The Imposter Syndrome

Yesterday, I found myself struggling with my writing. As one does. The scene wasn’t coming together; the characters didn’t want to behave; the emotions felt flat on the page, and I started to ask myself whether or not I was headed in the right path, whether the scene I’d chosen wasn’t just a shortcut to the quicksand swamp that separated me from the Mountain of Endgoal. I was at 26,000 words. Yup, typical writing block time: the dreaded Middle.

It’s always comforting to know that other writers feel the same way, but as Libba Bray says in her brilliant and heartfelt post (thanks JJ!), taking comfort in the idea that others feel this way does not make the hardship any less personal. I tend to think, “It’s so nice to know that others feel the same way I do, but they don’t really. Because they are Real Writers. And I am not.” On writing days like yesterday, I convince myself thoroughly that I am an imposter writer. That this is the book where I will be revealed for the fraud that I am, that I’m fake, and that the last three books I wrote were complete anomalies that will never happen again.

There is, of course, the Imposter Syndrome, a real syndrome psychiatrists diagnose many women—particularly successful women—with. According to Wikipedia, the Imposter Syndrome is: “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”

This probably sounds very familiar to many women (and men, too!)—but I imagine it’s particularly prevalent among the creative types (i.e. us writers). As a woman, I have felt the above every single day of my life: if I fail at something, it’s because of my own lack of talent or intelligence, and if I succeed, it is because of outside luck, outside help, and elements out of my control. I feel as if my accomplishments can be swept away at any moment simply because I am having a bad writing day, or I said something stupid in a conversation, or because I made a single wrong choice. I am not expected to succeed. If I do, it’s because the universe smiled randomly at me.

I think many writers, too, feel this sense of insecurity with each new project that they take on. You hit that dreaded middle (or opening, or ending, or whatever gives you the most trouble). You become absolutely convinced that this is the last book anyone will ever pay you to write. I’ll start to imagine the scenario where I have to tell my editor the bad news, that I just can’t do it. I imagine returning my advance and canceling my contract. I picture myself trying to go back to the game industry after three years outside of it, whether or not they’ll take me back as an intern in something or other.

It’s scary, this self-doubt. I don’t think any particular thing will make it go away. We’re asked how we cope with writer’s block and I always want to say that I can coast smoothly past it by stepping away from the writing for a while (which does work sometimes), or indulging in some other form of creative media (which also sometimes works), or just “fixing what’s wrong with the chapter” (it’s so easy! Right?). But, you know, more often than not I just end up putting my head down on my desk and admitting to myself that I am a failure at writing. Sometimes it takes me a couple of hours to get over my whining. Sometimes it takes weeks.

But you know what? You will always get over it. It may take a while, but at some point, the urge to write will overwhelm the looming insecurity. You feel that creative spark, and suddenly the blank page will fill with words again, and you’ll feel like you’ve taken a deep breath. You’ll squick your foot out of that quicksand swamp and onto the paved road that leads to the Mountain of Endgoal.

So when you feel that Imposter Syndrome creeping forward, recognize it for what it really is. You’re not alone in feeling it, even if you’re absolutely convinced you are, and know that eventually….this too shall pass.


23 Responses to The Imposter Syndrome

  1. Kat Zhang May 3 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    Totally needed this post today, Marie! <3 Thank you!

    And you are the furthest thing from a writing impostor 😉

  2. Marie Lu May 3 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    Hugs, Kat! And haha, aw thanks. <3<3

  3. Emma May 3 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    Lovely post! And while I’m not published by any means (only a hopeful!) I think I can relate. We women are exceedingly hard on ourselves, and even as I type this I feel the syndrome kicking in, “you’re not THAT hard on yourself, not like other DRIVEN writers!”

    Thanks for the reminder that we’re all human and I’m not alone in my feelings of self-doubt!

    • Marie Lu May 3 2013 at 12:59 pm #

      Hugs! You’re totally not alone–and when I found out about the syndrome I was like, “Oh my god, I totally understand myself now!” It’s a tricky one to kick. But it *can* be kicked!

  4. Memarie Christoforo May 3 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    This post will be perfect for a discussion at my next writer’s group. You put a lot of effort into it. It is really well written. The spelling mistake does not detract from the content at all. 🙂 Thank you for writing it. I just started following you on Twitter, so maybe you have already mentioned this, but are you familiar with The Muse is In? The creator is Jill Badonsky.

    • Marie Lu May 3 2013 at 1:00 pm #

      Thank you very much! I’m not familiar with The Muse Is In, but I’ll definitely have to check it out.

  5. Meredith McCardle May 3 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    This is a wonderful post, Marie, and kinda exactly what I needed to hear today. I’ve been struggling with impostor syndrome a lot lately, as I try to write the second book in my series. And I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s insecurity, and it’s so much easier to deal with insecurity by turning inward and obsessing on failures than it is by standing tall and pushing through it.

    I’m sure you’ve heard of Sheryl Sandberg’s LEAN IN? It’s all about pushing yourself past these emotions. I haven’t read it yet, but I think I’m going to order a copy today. Yes, I totally am.

    • Marie Lu May 3 2013 at 1:02 pm #

      Hugs, it’s always a hard thing to kick! And yes, I’ve definitely heard of LEAN IN and am eager to read it. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Sheryl Sandberg and it’s both stunning and comforting that someone as successful as herself has many of the same doubts others do.

  6. Natalie Aguirre May 3 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    I definately suffer from thia. And worry I’d fail if I got a publishing contract. Thans for sharing your own feelings. Knowing someone as talented as you has these feelings is reassuring.

    • Marie Lu May 3 2013 at 2:59 pm #

      Hugs, Natalie! We all feel it at some time or other. You’re not alone!

  7. Meagan Spooner May 3 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    So, funny story. I’ve had a draft of a blog post about the impostor syndrome sitting on my computer for nearly two years now. Ironically enough… the reason I haven’t posted it is because every time I think about it, I also think, “Yeah, except I’m not actually successful or talented, so it’s not really impostor syndrome if you actually ARE an impostor.”

    Anyway, I loved this post. Kudos to you for writing it! It’s something all writers, particularly us women, should be aware of.


    • Marie Lu May 3 2013 at 3:01 pm #

      Aww, Meagan <3<3<3<3 And yup that's exactly how I feel too, the whole "Yeah, others who feel this are actually talented and Real Writers, but I am not" thing. But you ARE successful and talented. I hope you upload your blog post too, as I would love to read it!

  8. Denise May 3 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    It’s like you read my mind. Thanks for this post. I’m having those feelings this week. This too shall pass. 🙂

    • Marie Lu May 4 2013 at 8:45 pm #

      Yes, this too shall pass. <3 *hugs*

  9. Julie Eshbaugh May 3 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    Oh my gosh such a great post Marie! I think we all go through this at times, and it’s one of those things that spirals into a self-fulfilling prophecy – your fear creates the block you feared to begin with. Thanks for posting about such a sensitive subject so openly. The next time I feel like putting my head down on my desk I’ll be coming back to this page to re-read! <3

    • Marie Lu May 4 2013 at 8:46 pm #

      <3! Yes, self-fulfilling prophecy is a great way to describe this. The fear can be so crippling. It's hard to work past it, but I think we all suffer from it at some point!

  10. Kyra-Lee May 3 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    I am an inspiring writer and really love your Legend novels (Day especially)! I will also say that you are a great writer and I know that you make it past that dreaded writer’s block and evil impostor syndrome! I have all the confidence in you. Personally, I would say I go through this all the time with my novel that’s been going on for about 3 years. It’s like a mosquito you can’t get rid of. It keeps coming back over and over again, but you need to always mentally carry a bug swatter with you so that you can swat those negative thoughts away. Just keep on swatting and never stop writing! Never give up!


  11. Sara B. Larson May 3 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    Wow. This post was just what I needed today. Okay, maybe more like ALL of the days. Thank you for writing this. I especially loved the end, because it’s so true. No matter how crippling the self-doubt gets, I always overcome it because the desire and need to write wins out every time… eventually. So glad to know I’m not alone!

  12. Susan Elizabeth May 3 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    I hope you’ve called dibs on writing a thriller about someone with Imposter Syndrome! Such an interesting post 🙂

  13. Sara (Page Sage) May 3 2013 at 8:24 pm #

    I really needed to read this post today. I’ve been experiencing a bit of Imposter Syndrome myself. Thank you so much for writing this!

  14. Heather May 4 2013 at 9:53 am #

    Wow, Thanks, Marie. It actually really helps to know I’m not alone in this. A friend forwarded me this post right when I needed it the most… I think I’ll just push through the pain by actually writing. Thanks!

  15. Alexa Y. May 6 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    This post just made me feel ten billion times better today. I feel this way a LOT and it’s often the cause of my insecurity, and avid search for tips about the “right” way to write, and the hesitancy once I hit the middle of a WIP. I think it’s important and wonderful that you mentioned it today. Somehow, acknowledging this helps SO MUCH. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Minerva Jun 7 2016 at 5:29 pm #

    I’m a total amateur writer and everytime I write, I’m just waiting for the day when I read it and go “Ugh, it’s awful now.” Because every time, I think my work is amazing as I write it, but just horrible when I’m done.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.