Overcoming impostor syndrome as a debut author – Susan Bishop Crispell

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By Susan Bishop Crispell

Some people are born with an abundance of confidence. Effervescence. Charisma. They light up a room and make friends with everyone instantly. Others are really good at faking it. And then there are people who don’t have a clue how we got invited to the party in the first place. As a debut author, I’m looking around at all these writers I admire just waiting for someone else to acknowledge that I don’t measure up, don’t have a clue, don’t belong. (Not that the writing community would, because man, writers are the most generous, inclusive people I know.) But still. I worry.♥

The sad thing is I’m not alone. Imposter Syndrome, that feeling of not being good enough to really own your achievements, can sneak up on you. Nothing more than a shadow, a flicker of movement out of the corner of your eye at first. You’ll think it’s just nerves. Debut author jitters. I mean, you wrote a book, landed an agent, and realized your dream of getting a book deal. Of course you earned your spot among the “real” authors.

Then you realize all you have are questions, no answers. Questions upon questions upon questions. They’re multiplying right in front of you and if you could just know the answer to one without having to ask someone you might be able to get a finger hold on your confidence before it slips out of your grasp. Because you should know some things by now, right? You’re a “soon-to-be-published author”.

You didn’t get to this point by accident. You worked diligently for years through who-knows-how-many revisions to get to the one that finally will be on book shelves. You read blogs and books on craft and attended conferences and writing retreats. You typed so many words that the tips of your fingers have become numb. (Hey, maybe that’s why your fingers are slipping right off of the confidence you want to hold onto so badly!) And you have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing, for crying out loud. You have to know something.

But all you know is the ever-growing list of the things that you don’t know.

That’s when you realize Imposter Syndrome has its steely claws in you. No longer just a shadow, now it’s a hulking dark mass, all razor-feathers and poison-words. It hisses in your ear to stop fighting. And for a moment you think the words are your own. For that split-second, you want to do what it says. Then you blink. Clear you head, your heart, and you fight.

You might be able to shake it, you think. Stay positive. Happy, happy (as your grandmother would say). You’re a quick learner and if you don’t make too much noise you can keep the number of people who know you don’t belong there to a minimum. You can do this. You deserve to be here. You start to regain control.

And then advance copies of your book get released into the world. Your Goodreads rating goes from a perfect 5.0 to something less than that. You get more good reviews than bad, but all you see are the words “predictable” and “unbelievable” and a whole host of other ones you mentally block because once they’re in your head, you’ll never get them out. And anyway, you don’t really need anyone else to tell you how badly you suck at writing. You already know. Your new, evil little BFF won’t let you forget. Not until you give up, pack it in, and slink away before anyone even notices you’re gone.

Here’s the thing though, giving in to Imposter Syndrome only hurts you. Other people might be confused or disappointed or frustrated by your behavior. But at the end of the day, you’re the one who will watch your dreams slip away.

So, how the heck do you tell Imposter Syndrome to take a hike?

Don’t discount all of your hard work. It might be tempting to let someone else’s success or talent make you think you’ll never be as good. But you already have a whole team of people from your agent to your editor to the publishing house itself who believe in your work. Everything you’ve put into your book — all the work, the pieces of your heart, the months or years of your life — that’s what got you here in the first place. Make sure to give yourself the credit you deserve.

Find your writing tribe. Or two or three. Surround yourself with people who will support you, help you learn, motivate you, and cheer you on. Having people to share this journey with can make all the difference.

Celebrate every achievement. Turned in your edits? Celebrate! Cover reveal? Celebrate! Hit 10/25/50/100 reviews on Goodreads (the ratings don’t even matter!)? Celebrate! Finally seeing your book on a bookstore shelf? CELEBRATE!

Give yourself some slack. Nobody is perfect the first time they try something new. And no one’s expecting you to be either. It’s okay to ask questions and be the newbie because soon you’ll be the one with the answers (maybe not all of them, but definitely some of them!). And you’ll feel a little less like an imposter with every new step you take.

Susan Bishop Crispell earned a BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Born and raised in the mountains of Tennessee, she now lives twenty minutes from the beach in North Carolina with her husband and their literary-named cat. As you might expect, she is very fond of pie. And she is always on the lookout for hints of magic in the real world. Her debut novel The Secret Ingredient of Wishes is out now.


1 Comment

  1. Emily Brett

    October 11, 2016 at 4:24 am

    Thank you for penning this. You’ve captured all the fears and negativity of being a debut author. I thought it was just me! Glad to know I am not alone and more importantly…normal. 🙂

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