I’m sure this isn’t a unique topic for this platform, but I just wanted to offer my take on it because it is something I often struggle with.
Everyone’s gone through it at some point. That nagging doubt that what you’re creating just isn’t good enough. That someone else has not only done it before, but surely they’ve done it better. Why are you trying? What’s the point? You’re acting like something you’re not. You’re a fraud.
As someone who struggles very deeply with anxiety, impostor syndrome has been a huge setback in my life. I’m constantly trying to create the NEXT BIG THING rather than writing what I actually love. I want to stand out from the crowd. Be 100% unique. Have everyone oooing and aaaing at my latest writerly innovations.
But that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.
Here’s how I cope with the constant looming threat to creativity that is Impostor Syndrome.
To start, everything has been written before. Everything. Tropes exist for a reason. They’re like the stereotypes of the creative world and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Try as one might, you’re not going to be able to write anything that doesn’t contain tropes to some degree so trying to avoid them is a waste of your time. In fact, lean into them. Accept the tropes you’re writing with and go wholesale in on them. Believe in their place in the plot. Throwing in tropes just to be “relatable” or jamming as many in as possible to cover as much ground as you can is NOT a responsible way to use them, but when you start seeing some trope-y patterns, don’t shake your head and feel like you’ve failed at being creative. Just write them well and make sure they serve a purpose in your plot. Don’t run from them. Embrace them.
Tropes aside, if everything’s been written before, why bother at all? Because not everything has been written by YOU. I know, it sounds a bit silly, but perspective matters. You have a unique approach to your writing. You have a unique spin on a story that is entirely your own. The ingredients you use may already exist, but it’s how you put them together to bake your cake that makes all the difference. And maybe your cake uses ingredients similar to someone else’s cake. Did they turn out the exact same? No? Then that cake is uniquely yours and you should be proud of it.
But what if your story is a mess? I mean a complete mess. You keep tearing it apart and writing it over and in all the time it’s taking you someone else might write it better than you and get it out to the world first… Write anyway. Push past that feeling that someone’s going to get a leg-up on you. They won’t. Perhaps something similar in your genre might come out, but it’s still not your work. Going back to my last point, you bring something unique to the table. Seeing something vaguely similar to your own project doesn’t devalue your own work in any way. I’ve seen so many books come out that I thought were just better versions of the one I’m working on. Luckily that wasn’t the case, but when I DID see similarities, I have to admit, I got worried. Was I not being unique enough? No. See point one. Tropes exist for a reason. Use them for your own benefit. Other people are going to use them, too. Don’t worry about it! Just keep writing.
What about all those successful authors you see on social media… How can you ever compare to them? How can you ever compete with other authors and have a chance at the reader pool? Here’s a weird little hint that I came up with all on my own. Do NOT compare yourself to other authors. Ever. They wrote their story. It is not your story. Keep working on your own. Be happy for them if you want. Read their books if you want. But do not EVER compare yourself to them. Just because they can pump a book out faster than you doesn’t mean that your work isn’t worth pursuing. I know what it’s like to watch someone go from draft to publishing while you’re still working on the draft phase. You get mixed feelings of happiness for them and disappointment in yourself. Don’t put yourself down. You’re going at your own pace and you’re writing your own thing. That’s what matters.
It might sound corny, but what really truly matters is believing in your work. This is a hurdle I’ve gone back and forth on. One day I think I’m writing the next big thing and on another day I hate it and want to start over from scratch. Again. Love what you’re writing. Every day and every draft. Love it. Even when you see it as the steaming pile of garbage it might be, love and nurture it. Beautiful flowers can blossom from manure. Every story has to start somewhere. As long as you don’t give up, that mess of a manuscript will one day be a sparkling diamond on the shelves of every bookstore.
I’m sure a lot of this sounds like hokey, feel-good kind of stuff, but honestly, a big part of coping with impostor syndrome is recognizing that you are not actually a fraud. Believing in your work and working on your self-esteem is critical for overcoming it. Understanding that stories have been written on repeat since the dawn of tale-weaving and realizing that you’re adding your own thread to that tapestry will help you truly understand that yours is a tale worth telling no matter how many times it may have been told in different forms before.
Just don’t actually plagiarize. Then you are, in fact, a fraud.
But to you, my writerly friend, I suggest you just keep going. Keep writing. Keep molding that pile of clay into a masterpiece. Set aside the nagging voice of doubt and apprehension. You are not an impostor.
As a very wise man once said:
If you were looking for a more constructive means of dealing with impostor syndrome, there are lots of resources to be found on Google. I simply wanted to share my own personal approach. Just remember, the fact that you think you might be an impostor means you likely aren’t. Convincing yourself of that is another story and I sincerely wish you the best of luck on both overcoming this obstacle and making your story a reality!