How (Not) to Get Past Impostor Syndrome
I used to think I’d feel like a real writer the first time I finished a book. For a long time, I could never stick with a project past the 30k mark, so getting all the way to the end of a novel-sized project would make me a writer, right?
But when I had my finished and revised book in my hand, I still didn’t feel like a writer. This time, I was sure being unagented was the issue. Having an agent would mean someone believed enough in my work to tie their name to it in a professional capacity. Surely that would make me feel like a writer, right?
Now I have an agent, and I’m seeing all these people announce their book deals, and I just know once I sell my book I will feel like—
Do you see the pattern?
It’s often said writing is a marathon, not a sprint, and I could not agree with this more. But people often fail to mention that it’s a marathon where the finish line is moving faster than you are. First you think it’s about having the book, then the agent, then the book deal, then beating the sophomore slump, then winning awards, then maintaining an established career and so on and so forth. It doesn’t help that thanks to social media, we see—or think we see—where every other runner in this race is. Someone who started their book after you has their agent before you? Someone who writes in the same niche genre publishers have rejected you for eight million times is now winning piles of awards?
Clearly they’re doing something right and you should go sit in a hole and weep for a few hours.
But having talked to people at so many different stages of the process (querying, agented but revising, agented but on sub, preparing their debut, established, etc.) I’ve come to a simultaneously sobering and freeing realization:
The impostor syndrome never ends.
In some weird, reverse psychology-esque way, this realization has made me feel so much better about where I am in the process. If I’m never going to feel like a real writer, then I may as well keep doing what I’m doing anyway. Instead of letting the feeling consume me, I let it move alongside my process like an ever-present companion.
As writers, it can be difficult for us to internalize our accomplishments because there is always another step ahead of us. But most people never get to the stage of even trying to write a book. There is value alone in the attempt. This is doubly true for marginalized peoples who have extra institutional powers keeping them from devoting the time or advancing forward in publishing as a career in any capacity. In a world that devalues our work and sneers at our profession or tells us our genres are frivolous wastes of time, there is power in simply putting the words down and not stopping no matter how long it takes.
That isn’t to say there is no power in outside validation. There is no guarantee of anything in this line of work, so it’s important to celebrate milestones. Yay, you got an agent! Yay, your book sold! But it is important to remember the smaller milestones that may not stand out on social media are equally worth celebrating because they are markers of progress all the same. Yay, you finished your first draft! You, you revised your query! Yay, you wrote 500 words you don’t hate!
It’s been said a million times, but that’s because it’s true:
Writing makes you a writer.
So let yourself feel the impostor syndrome. Let yourself feel like you’ve fallen behind everyone and you’ll never catch up.
Then keep on going.
You have writing to do.
Rosie Brown is an immigrant from the West African nation of Ghana and a graduate of the University of Maryland, where she completed the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House program. She was an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing, and her work has been featured by Voice of America among other outlets. She currently teaches in Japan, where in her free time she can usually be found exploring the local mountains or thinking about Star Wars. She is represented by Quressa Robinson of Nelson Literary Agency.