How to Escape Imposter Syndrome in Your Writing Life

From Writers in the Storm:

There was a time when we believed more women suffered from the Imposter Syndrome than men did. Unfortunately, time has shown that no one is immune to these feelings. It happens to all creatives, including writers, to celebrities, to politicians, to tradespeople, and to stay-at-home parents. And the phenomenon has been around for a long time.


Remember when Sally Field accepted the Oscar with her statement, “You like me. You really, really like me!” Yup. That’s a sign of that Imposter Syndrome. Aw, you say, she’s an actress, she doesn’t count. So how about Albert Einstein who said, “The secret of creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Or former President Woodrow Wilson when he said, “I use not only all the brains I have but all that I can borrow.”

Signs of Imposter Thinking

Imposter Syndrome is sneaky. It’s not always the same signs or the same way of thinking. Your brain is clever that way. It devises new ways to “protect” you. Here are some thoughts that suggest you have Imposter Syndrome.

  • Diminishing your accomplishments by saying something like “it’s not a big deal.”
  • You quit your job soon after a promotion that you felt you didn’t deserve.
  • Creating a perfect story, aka perfectionism, keeps you from completing your work. 
  • You procrastinate on things to be done. If it isn’t done, then you can’t be “found out.”
  • Insomnia and migraines have been called symptoms of imposter syndrome as well. (Please, if you are having physical symptoms such as insomnia or migraines, seek medical attention to rule out other causes for those symptoms.)
  • You look at another writer’s awards and accolades or best seller rank and think you will never be as good. You are suffering from comparison-itis, another form of imposter thinking.
  • Writer’s Block has many causes. But it can be a sign of this syndrome, especially if your thoughts are leading you to believe this temporary stoppage means you aren’t a real writer. 
  • Finally, in extreme cases, there are some who take refuge in more destructive behaviors like addiction to alcohol or drugs. Please seek professional therapy for these types of behaviors.

The Neuroscience of Imposter Syndrome

Psychologists have identified four main primal drives that helped all animals, including humans, survive. They are: fight, flight, feed, and mate. 

Few people dispute humans would not have survived much of the last two thousand years without our fight and flight mechanism. Fortunately, early humans developed a very strong, instinctual way of reacting to the threat of death that they lived with every day. 

This means that our brains instinctively give the highest priority to these drives. Instinctively, our brains look for reasons we must fight to survive first, and if fighting isn’t survivable, we instantly take flight. Once we no longer need fight-or-flight, our brains will prioritize feeding ourselves in order to survive. Finally, we mate to ensure our survival. 

Luckily, some of us have moved beyond the physical fight for survival. Many of us do not have to fight off a bear or lion or other imminent death threat. But even when we don’t have a physical death threat at our door, our brains still have that fight-or-flight instinct. So our brains look for the next “best” threat and turn it into a life-and-death issue. 

We may know logically that the “threat” is not that kind of situation, but we don’t start with our thinking-brain. We start with our feeling-brain. And we feel afraid. 

When we feel afraid, our brain kicks in the fight-or-flight instinct. We act to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, what we think is protective is not helpful in the least. But we don’t know it because our feeling brain tells our thinking brain what think and those thoughts become what we believe. Notice that there’s no logic built into our instincts. 

The good news is that we can do something. We can learn from our fears and eventually believe differently. 

Ways to Supercharge Your Writing Life Against I.S.

Stop the Argument

If the number one culprit responsible for how we behave is our feelings, how do our feelings usually manifest themselves? Self-talk. Our brains start a running dialogue that reinforces the fear of that death threat (real or not). To combat the Imposter Syndrome, we need to counteract that running dialog based on fear.

There are many ways to address our fearful, negative self-talk. First, we have to notice it. This might mean you need to meditate on the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. Journaling may help or reading self-help books or courses. Always check the bona fides of any book or mentor or therapist before choosing one. Professional organizations are the best option for finding reputable sources of help. 

If your negative self-talk includes suicidal thoughts, to talk with a therapist now. If you don’t have one or cannot afford one, reach out to your nearest public health department, your church, or in the U.S., call 988 (English and Spanish). Outside the US, try this list of international hotlines. 

On the August 6, 2023 episode of the Writing Excuses podcast, actress and writer, Kirsten Vangsness, discussed Imposter Syndrome. She suggested you can stop the argument by acknowledging you are an imposter. She says she understands that there is a part of her that constantly is trying to destroy her. Knowing that, she can recognize that self-talk and learn how to deflect or defeat it.

By acknowledging that she is an imposter, Kirsten is embracing her fear. Sometimes, simply saying I’m afraid is enough to help diminish that fear enough so you can move through the fear. 

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

1 thought on “How to Escape Imposter Syndrome in Your Writing Life”

  1. I’ve been trying useful methods to reach self-consistency. But the paradox is that the only way for me to accept who I am is the “dead” results I get or the “successful” destination I reach. Being in the mediation is agonizing for me… just babbling~

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