Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Writer Gap & Imposter Syndrome: Are You Stuck In The Writer Closet?

Pssst… I have a secret I’m going to share. The thing is, I think you have the same one.

Everyone loves labels: If you live in New York, you’re a New Yorker. If you love to plant flowers in your garden, you’re a gardener. If you bike or run, you’re a biker or runner.

If you write, you’re a writer.

Oh, wait! It’s not that easy, is it? The doubt creeps in! Have I truly earned that label? Have I lived there long enough? Have I biked far enough? Do I run fast enough? Do I write well enough?

Whether you train for marathons or only run a few miles several times a week, you can call yourself a runner. Who cares if you’re just doing it for the exercise and never enter a race? Does it really matter if it takes you 6 minutes or 14 minutes to finish a mile? Either way, you’ve gone the same distance. You’re a runner.

It seems simple. But for a bunch of people who are skilled at—required to, really—overthink and overanalyze every single word they put down on paper, whether or not to call themselves a writer is par for the course.

“I think I can finally call myself a "real" writer if/when I'm published and my book is on display somewhere,” says Dana Edwards. But even accomplishing the huge feat of getting a book on a bookstore shelf doesn’t make it easier. “I’m still trying to convince myself I should tell people I'm a writer,” says Brooks Benjamin. “A bit of me still feels like I haven't earned the title yet. My book just came out and I've only been writing professionally for a couple of years.”

Maybe it’s because many writers are introverts. We think things over so much before saying them instead of just blurting words out, like our extroverted friends. Or maybe it’s a protection mechanism, sheltering us until we’re really, really, really sure of our writing skills.

In my head, I know I’m a writer. I have the ability, and even the credibility, to back it up. I just don’t talk about it.

A part of me wants to tell everyone I’m a writer, even though talking about it is hard. I become self-conscious, anxious, afraid of judgement. I hide what’s important to me—my writing—because it feels safer than finding out what people might really think. Or worse, to find out they don’t even care at all.

Since I’ve started this journey, I’ve wondered when I’d be ready to let people know I’m a writer. Maybe when I finished a manuscript? No. How about when I became a regular contributor for a writing blog? Not yet. Well, maybe when I had a writer website? Nope. When I had writing clients and was getting paid? Funny, but not even then….

The thing is, to not fully share what’s a very large and important part of my life is actually me being disingenuous to those I care about most. I want them to speak their truth, yet I hesitate to speak mine. Mutual confiding is the cornerstone of any relationship with our dear friends and family. By hiding in my writer closet, I’m closing people off.

So why are we not able to talk openly about our writing to those closest to us?

You might say there’s a million reasons why you’re not telling the people in your life you’re a writer. I’ll tell you there are probably only two.

One reason we’ll call the “The Writer Gap.” It’s the gap between where you are now and some future point where you see success and think you’ll officially and legitimately be a “writer.” It’s like Jon Naster's "Entrepreneurial Gap,” where successful business people are always chasing future goals to grow their business without fulling enjoying their current success. You accomplish one writing goal, but then set your sights on a bigger goal you decided will really make you a writer.

You think, “When I finish this manuscript, when I get an agent, when I get paid for that project….”

“I suppose I started feeling like a writer when I got an agent, but that didn't last very long,” says Ella Schwartz. “After the thrill of landing an agent passed, I went back to thinking I wasn't a real writer.”

However, the more likely reason you don’t tell people you’re a writer is the “Imposter Syndrome.” In fact, Dr. Pauline R. Clance, who coined the phrase, wishes she would have called it the “Imposter Experience” because it’s so common, affecting up to 80% of us.

Imposter Syndrome is when you’re unable to see your own accomplishments and have a fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” You see your success as just luck or because you deceived others into thinking you’re better, smarter, more competent then you believe yourself to really be.

It’s self-protective. You’re afraid you don’t really fit in or belong, so you shut down and remove yourself from situations where you might be “found out.” You come up with excuses as to why you’re not good enough. You create hoops to jump through or sky-high targets to meet, hoping that if you just do this ‘one more thing’, you’ll finally feel like you made it. But it only serves to make you feel more alone and isolated in your experience.

When we stay stuck in our writer closet, feeling like no one else understands, like we don’t measure up, it just keeps the Imposter Syndrome alive. The more we talk about it though, the less it will control us.

And that is why you need to get out of your writer closet. Open the door and let others know you’re writing. Tell people you’re a writer. Let them help and support you. Get feedback so you can continue to improve and move forward. Keep getting those words out. Chances are, you’re a better writer than you think.

Be ready to answer, “What do you write? Anything I may have read?” because you know that question is coming. And it’s okay to say your work is “in progress.” Just be ready to say it confidently. “When you start telling people, their first question is, ‘Where can I buy your book?’" warns Laurie Hager. “Or, ‘Why does it take so long?’ Or ‘When is your book coming out?’ They don't understand the time involved with every part of the writing process.”

Remember why you write. It’s not to just impress your brother or neighbor. You certainly don’t do it for the money. Don’t let negative responses take your joy from writing. You do it because you love getting perfect prose out on the page. You do it because you feel satisfied when you publish a fantastic blog post. You do it because you can make someone literally laugh out loud at just the right spot in your story. You do it because someone will read your words and say, “Yes, this is exactly how I feel, too. I thought I was the only one.”

Find your tribe. Find people to support you. “My husband and children are incredibly supportive and I'd have quit a hundred times if they weren't cheering me on,” says Jo Bankston. If you don’t have a supportive family, Twitter communities are amazing for this.

I know you worry some people will sneer, roll their eyes or make snide comments about you being a writer. I’m sorry, but some will.

You worry some people will just give you blank stares when you talk about your writing. Yes, some will.

I know you want people to be impressed and excited that you’re a writer. Some really will.

And I know you secretly hope people will read your words and be moved to laugh or cry, or maybe they’ll consider a point of view they never would’ve before, because of you. Trust me, some will.

As writers, we measure, weigh and judge every word we put down, but also every word we read and hear. Don’t let other people’s opinions define you. You can’t control how they’ll view you and your writing. It doesn’t matter. You define you. You are a writer.

So, I have a secret I need to share: I am a writer.

Did you enjoy this? Check out our conversation on Professional Jealousy and Envy here.


  1. From one writer to another, great post! ��

  2. This is an amazing post!! Thanks for writing this, Becky. Hell yes, we're writers!!!

    1. Eeek! I love hearing that from you- it means a lot!!!

  3. So proud to say I know a writer (other than my mother of course)!

  4. Becky, thank you for this wonderful article. I am struggling with this very subject at the moment. My writer friend, Jo Johnson shared this blog post and I find it so refreshing and so supportive. Thank you again!!

    1. I really appreciate that you took the time to comment-thank you! I love knowing you liked the article and that it struck a chord with you. It's important to feel supported within the writing community. We need to stick together! :)


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