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?
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.
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 Well, and another two that are yet unpublished.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.
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.
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.
Do you ever feel this way?