Writers impostor syndrome

I was talking with a very clever lady marketing friend of mine the other day and she confided in me that when it came to her job she felt like a bit of an imposter. She felt that whilst she seemed to get a lot of praise, she wasn’t actually convinced that she was deserved of it. She said that as she really just ‘fell’ into marketing rather than having entered the role as part of a planned career that she was somehow someone less than those career professionals. All this, regardless of the fact that she is very successful! Curious huh?

Believe it or not but many people who write also suffer from this. In fact, there are many stories of people who actually write for a living who suffer from imposter syndrome. Take a moment and google imposter syndrome and then do the same thing for writer imposter syndrome and it is amazing just how many articles, blogs and comments there are. So, I thought I would take a moment to include my own musings on the topic.

I remember clearly being toasted by some friends one evening just after I had self-published my first book. Whilst it was lovely that they felt this achievement worthy of a glass of champagne I somehow felt that it was all a bit of a sham. “I am not really a published author after-all!” I thought to myself. I felt that I was just someone who had taken advantage of some workaround to the traditional publishing route.

And I also remember during the early days of pulling the MyManuscripts platform together, having some rather robust discussions on whether aspiring writers should be called budding authors or just writers. The significance here was whether someone who wrote but was not published should be called a ‘writer’ an ‘aspiring author’ or in fact an ‘author’. There was one school of thought that said you could not call yourself an author until you had been published – hence, up until the point of getting published you are either just a writer or an aspiring author.

Then the debate moved over to whether you could call yourself an author if you had only been self-published and not “properly published” (as with my own anecdote above, the inference being that you could only call yourself an author if you had been published under a traditional publishing deal via an accredited publisher).

Regardless of the above discussions, what is curious here is that there seems to be a suggestion or perception that a person’s writing may be lesser than another’s given an arbitrary or self-applied measurement. The assertion here is that writers and authors are fundamentally different in very clear and obvious ways and until you have completed certain accepted steps you have to be labelled in a certain way.

It has been sometime now since I made my first foray into self-publishing and I have had the time to reconsider all of the above. In my mind now, it may be that it comes back to a person’s motivation for writing. The why are you doing it question? My father-in-law, for example, has written a series of short stories largely for the family and has no interest in being published. For him the question of whether he is a ‘writer’ or not is irrelevant. He wrote what he wrote for a very simple reason. So, for him, there is no contradiction – he is a writer because he writes!

Back to writers and the question of imposter syndrome – I particularly like the following article as it talks not just from the point of view of a  professional writer but also reflects on how this impacts ‘newbies’ as the author calls those people just staring out in their writing careers: https://nybookeditors.com/2018/09/how-to-overcome-imposter-syndrome-as-a-writer/

I especially like the assertion that perfectionists and idealists are particularly susceptible to imposter syndrome. But in liking this assertion I think I have to question my own motivation. Maybe this is an assertion that I want to resonate with, something that somehow legitimises my feelings of being an imposter. Maybe being able to label myself as an idealist or perfectionist allows me an ‘out’, a way to say that’s okay as I am just being a stickler, being thorough.

At the end of the day then, perhaps this whole thing comes down to motivation and self-perception. The ‘why exactly are you writing?’ question. If your motivation to write is because you love to write, then write and call yourself a writer without hesitation. If your motivation is to be published and you don’t see yourself as an author until you are published then fine, call yourself a writer until such times as you are published. If writing and then going through the not-insignificant challenge of self-publishing is your aim and you achieve that then call yourself an author if that is what you wish! Are you an imposter for calling yourself an author because you are ‘only’ self-published? Of course not!

The point here, I think, is that you need to understand your writing journey and what is driving you to write. My suspicion is that imposter syndrome is mostly about self-doubt, about a lack of self-belief. Labels are simply that, labels.

I remember one absolutely, fundamentally important moment in my writing career that I would like to share. I received an email out of the blue from a lady who had read one of my self-published books I think on Goodreads. To paraphrase she said, ‘I normally don’t do this, but I read your book and just had to reach out and tell you how much I enjoyed it!’ Wow!  In that moment did it matter to me that she had read a self-published book? Did it matter to me that she had paid nothing for it?

To me, in that moment, it didn’t matter a whit whether I was classed as a writer or an author. The simple fact that someone had read my book and got enjoyment out of it was enough. To be able to share the story that I painstakingly crafted from the notes in my head with someone who got something out of it was a pure and unadulterated thrill.

For me, I would like to be published so that I can continue to experience that buzz. To be able to touch as many people as possible and share the stories that develop in my head.

But that’s just me. That’s just my motivation.

My last few thoughts on the matter? Work out your own drivers and forget about being an imposter! If you love to write, write. If you want to be self-published, self-publish. If you want to be published, then get your work out there. Enjoy writing no matter what your aim is.

Norm Thomas

CEO and Founder


If you want to join a group of writers/authors/aspirers and are looking for traditional publishing opportunities, why not give MyManuscripts a try…..!

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