition of my critique group. One writer doesn’t waste a single word and crafts tense scenes with precision. Another vividly depicts history after investing hours in research. One has such beautiful prose that it’s almost poetic. And I’m the queen of dialogue.

 

But I don’t do myself any favors when I pit my weaknesses against their strengths. That’s like comparing onions to strawberries. How is one better than the other? Each simply tastes better in certain dishes. You wouldn’t add a strawberry to your stew or an onion to your smoothie. Ew! Similarly, God has equipped each of us to impact the audiences—or individuals—who need our stories.  

 

The next time you measure yourself against someone else, remember that writing is a ministry, not a competition. As long as you’re using your talents to the best of your ability and following God’s guidance, you’re right where He wants you to be.

 

Lie #4: Real Professionals Write Every Day

Although setting and meeting word or time quotas will help you make consistent progress, those goals don’t necessarily need to encompass all 365 days in a year. Many authors have typical, 9–5 jobs, families, and other responsibilities that relegate their writing sessions to the early morning hours or the afternoons when their children are at soccer practice. And as those two examples demonstrate, the schedule that fits one person may not fit another.

 

Look at the “write every day” mantra like David’s preparations to confront Goliath. The giant wore full body armor and carried a spear, a javelin, and a sword. An attendant shielded him. If Webster’s Dictionary had existed back then, Goliath would have been a synonym for “warrior.” But dressing in the same protective gear hampered David’s movements. When he ignored people’s expectations instead and trusted God to use his slingshot, he won.

 

If writing every day is too heavy of a burden for you, that’s okay. Accomplish as much as you can and leave the rest in God’s hands.

 

With that freedom in mind, you can still make an effort to capitalize on your time. Maintain a routine that includes essential self-care, such as exercising and regulating your mental energy. Take breaks to allow the idea seeds you plant to sprout. Another beneficial habit is networking. Not only will it keep you from burning out, it may also open doors to writing opportunities.

 

Lie #5: You Don’t Belong

God sent an angel to inform a young farmer named Gideon that he would lead the Israelites in battle. I imagine his response sounded something like this: “Nope. Not me. My clan is the weakest, and I’m the least in my family. You got the wrong guy, God.” But God promised, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites” (Judges 6:16). That prophesy came true. Gideon belonged in the victory circle.

 

As a writer, when and why you celebrate depends on how you define success. But the spectrum for that is wide too, isn’t it? In 2022, New Jersey’s basketball team reached the Elite Eight bracket of the NCAA tournament before losing to North Carolina by twenty points. Did that mean they didn’t belong on the court? Absolutely not! Although they didn’t win, they achieved an impressive rank.

 

That’s how you defeat the feeling of being a loser among champions—by gleaning joy from every triumph, even small ones.

 

Did you receive a rejection? Great, you learned how not to structure a query letter, and you’ll adjust your strategy accordingly. Did you switch POVs in the middle of your short story? Wow, another chance to rebound. But you still belong wherever you are, because God placed the desire to write on your heart.

 

Overcoming the Lies

So, my friend, let’s cast aside the lies we’ve been telling ourselves and embrace the truth. Repeat after me: I’m called to be a writer. I’m more skilled today than I was yesterday. I don’t have to write every day to thrive. And I belong in this space.

 

Now that we’ve established those facts, we can create stories with abandon.

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