Self-Belief: Beating The Impostor Syndrome For Writers
It’s true that many people want to be writers, and it’s also true that many people will never get there. I’ve found the main reason stopping people is that they simply don’t have the self-belief it takes to sit down at their computer every day and just get on with it. This can be true in many areas of life, of course, and it’s certainly been true in a lot of mine as well. I hated school. I used to dread having to answer questions out loud in class, and the thought of doing a presentation made me feel physically sick. Even now I dislike public speaking, which is perhaps why I sought solace in the written word. I find it far easier to express myself with words on a page than I do in front of actual people.
So, I knew I enjoyed writing, and several teachers had told me I was good at it in school, but going from that to writing and self-publishing my own novels, and then setting up my own editing business… well, let’s just say it wasn’t easy. I just kept thinking: what am I doing? Why do I think I can do this? How am I going to do this? Why should I even try when I’m clearly going to fail? I wasn’t a confident person anyway, and it was so far removed from what all my friends were doing at the time – getting employed in ‘normal’, stable jobs – that I wondered if I was completely crazy for even thinking of it. Surely I wasn’t a good enough writer. Surely no one would pay to read anything I wrote. Surely I was going to fail, right?
Attitude is everything
If you wake up in the morning and think you’re going to have a rubbish day, then you probably will. If you go into something with nothing but negativity and fear of what could happen or what could go wrong, then you won’t get very far – and even if you do, the outcome probably won’t be all that great. Basically, if you think something’s going to suck, it probably will.
Here’s the problem: no matter how many ideas you have, or how big your writing ambitions are, you won’t get anywhere without believing in yourself. I know this can be hard – I constantly struggle with this too – but in many ways, it’s the first step to becoming a writer. Mindset is everything, and it’s the first thing you need to get right in order to succeed with your writing.
If you really want to be a writer, then you have to believe you can, no matter how many times the doubt monster rears its ugly head or how many times your family and friends look at you as if you’re mad (though hopefully some will be supportive). Screw all that and write anyway.
I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘impostor syndrome’, and let me tell you, it’s rife with writers. Pretty much none of us believe we have any right to be putting words on a page for others to read. I mean, how dare we even think that we have something to say?
A lot of this comes from the fact that many people see writing as a hobby rather than a job (unless you work for a newspaper or other publication). It’s the same with artists. How many artists get asked to create something and are expected to do it for free? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people ask me if I can write a book for them – usually their life story, sometimes a novel – and then when I tell them my rates, they laugh and say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t have any money. Can’t you just do it for free?” We’ve essentially been trained to see most artists and writers as people who don’t have a ‘proper’ job. We see these careers, therefore, as something incredibly difficult (which they are) and unattainable (which they definitely aren’t). We think it’s something we shouldn’t be able to do – unlike office work or working in a shop, things most of us have done in our working lives – and therefore we don’t believe we can do it. But we can. You just have to ignore all the doubts and do it anyway. Ah, impostor syndrome, how I don’t love you. Even top selling authors get it, though, so don’t let it put you off.
So, getting in the right mindset – not just a creative mindset, but the mindset that you can and will do this – is hard, but it’s absolutely essential if you’re going to succeed.
Write for yourself
Start off by simply writing for yourself. Don’t think about the people who will read your words, or whether anyone else would even want to read your words. ‘Write what you know’ always helps when you’re first starting out, mainly as there’s minimal research involved and you can literally just sit at your computer and start typing. Plotting and planning is encouraged if you’re writing a novel, but if you’re having trouble getting into the right mindset, nothing helps more than sitting at your computer and getting some words down onto that blank page – any words. I don’t care if it makes no sense to start with or if it wasn’t what you planned on writing, just do it. (I can’t write those words anymore without thinking of the Shia LaBeouf video, and if you haven’t seen it already you really need to – it’s great motivation.) Write first, edit later. Or write drunk, edit sober. Whatever works for you. Basically, do whatever it takes to get those initial words on the page. You’ll see it’s not so hard after all, and that’s all writing is: typing one word after the other until you have a sentence. Then a paragraph. Then a chapter. Then a book. OK, so that’s majorly simplified but hopefully you get what I’m talking about. In the words of Shia, just do it.
Just make sure you don’t put too much pressure on yourself; no one’s expecting you to write a Shakespearean-level manuscript on your first go. Remember that first drafts are never brilliant, and the more practice you get, the better you’ll become at writing. When you finally get to the end of your first ever manuscript (or story, or article), that feeling of achievement and satisfaction will be hard to beat. Then again, when you get a physical copy of your book or story in your hands, that’s a pretty great feeling too.
Don't let the doubts control you
The point is: everyone has doubts, but you can’t let those doubts control you. If we did that, we’d never do anything in our lives, and we certainly wouldn’t attempt anything as seemingly daunting as a writing career.
If you really do have no self-belief at all (and I’ve been there, believe me) then you need to get some, and quick. There are plenty of books out there on this subject, and plenty of people offering counselling and therapy, but you don’t have to spend hundreds or thousands of pounds just to get to the point where you believe in yourself. Until you do something, you have no idea if you can do it or not, and it’s the same with writing. So just try. See what happens. It’s not as scary as you think. Most of what’s holding us back is all in our heads. We tell ourselves stories (that becoming a writer is impossible), we come up with excuses (I’m just too tired to try after the workday/workweek)… we do everything in our power to talk ourselves out of it. We do it to ourselves – no one else is doing it to us – and we need to stop.
It’s worth mentioning that everyone has doubts. Even if you’re the most confident person in the world, you can’t deny that you probably have at least some fears and worries about things in your life, whether it’s to do with your job, your personal life, your aspirations, or anything else. Life is hard, and if we want to achieve anything, we have to work hard. It’s often just the first step that can be difficult to get your head around, but once you’ve given yourself permission to write – and once you’ve got past all that negative crap whirling around in your head from past experiences – you’ll find it easier to get those words on the page.
Now, here’s something to think about. We’re currently living in one of the most exciting times to be a writer. You know what? I’m going to repeat that: we’re currently living in one of the most exciting times to be a writer. We have more options than ever before when it comes to publishing, and if we go down the self-publishing route, we can have complete creative control over everything. There is so much technology available – so many apps and websites and pieces of software right at our fingertips – and it’s never been easier or more fun to publish your own book, stories, or articles. You should be making the most of this technology, and of the instant connections you can make with other people online. If you have a computer and the internet, the world really is your oyster. It’s a very, very exciting time to be a writer, so get excited!
As with anything in life, self-belief is vital, and if you can ignore all those fears and doubts and get writing anyway, you’ll be well on your way to succeeding in your writing career. Acknowledge the presence of impostor syndrome, then ignore it. Acknowledge the fact that some people might not take you seriously – at least, not to start with – and then get on with it regardless. Don’t listen to anyone who reacts negatively to your desire to write, and that includes yourself. Stop telling yourself stories about how you can’t do this, and prove to yourself that you can.
You can do this. You can write. You can go after your goals and achieve whatever you want to achieve. You’ve got this.
So what are you waiting for?
Just do it!