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Struggling with impostor syndrome

Impostor syndrome. It targets high achievers who see themselves as inadequate, struggle with crippling self-doubt, and fear that others will see them as an intellectual fraud. Ever experienced this?

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I have. I was sitting in a wooden cabin, somewhere out the back of Balingup, Western Australia, on the eve of the Telling Tales in Balingup festival. Staying in the cottage with me were five other West Australian authors and illustrators.

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The illustrators – James Foley and Kelly Canby – blew me away with their talent. As a teenager who topped Art in Year 11 and 12, and considered becoming a graphic designer, I was awed by their skill. They held their pencils loosely, with freedom and confidence, unlike my this-has-got-to-be-perfect tight grip.

The writers – Deb Fitzpatrick, Jen Banyard and Teena Raffa-Mulligan – each have several books under their respective belts. They are respected in the writing community for their commitment and contribution to children’s writing. I learnt so much from hanging out with these three writers.

I have one children’s book to my name. And a short romance. And a just-over-half-finished manuscript for a novel. As I sat with these people (whose company I thoroughly enjoyed, I will add), I thought, I’m not in their league.

And I thought, I’m not even a children’s writer. I just happen to have written a children’s book. Well, and another two that are yet unpublished. But still …

And I thought, My children’s book isn’t as good as theirs, anyway. That led to, What I’m passionate about is writing for adults. If they could see how I really write …

And I thought, Why am I even here? Everyone else has SO much more to offer. 

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Even the sheep had my measure.

I’m shaking my head, reading this over. What was I doing to myself? Why was I letting Self Doubt take centre stage? Why was I feeling this need to prove myself?

It just happens. It’s part of who I am.

I got over it. I had so much fun with Kelly, Jen, Teena, James and Deb that little by little, I felt like I’d found my tribe. Even though I was at the start of my journey, and they were a little further along the road. That weekend, as I got to know these wonderful, generous people, I felt like they had stopped and waited a little for me to catch up.

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And so I went out and ran workshops in cafés, sang silly made-up songs, played the ukulele so badly I should be banned from touching them, and had a fantastic time with some great little kids. They loved my book!

I shared my feelings with Maureen Eppen, my critique partner, the other day. She shook her head at me in disbelief. Gave me a Maureen-style telling off, which was actually pretty nice and encouraging (she’s good at that). I was quick to reassure her I’d moved on.

And I have. Mostly. The perfectionist in me will always be vulnerable. I know this and can accept this. But I can also manage this. And I will – because if I don’t, my writing self will never flourish.

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Do you ever feel this way?

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13 Comments

    • So true. We can learn so much about how to deal with it if we talk to others. And then we find out we are not the only one.

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  1. karenmcdermott4 says

    Oh you are so beautiful. You know how amazing I think you are. I am guided by my heart and so focused with moving forward that I rarely stop to answer the door to the impostor 🙂 You are one of the most amazing writers I know Monique. You better buy a bigger belt because in a few years time you will have a few thick novels and some awards to carry under it. xxx

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  2. Glad my “telling off” helped a little, Monique. I understand what you were feeling, as I often feel that way, too — and let’s face it, you’re quite a bit further along your fiction writing journey than I am. I think the most important thing is to enjoy the journey while you are taking it — and particularly enjoy the kindred spirits you meet along the way, particularly those who have paved the way. And, please, do keep writing — particularly the novel, which I’m loving in its (very polished) draft form.

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  3. Do I ever feel this way? Every day in every way! But I just push myself to get better and better, faking it ’til I make it…much like yourself. I think creative people are sensitive by nature, or they couldn’t tap into people and then reflect their stories so eloquently, in a way that speaks to others, including hundreds – even thousands – of strangers. We can’t change too much, or that delicate balance will be gone. And tomorrow, I love her, she’s only a day away;) X
    PS That Maureen Eppen is good for the soul isn’t she. Let’s bottle the essence of her to share.

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    • You’ve worded that beautifully, Michele.

      I remember when I started work as a journo … in my thirties. And I thought, what the hell am I doing? I’ve convinced everyone I can do this, but I don’t think I can. And then I had to go, well, fake it till you make it, girl. I pretended I knew all about intersex species and politics and so on… and then they made me editor. S**t!

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  4. As I wrote to you, I’m totally faking it until one day I’m hoping I won’t have to anymore. But I’m not sure that day ever comes, in any job. Yet somehow, we all manage to push those doubts aside and keep going regardless. And that’s what will get us there. You’re a gifted writer and you want to do it, so you’ll get there—I have no doubt! x

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  5. Bellacasa says

    Oh so much to relate to in this article. Do we all feel like this? I suspect a significant majority do-as writers we explore feelings and that inclines us to being sensitive -or even super sensitive. Empathy for others but not so much for ourselves. How great that we can be a cheer squad for each other.
    I do envy you having a critique partner, I wish I did maybe they could have stopped me earlier. I am currently about 70,000 words written in to what I now realise is the wrong book for me to write. I was writing to impress another writer I admire. I’m having to find the courage to begin again,

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    • Sonia, I think most of us do. And I completely relate to how we are cheer squads for others but not ourselves.

      Having a critique partner has been wonderful. We have both learnt so much from each other. Not just in how to convey what we need to tell each other, but also in how we are writing (or what). Find one, Sonia.

      As for beginning again, I can only imagine how awful that would feel at that point. But, it’s not wasted. It’s all learning.

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  6. Bellacasa says

    Thanks It made me realise that I had an instinct that what I was writing was wrong for me but determinedly(stubbornly?) continued anyway. I wanted this year to be the one I finished the book.

    Of course we don’t see other people’s struggles , so we tend to assume that their words just flow. They are ‘real writers’ while we are not.

    I am on the lookout for a critique partner-but it can’t be just anyone, It has to be someone who has the time to read /and the ability to be tactfully honest. Of course I would reciprocate. So far I have had better luck online than in real life.

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