How to Deal With Imposter Syndrome as a Writer


Almost every writer struggles with imposter syndrome at one point or another. Usually, this looks like getting stuck somewhere in the process and asking things like, "Who am I to even write a book? What will people think? What if I finish it and it's terrible?"

Can you relate? I know I can. I've dealt with imposter syndrome at many stages in the book writing process, and it still tries to creep in from time to time. 

The good news is that I have some powerful tools (that I’ve personally used many times) to help you overcome imposter syndrome so this can be your most successful writing year yet. And that's exactly what we're going to cover in this post.

Before we go there, I want you to know this -- imposter syndrome is a real, live thing. And if you're dealing with it, I want you to know that you are so far from being alone. There is nothing wrong with you. I also want you to know that imposter syndrome is something you can definitely overcome.  

But first, let's talk about what imposter syndrome is and how it shows up.


What is imposter syndrome?

Here’s a definition of imposter syndrome from a social psychologist, Dr. Amy Cuddy. She says that imposter syndrome can be defined as, “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.”

Harvard Business Review goes on to say that, “imposters suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalize their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field.” 

Interesting, right?

But here's the truth. Most writers experience these feelings of inadequacy at some point in the writing, editing, and publishing process. It's just the nature of the game. And the hard part is that imposter syndrome shows up differently for everyone.

For one person, it might show up as paralysis — not being able to move forward in your draft for fear that you don't have something to offer that's unique enough or good enough.

For someone else, it shows up as writer's block, or a block of creativity. And we all know that that's totally detrimental to any writer.

For another person, it shows up as totally giving up. And this one breaks my heart because it just doesn't need to get to this point.

But no matter how you're experiencing imposter syndrome, the tools I'm going to share with you today are going to help you overcome those feelings so that you can share your amazing gifts, and your amazing stories, with the world. 

Now, before we dive into the three strategies, I want to tell you a quick story about my two dogs, Forrest and Luna, and what they taught me about imposter syndrome.

What do my pups know about imposter syndrome?


Just the other day, I was taking my two dogs, Forrest and Luna, on a walk and I was thinking about imposter syndrome because a writer I’m working with is feeling it in a really big way right now. I had just gotten off a phone call with her and I was trying to think about what I could do or say that would help.

Now, I know this is going to sound silly, but for the animal lovers out there, you will get it. I was walking and I looked down at my two dogs and I thought, “Luna and Forrest are amazing, but they aren’t the only dogs out there. There are thousands of Shiba Inus and Golden Retrievers in the world, but at the same time, there isn’t one exactly like Luna or exactly like Forrest. They each have their own perfect personalities and their own cute tendencies that make me smile and laugh and love them every single day. Sure, there are dogs that look just like them. But they aren’t like Luna or Forrest. They aren’t unique or special in the same ways that my pups are.”

And then I realized that overcoming imposter syndrome is kind of the same thing. Sure, there are people out there writing books like you are, maybe in the exact same genre, or on the exact same topic... I get it. I’m a writer, too. But that doesn't mean they have the exact same uniqueness or that special je ne sais quoi that you have. There's only one of you.

And I know you’ve probably heard this before, but do actually you believe it? Do you really understand that you are a unique individual? That you are able to write a story like nobody else can? There is nobody in this world that can write a book or a short story or whatever you’re working on like you do?

Think about it. And if you learn anything here today, be more like Forrest and little Luna and own who you are and where you are on your writing journey. Okay? And yes, I know I just told you to be like a dog, but if you have a pet, you know that they can sometimes be our best teachers, am I right? 

I get really fired up about this topic because I see how much potential is out there in the writing community, and I know that imposter syndrome can literally block us from greatness, and stop us from bringing our stories to life. 

I see this all the time with the writers I work with. For example, a woman I worked with a few years ago had a draft that sat in her drawer for like twelve years before doing anything with it. I helped her with a developmental edit, but overall, it was a pretty good story that didn’t need a whole lot of work. Shortly after, she got a publishing deal and her book is about to release later this year. Now, I know that if I had asked that woman twelve years ago if she ever imagined that she’d be a published author, she would have said I was crazy. But look where she is today!

So I just want to remind you that where you could be in just a few short years from now will blow your mind, as long as you don't give up.

If you keep thinking small, if you keep thinking, “Who am I to be doing this?” or if you keep worrying about what everybody else is going to think when you put yourself and your story out there in your unique way, you will never get to that place.

So, I know that's a little bit of tough love, but we’ve got to let the imposter syndrome go. And that’s what this post is all about. Let's dive into the strategies. 

Strategy #1: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Heart

The first way that you are going to kick imposter syndrome to the curb is to get out of your head and into your heart. Is that cheesy? Maybe just a bit, but it’s also true. The reason this is the first strategy on the list is because I really do believe that you have to start here. If you don’t, the rest of the strategies won’t matter. 

Now, here's the deal. You want to be a writer because you have something to say, right? There’s something you want to convey about life, love, the world, human nature, death, or whatever it is that sets your heart on fire. 

You have some kind of message to share with the world, and I promise you that there is someone out there who needs to hear YOUR message from you. 

So when you overthink things like the smaller details of your plot, your character's hair color or clothing, or which floor your character should live on in an apartment building, it's clear that you're letting your head lead the way. 

Now, that being said, I’m not going to tell you that you should never let your head lead the way in any part of your writing practice. Of course, you should -- your mind is logical and it helps you in so many ways. 

But what I want you to understand is that at the end of the day, when all’s said and done, and you've poured every bit of yourself into your story -- I want you to know that it all came from your heart, because when you lead with your heart and when you share your message with the world, that’s what will connect with readers on a deeper level. 

So when you show up as your authentic self and lead with your heart, you’re showing up in a way that no one else can replicate.

And you’re not going to be able to show up like that if you always let your logic lead the way -- because when your head is doing all the decision making, you begin to snuff out what your heart and your intuition and your gut is telling you, and you begin to conform to what society expects or says you should be doing.

Not only that, but you start to compare yourself to everybody else, too. 

When you’re comparing, you’re not in your heart; you’re in your head. And then when you start showing up like everybody else, that’s because you’re leading with logic. So I don’t want to get too deep here, but I do want you to reconnect with your heart and get out of your head.

So, let me tell you how I put this strategy into practice. When I start to feel imposter syndrome creep in or feelings of inadequacy or comparison come up, I just ask myself, “Is whatever I’m thinking true, or are these just thoughts that are not serving me? Is this thing I’m thinking true, or are they just thoughts that are not serving me?” Write that question down for later -- it’s a handy one!

Now, let's move onto strategy number two because it's a little more tangible.

Strategy #2: Take Action (Even if it' Small)

Strategy number two is to take action. When you're feeling like you are an impostor, the best thing you can do is to get into action. 

And this strategy of taking action directly connects with our number-one strategy, which was to get out of your head and get into your heart, because by taking intentional action, you move out of your head, which is sitting with these unpleasant thoughts and false beliefs that are not serving you, and you move into your heart, which is taking action that aligns with your gifts and your message and sharing those with readers so that you can make an impact.  

So, really, the main thing I want you to do is to take one action -- however big or small -- that gets you one step closer to accomplishing your goals. 

Let’s say you’re working on a first draft, taking one small action might be to write one new page, even if it’s not that great. Or it might be to outline two new scenes. However big or small, it doesn’t matter. I just want you to take SOME action. 

The writers I work with who follow this advice are SO HAPPY when they do. Not only does it give you a small win (that helps create momentum), but it also takes you one step closer to a finished draft because all those pages do add up.

So, that’s strategy number two, take action. Let’s keep moving on. 

Strategy #3: Stay in Your Lane (and Avoid Shiny Objects)

Strategy number three is to stay in your lane. Now, there are two ways we're going to look at this. First off, staying in your lane means stop chasing shiny objects. And the second way we're going to look at it is that staying in your lane means that you're going to put on blinders, you're not going to worry at all about what others are doing, and you're going to stop comparing yourself to them. 

Let's start with the shiny objects. We tend to get shiny object syndrome when we get bored with what we're working on or, worse yet, we think there's a quicker way to get to the outcome we want so we jump ship and we run to the next thing.

A lot of the time, we think that this new approach (like a new outlining method, or another type of character sketch, or whatever this shiny object is -- we think it will be that magic pill or the thing we're missing in our writing practice. But it never is.

An example of this — and I, unfortunately, see this way too often — is continuing to rewrite the opening pages of a story over and over and over, or changing your characters names or hair color or any small detail like that, or even jumping ship on one story idea and running to another because you just know this is that one thing that's going to change everything. Can you relate? If you see yourself flip-flop a lot, this one's for you.  

Now, I want you to take a moment and think about a writer you admire. I’m willing to bet that they make decisions and stick to those decisions. I’m also willing to bet that they put their head down, and get the work done. In other words, they take action, which is strategy number two for how to beat imposter syndrome.

So if you want to step out of imposter syndrome, you have to stop chasing shiny objects because that just means you are on loose footing all the time. You won't be able to get grounded in anything or in any one story because you're hopping around to the latest shiny thing or idea.

And also to add to that, if you think about that person you really admire, I bet there's one more thing they also don't do. They probably don’t keep asking, “Should I be doing this? Should I even write this book?”

So, if you’re constantly wondering things like this, I want you to take that question out of your head. The writers you admire, I bet they don’t always make the right decisions when it comes to their plot or their characters, but they don’t dwell on those things either. And that’s because they know that the decision they just made, right or wrong, will move them closer to where they want to go.

And this is how I want you to think of it. Every decision you make, right or wrong, is taking you one step closer to accomplishing your writing goals.

Even if you make a decision that isn’t the best, or that doesn’t serve you or your story, you learn something. You learn something new about yourself, or your writing habit, or the story you’re working on, and you can move forward. 

This is a slight mindset shift that literally could change your life. I know that sounds dramatic but it's true. So keep that in mind.

Now, getting back to staying in your lane, this idea of flip-flopping from story to story, or from one method to another, there's likely some fear behind that behavior.

There's likely some urgency, or some desperation to get your book done, and I'd like for you to slow down and really reexamine why you keep flip–flopping from project to project and ask yourself, "what is it going to take for me to put my head down, get into action, and stay with this story until the end?"

Journal about it if you have to. It's worth some consideration.

Now, let's talk about this idea that you need to put blinders on and stop comparing yourself to other writers -- I just can't repeat enough how important it is.

It's okay if you compare yourself to other people (it's natural, we all do it), just catch yourself when you do it and then have a mantra like, “No, I don't need to go there,” and keep moving on with whatever you're working on. 

I'm guilty of comparing myself to others, too. But I've gotten a lot better at it by just being aware and by stopping myself from doing it in the moment. It does take practice, but eventually, it will become more of a habit. Try it out and see what happens.

How to Deal With Imposter Syndrome as a Writer | Savannah Gilbo - Do you struggle with imposter syndrome? Does imposter syndrome prevent you from finishing your book? If so, check out this blog post where I walk you through three strategies for overcoming imposter syndrome so that you can finish your draft and publish your story. Other writing tips included, too! #amwriting #writingtips #writingcommunity

Final Thoughts on Imposter Syndrome

So, those are my three favorite strategies for dealing with imposter syndrome as a writer. I want to reiterate that imposter syndrome will probably never go away completely, but it's very manageable if you’ve got the right tools in your toolbox. 

My hope for you is that this will be the year you’ll overcome imposter syndrome and finish your book. I really, really want that for you! So, here’s to kicking imposter syndrome to the curb, and to getting our books out in the world -- cheers! 🥂

👉 Because this is a topic almost every writer can relate to, I want you to head to our private Facebook community and share what actions you’re taking to overcome imposter syndrome. See you there!

Savannah is a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories that work. She also hosts the top-rated Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast full of actionable advice that you can put into practice right away. Click here to learn more →