How To Overcome The 5 Types Of Imposter Syndrome

How To Overcome The 5 Types Of Imposter Syndrome

Over 80% of the population experiences imposter syndrome at some point in their life. 

It not only fills you with dread, but feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and skepticism about your talents, skills, and capabilities, too.

And if left unchecked, it may even lead to you sabotaging your own hard work and giving up on your dream of writing a novel.

In this post, I want to peel back the layers of Imposter Syndrome and really talk about it. Because what is Imposter Syndrome anyway? When does it pop up? How can you recognize it? And more importantly, how can you overcome it? Let’s find out!


What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome was first described by two psychologists in the 1970s like this… 

“Impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.”

And even though Imposter Syndrome isn’t technically recognized as an official diagnosis, most people (including psychologists) acknowledge that it is very real and super common today. 

The 5 Types of Imposter Syndrome

Expert on the subject, Dr. Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, has broken down Imposter Syndrome into five different types. 

Each “type” has slightly different habits or patterns that can keep you stuck—which means that each type also has specific things you can do to get yourself UNstuck.

So, let’s take a look at the 5 types of Imposter Syndrome identified by Dr. Valerie Young, along with an action step you can take right now to overcome it.

Type #1: The Perfectionist 

Perfectionism and Imposter Syndrome go hand-in-hand. Perfectionists will often set extraordinarily high goals, standards, and expectations for themselves—and then when they fail to reach those goals or expectations, they experience major self-doubt and feel like they might actually be a total fraud.

Last week, one of the writers in my Notes to Novel course asked me, “How do I stay motivated when everything seems to get in the way of my writing?” And after talking for a few minutes, we realized that she had really unrealistic expectations that were essentially setting her up for failure. 

This writer worked a full-time job, had two kids under the age of ten, volunteered at the local church, and was caring for an elderly parent—all while trying to write a novel. Now, I’m not saying this writer couldn’t write a novel while juggling all of that, but her goal was to have a finished (and ready-to-query) draft in three months, which was unrealistic. 

So, every time she thought about writing, or whenever she sat down at her desk, she felt uninspired and like something must be wrong with her because she wasn’t feeling motivated to do the work. However, it was really her unrealistic expectations that were zapping her motivation. 

To write an average-length novel in three months means you’d have to write about 6,500 words per week. That’s a lot. And not to mention the fact that she wanted her draft to be ready-to-query… That means she would have needed to build in editing time, too, and possibly even some time to get some outside feedback. 

Her timeline just wasn’t realistic, no matter how you looked at it. So, who could blame her for feeling uninspired and unmotivated? I certainly couldn’t.

Now, if you can relate to this writer, I hope you know you’re not alone. I resonate with this type of imposter syndrome the most, and it’s something I have to work on actively every single day. If this is you, too, here’s your action step…

HOW TO COMBAT THIS: First, you need to accept that it’s literally impossible to be perfect all the time. There will always be something you “could have done better.” Second, focus on giving yourself grace and start celebrating the “small” wins that occur along the way. Oftentimes, you can be so focused on ONE big goal that you’re never satisfied (even if you’ve been doing some pretty awesome things along the way). 

Type #2: The Superhuman

Have you ever felt like if you pushed yourself a little more or worked a little harder than everyone else, maybe you could “measure up?” And then maybe, just maybe, you wouldn’t be exposed as a fraud? 

This type of “workaholism” can lead to serious burnout and mental fatigue. It takes the creativity and fun out of writing a novel, and it could even sabotage your personal relationships. It’s not healthy!

A writer I worked with this year had recently joined a critique group, and everyone else in the group (except her) had published at least one book. For some people, this kind of scenario would be inspiring—sometimes, it’s awesome being the least experienced one in the room. But for many writers, this can be a breeding ground for insecurities to fester. And that’s exactly what happened in this writer’s case.

Because her peers had already written and published books, they’d gone through the entire writing, editing, and publishing process already. They knew what certain terms meant, they had connections in the industry, and they didn’t feel as nervous or insecure about some of the things new writers stress over.

So, long story short, the writer I worked with told me that every time she went to her critique group meeting, she felt like she didn’t measure up. The other writers in the group could crank out a first draft in 3-6 months, but it was taking her that long to brainstorm and outline her novel. Instead of running her own race, she tried redesigning her schedule and getting up early and staying up late to write at the same pace as the other writers in her group and, no surprise, she burned herself out pretty quickly.

Now, if you can relate to this writer, you’re definitely not alone. But here’s your action step to start combatting this type of imposter syndrome…

HOW TO COMBAT THIS: First, stop comparing yourself to other writers. Yes, we’re all guilty of this from time to time, but when your sense of validation comes directly from how you think you measure up to others… You will never, ever feel “good enough.” Instead, you need to learn to be confident in your abilities and where you’re at right now. No one expects a newbie writer to have the same skill level as a seasoned pro, so let off the gas a little and let yourself grow without the insane (and unrealistic) pressure. 

Type #3: The Natural Genius 

These types of imposters set their internal bar ridiculously high, just like perfectionists. But they don’t just judge themselves based on their ridiculous expectations… They also judge themselves based on getting things right on the first try. So, if they can’t master something immediately, that’s when they start to feel like an imposter.

Can you relate to this one? I feel like this is another one many writers can relate to. So many of us start out expecting to produce a draft that matches the quality of the books we read, but this is so unrealistic!

The books we read are someone else’s finished products. They’ve gone through multiple rounds of editing, and they’ve had multiple sets of eyes looking over them to make sure they’re as cohesive and perfect as possible. It’s a totally unfair comparison, but we do it anyway.

A writer I worked with recently was so scared to move through her first draft without knowing everything about her fantasy world. She would show me pages from her favorite stories and say things like, “See this? How did this writer know to plant a clue about this thing that would matter later? I don’t even know how to think of this stuff!” 

And she would feel so bad about herself because, to her, it seemed like her writing would never compare. But again, she was comparing her draft in its early stages to someone else’s finished product. It was not a fair comparison. 

So, long story short, I was finally able to encourage this writer to just keep going—and to trust that she would figure out how to plant all the clues and foreshadow things once she got to the end of her draft. So, she did. She finished her draft and was so surprised at how much of a difference it made in her ability to go back through her messy draft and do all those things she saw in other books.

If you can relate to this writer, here’s your action step…

HOW TO COMBAT THIS: First, challenge yourself to try new things. One of the biggest faults of this type is being afraid to try new things out of fear of failure or getting it wrong. So, the best thing you can do to overcome it is to feel the fear but do it anyway. This is a mantra I have on a Sticky Note by my desk: Feel the fear and do it anyway. And if you try this, just know it’s not going to feel good or natural the first time or maybe even the first dozen times. That’s okay. But I do want you to stop playing small out of fear of striking out. You won’t hit any home runs if you don’t try, right?

Type #4: The Soloist

The soloist goes through the entire writing process alone. They believe that asking for help means they’re a fraud or a phony who has no clue what they’re doing. In other words, they are independent to a fault. These types of writers will refuse help or input from others (even when they need it) in fear of being thought of as incompetent. 

And, oh gosh, I relate to this one a little bit, too. It’s so hard to ask for help sometimes, right? I feel like writers have this extra hard, too because a) our stories are so personal that sometimes it’s not just about feeling incompetent—we also don’t want to feel judged, and b) writing is kind of a solo activity in general.

But it’s super, super hard to grow and to become a better writer in a silo. I know this for a fact because nearly every writer who comes to me for help has tried going at it alone—usually for years—and they’ve grown so frustrated and sad that they haven’t manifested their big, beautiful writing dream that they just need help. Asking for help ends up being less uncomfortable than going another year of not publishing their story.

But also, I’m a writer too. So I really know how this feels firsthand. But I also know how it feels to get feedback and to get help, and I’ll tell you that I’m never going to do it alone again. It’s just not worth the time and frustration when you could reach out for help, improve your skillset, and accomplish your goals.

So, if you can relate to this, here’s your action step…

HOW TO COMBAT THIS: First, try asking for help! You might need to give yourself a little pep talk at first (and that’s okay!), but just remember that there’s no shame in asking for help. You don’t know what you don’t know. And trust me, it’s better to ask for help than to just stumble along in the dark, trying to figure things out for yourself. Second, try reframing the way you think about writing. In my Notes to Novel course, I encourage my students to say they’re “discovering” their first draft, not writing it. The word “discovering” takes some of the pressure off the process. You can also remind yourself that, just like a toddler learning to walk, you’re learning to write a novel. You would never reprimand a child for messing up or not doing things perfectly, so why shouldn’t you receive the same grace while learning to do something new?

Type #5: The Expert

If you like learning more than you like doing, then you’re probably the expert. This type usually measures their competence based on “how much” they know. And typically, they put off starting ANYTHING until they “know all there is to know,” out of fear of being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable.

This type is a little similar to the soloist and the natural genius, but instead of feeling like you’re not a “real” writer unless you can do it on your own (soloist) or like you have to get everything “right” on your first try (natural genius), the expert likes to collect information as a kind of armor against failure. 

These writers think that if they just read another craft book, or sign up for another training, or rewrite their opening chapter for the billionth time, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll have all the knowledge needed to write a perfect novel. 

Last year, I worked with a writer who wanted a manuscript evaluation of their story because he felt like something wasn’t working, but he didn’t know what. When he sent me all of his materials, he sent his draft along with this giant spreadsheet that had tables of all the different plotting methods on it—so, the Hero’s Journey, the Save the Cat! beat sheet, the Snowflake Method, the key scenes and conventions of his genre—I mean, you name it, and he probably had it on his spreadsheet.

So, part of his question for me was, “My story doesn’t match all of these different plotting templates, so should I just give up? Does this mean it’s fundamentally broken?”

And my answer was no, of course not! His story was actually fine. It was a very normal first draft that needed some things removed and others clarified. His story was actually quite engaging, but he couldn’t see the forest for the trees. 

He spent so long “collecting” all the information about all the different methods that it was almost his downfall. He almost gave up on his story because of it. 

So, long story short, we do a lot of things to convince ourselves that our self-doubt has merit. And in this writer’s case, he used all the different plotting methods as a way to “prove” that he wasn’t good enough or smart enough to figure things out. And thank goodness he asked for help and for a second opinion because, like I said, his story was actually really enjoyable. It just needed a little more work (as most first drafts do).

So, if you can relate to this writer, here’s your action step…

HOW TO COMBAT THIS: First, I want you to stop trying to learn all the things simply for the sake of “hoarding” knowledge for comfort. Try learning new skills and then putting what you learn into practice! Because at the end of the day, you can only really learn through doing, anyway! Second, try narrowing down who you learn from down to one or two trusted mentors and/or pick one or two writing methods that really resonate with you. You’ll make much more progress (and gain a much better understanding of the craft) by going deeper into a few methods or models than trying to learn all of them.

Final Thoughts

If I could summarize one main takeaway from the advice in this post, it would be this: WRITE ANYWAY. Feel the imposter syndrome (however it shows up for you, based on your “type”) and write anyway. 

Because Imposter Syndrome will never go away completely. It may decrease as your confidence and skills grow, but then you try something different or do something new, and BAM! Imposter Syndrome is back at a whole new level.

The very best thing you can do is start recognizing Imposter Syndrome for what it is. That way, when it shows up, you can greet it and say, “Hey, Imposter Syndrome! I see you there!” and then just keep doing your thing. 

Because I really believe that if you fail to recognize it, you might fall victim to the doubt and fear that will inevitably come up, and you may even quit writing a novel altogether. Or worse, you might not even try it at all. 

Which type of Imposter Syndrome personality do you identify with? Let me know in the comments below!

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 →