Imposter syndrome. We all have it, don’t we? That feeling of “who the hell am I, to be calling myself a writer? Who the hell am I, to think I can write [whatever genre you write]?”
I have this in a bad way.
First, it was “who the hell am I to write gay romance? I’m not a gay man.”
Then I discovered that 90% of readers and writers of gay romance are women.
So it turned into “who the hell am I, a straight white chick writing about queer characters?”
Then I realized I’m queer AF.
So it turned into “who the hell am I to think I’m a writer? I don’t have anything published.”
Then I got something published.
So my brain says, “Yeah but that’s not good enough. Look at that guy. He’s got all kinds of books published. Look at her, she’s self-publishing like crazy. You’re over here with one little story, claiming you’ve been writing for years.”
You all know exactly how this feels. I guarantee it. There’s only one writer I know of who claims he never feels this way, and that’s Stephen King (and I still don’t really buy it). We all feel like we’re just stumbling along, clueless, faking it, hiding our inadequacies and hoping no one will ever find out that we have no idea what we’re doing.
How do we cope with imposter syndrome?
Just keep doing the thing you feel you can’t do. Keep writing. If you’re a straight white woman and you want to write about two guys fucking, do it. If you’re a 30-something man and you want to write a YA book with a 15-year-old girl MC, do it. If you’re a cis person and you want to write a trans character, do it. Be respectful and realistic, do your due diligence as an author, do research, and go for it.
Because here’s the thing, in my opinion: The fact that you are questioning your abilities and questioning your self-worth means that you are able and worthy. There’s this cool thing in psychology called the Dunning-Kruger effect and I think it comes into play here. Basically, people who are of “lower cognitive ability” suffer from an “illusory superiority”–in other words, people who can’t do things/aren’t good at things, think they can/are. They have no idea of their inadequacy.
If you are conscious of the fact that you need to improve, the fact that you may not “fit the bill,” then you are already on the right track. I want to write a transgender character. Though I am non-binary and therefore transgender, I am terrified of writing harmful rep or just writing something dumb because I don’t understand 100% what it’s like to feel wrong in your own body. Who am I to try to write that?
The trick is to kick imposter syndrome in the face and put in the work so that the imposter syndrome is invalid. Who am I to try to write a trans character? Well, I’m a writer, and I want to write a trans character. Boom. That’s all you need to get started. That, and the knowledge that you must do it well. I have trans friends, thanks to Twitter. I have the internet. I have other books. Imposter syndrome can nay-say me all it wants, but I can bury myself in research. I can make myself the type of person who is able to write what I want to write.
Try to look at imposter syndrome as a challenge to overcome. When you hear yourself asking “who am I, to do this thing?” remind yourself exactly who you are. You are a writer. You want to do this thing. The fact that you think you can’t or shouldn’t, is actually a sign that you’re already a step ahead of the pack. You can. You should. It will take work, but nothing worth doing is easy.