I try to stay strong.
I try to project optimism into the world, because that’s what I want to come back to me.
But damn, sometime’s it’s hard.
Today I am struggling with my IC – my inner critic, but rather than wallow in all the messages it’s giving me, I thought it would be better to share the ways in which I deal with it when I’m feeling like the fake-est phony who ever lived.
So here are my strategies for coping with imposter syndrome, in no particular order. I hope they’re helpful to you, too:
- Reread Some (Good) Reviews: One easy way to counteract the self-loathing I’m feeling is to remember that lots of people believe in me. I go back and look at some of my great reviews, and use them to remind myself that my writing isn’t nearly as awful as my IC would have me believe. Bottom line: believe my fans.
- Undermine the Bad: What was it that set me off this time? A few things, but the biggest one was a rejection that hit at what I thought was one of my strengths – the pacing and general hookiness (is that a word?) of my first chapter. My IC jumped on this as proof that my writing truly must suck, if I spent all this time on writing a compelling first scene and someone still found it lacking. So I rounded up my support group, and they reminded me that a) agents all have different tastes, b) sometimes they just have a bad day or are busy and aren’t in the space to connect with your story, and finally c) that even what sounds like a specific critique of my work may in fact just be their standard rejection form letter. So I’m basing all this angst on something that may have nothing to do with my writing (that’s what imposter syndrome does). Bottom line: don’t take it personally.
- Do Something Good for Yourself: To top it all off, I was feeling a bit slovenly this morning. My weight is up, and I haven’t shaved in days. Since Covid hit, I spend most of my time in sweats and shave maybe once a week (okay, if I am being totally honest here, that started well before the pandemic LOL…). So this morning after breakfast, I shaved, just for me, and put on my “going out” clothes. I don’t have any zoom sessions today and I’m not going anywhere, so there’s no reason to get all “dressed up” in my jeans and t-shirt. But I’m doing it because it makes me feel a little more human and a little less of a failure. Bottom line: feel better by looking better.
- Make/Review Your Accomplishments List: My friend Tash suggested this a while back, and it’s a really helpful idea. Write down all the things you have done during your writing career that you never thought you would accomplish. Published your first story? Check. Your first novel? Check. Made your first $100? Check. When imposter syndrome gets you down, look at this list. And remind yourself how impossible each of those things seemed at the time. Bottom Line: Every big step seems impossible – until you accomplish it.
- Stick to the Plan: I have a plan for self publishing, and a plan for snagging an agent. Another mark of imposter syndrome is the second guessing we engage in when our IC comes knocking. But as my friend Erik reminded me, you have to give these things time to work. So I take a deep breath, keep my head down, and go forward with my plans. There will be time enough later to change course, if need be. But I chose this one for a reason, and I need to let it play out. Bottom Line: You made this plan for a reason, so stick it out.
Do I feel like a legitimate author now that I’ve run through these steps? Not entirely, no. Imposter Syndrome is real, and it eats at you bit by bit, seizing on your “failures” and supposed shortcomings to build a narrative designed to convince you that you suck at this whole writer thing. It’s not something you can magically snap yourself out of.
But you can start building a new narrative – a story of yourself where you may be walking in the darkness now, but somehow you will always manage to find the light. One where you do eventually get where you’re going, every time, if you just work hard enough at it. And one where you are good enough to do this writing thing, and you know it because so many people have told you so.
These feelings won’t go away. But if you work on it, you can kick your Inner Critic to the curb for a while, and get back to what you do best.
To my writing friends, what are your coping strategies when your inner critic comes a calling?