How to Keep On Writing (Even if You Feel Like a Fraud)
Admit it, you feel like a fraud.
You have dreams of building a writing career you love, but when you compare yourself to real writers, you can’t help but feel like you’re just pretending to be one.
Sure, you write every day, but it doesn’t compare to the writers you admire — not even close.
You might have a few fans, but you don’t have the adoration of the masses like the big shots.
You have the dream, even the motivation, but deep down you feel the words you write will never strike the type of chord the greats are able to, and you consider quitting because you don’t think you’re cut from a true writer’s cloth.
My Fraud Story
I just published my second book. It has a nice handful of reviews. It has put thousands of dollars in my pocket. Still, in the back of my mind, I wonder if I’m a “real writer” or if I’m just some wannabe with a blog who got a bit lucky.
After all, I self-published the book. Random House or one of the other big publishers didn’t choose me.
I have a blog with good traffic and a decent subscriber base, but perhaps I’m “just a blogger” and not a real bonafide wordsmith.
Impostor syndrome – the feeling of never being good enough, experienced enough, or talented enough – affects people of all walks of life.
But us writers especially have the tendency to feel like frauds.
So what do you do? How do you keep on writing in spite of these feelings and build a career you’re proud of?
Stop Being Selfish
Maybe you feel like nobody needs your message. You feel like you’re writing for yourself only, and the world wouldn’t care if you quit.
That’s how Stephen King felt at one point.
King had just finished writing the first few pages of his soon-to-become-smash-hit Carrie. He thought it was no good. He thought he was a hack. King felt the impostor syndrome so badly he threw the pages in the trash.
Fortunately, his wife took the pages out of the trash and convinced him to keep working on the manuscript. Eventually, after 30 rejection letters, Carrie was published and King’s career flourished.
Maybe King isn’t Hemingway, but commercially he’s one of the most successful authors of all time. Many people I know say King is their favorite writer.
What if he decided nobody needed his words, or rather, what if his wife allowed him to?
The world wouldn’t have the dozens of riveting stories he crafted or the T.V. shows and movies that spawned from them.
See, when you sell yourself short, you don’t just rob yourself, you rob the rest of us.
Maybe you don’t think you’re good enough, but perhaps it isn’t about you.
Have you ever stopped to think that without your words, someone else would be missing out?
It’s hard to feel that way when you haven’t gotten traction. If you keep writing it’ll happen, just remember this next tip.
Flip Self-Doubt On Its Head
Self-doubt can benefit you if you use it the right way.
Maybe you feel like a fraud because you truly aren’t good enough yet. If that happens to be the case, you can take one of two routes. You can quit — like 99 percent of frustrated aspiring writers. Or you can use your self-doubt as fuel like I do.
I’ve had people tell me I’m a good writer, even a great one. I don’t believe any of them.
Impostor syndrome creates a gap between others’ perception of you and your own. My writing career consists of trying to close that gap.
Instead of looking at your own self-doubt in a defeatist way, it can be a motivator, because you always have room to grow. Maybe your number one goal shouldn’t be contentment. Maybe you should never be satisfied with your work.
You don’t have to become a “tortured artist” but what’s wrong with keeping a healthy chip on your shoulder?
You’ll improve too.
When you practice often, your self-doubt transitions from the “I’ll always suck” feeling to “I’m getting there, but I still need to work at it” feeling.
You’ll begin to bridge the “taste gap” as poignantly described by Ira Glass:
“Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?
A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit.”
Glass also goes on to suggest the only way past these feelings is to “do is do a lot of work — do a huge volume of work.”
I’ve written two books and 300+ blog posts — maybe a half million words (not counting the ones I’ve scrapped). The gap is still wide open. In a way, I’ve developed a sort of masochistic affection for my creative self-doubt.
You have to fall in love with frustration to be great.
Fortunately, your work will begin to bear fruit.
Take Your Self Image to Court
Even the most intelligent and argumentatively gifted lawyer can’t refute massive amounts of hard evidence (except for Johnny Cochrane).
When I’m feeling stuck or frustrated, I’ll read positive reviews of my books, emails people have sent, or comments on my blog posts.
Even if I don’t believe in myself, there seems to be a lot of people who do. I can’t argue against someone else’s view of me or my work. Enough people have said positive things about both that deep down I know I’m good enough.
The same will happen for you if you put in the work. As you progress, you’ll feel more comfortable, but never completely comfortable.
Start building your case now.
Remember the Call
I’m guessing your story is a lot like mine.
You’re drawn to words. You don’t even feel like you consciously decided to be a writer, per se, but the words lure you.
Even though I doubt myself often, I feel like I’m designed to write. I’m sticking with it because I don’t seem to be better at anything else.
If you feel the call, if words hypnotize you like sirens, you have to keep going.
Many people live life in monotony while letting their dreams die. The death of any dream is tragic, but the death of creative dreams are truly depressing.
You are going to die.
Do you really want to let something as trivial as self-doubt keep you from giving your gifts to the world?
It’s funny. Our feelings about ourselves seem so important in the present moment, but looking backward we always realize how unreliable they were. Yet we fall back into the trap of letting them take the reigns of our lives.
You’re not a fraud.
If you even have the slightest inkling you were meant to be a writer, you were meant to be a writer.
But you have to write. You have to write through sucking at writing. You have to write through the people around you telling you it’s impractical. Write when you’re sad, happy, angry, or depressed because each mood will paint a different brush stroke of emotion on the canvas that is your page.
I wish I could grab you by the shoulders, shake you, and force you to sit down to hit your word count for today.
But I can’t. I can only tell you that you belong.
I hope you remember the call.