Managing Imposter Syndrome, Part 1: Decoding the Fear of Being a Fraud

It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-time author or have written a series of bestselling books—everyone has a fear of being “found out.” Even Pulitzer Prize-winning memoirist and poet Maya Angelou.

“I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”

— Maya Angelou

Imposter syndrome digs its claws into your confidence and shapeshifts your perspective so that all you can see are your inadequacies. Every past achievement was a fluke. Every bit of praise was undue. And every new opportunity will surely expose you for the fraud that you are.

Sound familiar?

Despite how isolating it feels, imposter syndrome is a collective experience. According to Forbes, roughly 70% of people go through it at some point in their lifetime. I’d argue that writers face it more often than most, which is why I’ve created a three-part series on how to manage it.

The essence of writing is vulnerability. Your words are an extension of yourself that you willingly put into the line of fire. If (and when) those words are met with criticism, it can feel like your very identity is under attack. Questioning your abilities is a natural response—but it shouldn’t stop you from writing.

Imposter syndrome isn’t something you can overcome or cure. You have to learn to write alongside that snide little voice that’s constantly trying to tear you down. It’s the silent battle every author must fight to get their stories out of their heads and into the world. 

But you can’t begin taming the beast of self-doubt if you don’t know what fuels it. Part one of this series will delve into the roots of imposter syndrome and how it affects your mindset as a writer. We’ll also discuss common triggers and warning signs so you can identify when those claws start to grip too tightly.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Psychology Today defines imposter syndrome as believing you’re underserving of your achievements and that you’re not as competent or intelligent as people might think. While not an official diagnosis, it’s basically a catch-all term for overwhelming self-doubt that even a mountain of contrary evidence can’t debunk.

Imposter syndrome isn’t just one singular feeling, but a blend of emotions and beliefs that manifest in different ways. Here are a few common forms it can take:

  • Procrastinating starting a new project because you’re certain it will be a failure
  • Dismissing compliments and praise and being quick to point out flaws in your work
  • Constantly comparing yourself to others 
  • Downplaying or dismissing successes as luck or coincidence
  • Spending months (or even years) meticulously tweaking your manuscript until it’s “good enough”
  • Feeling like you have no right to be doing what you’re doing

At the root of all imposter syndrome is a fear of success. Even if you’ve always dreamed of seeing your name on the New York Times Best Seller list, deep down, you may be terrified of that level of recognition. Because success is still change—and change is scary.

What Triggers Imposter Syndrome for Writers?

Whether it’s a slow burn of self-doubt or a surprise tidal wave of inadequacy, imposter syndrome thrives on specific triggers. Spotting them before they wreak havoc on your confidence can help you stop the impending self-doubt spiral in its tracks.

Here are the most common culprits of imposter syndrome in the writing world.

Someone Else’s Success

Do you feel a pang of envy every time you see a fellow writer’s announcement of signing with an agent or winning an award? While it’s normal to feel a little jealous—especially when you’re struggling to get your own words on the page—constantly comparing yourself to other authors is a near-perfect recipe for imposter syndrome.

High Stakes Projects

When you’re working on something that could potentially make or break your career, it’s easy to get lost in the weight of it all. You may start questioning whether you have what it takes to handle such a big project and fear that if you fail, everyone will know you were never cut out for this in the first place.

Starting Something New

Starting a new creative project is both exhilarating and daunting—especially if you’re a first-time writer. When the excitement of a new idea wears off, the reality of actually bringing it to life can be overwhelming. A crisis of confidence ensues, and before you know it, that project is pushed aside in favor of something “easier.”

Receiving Praise 

A negative review can send any writer into a tailspin of self-doubt. But what about when someone says your work is good? Oddly enough, that’s equally unsettling. No matter how much you long for validation, receiving it can be just as unnerving as criticism when you believe you’re not worth the praise.

Achieving New Milestones

Landing an agent, securing a publishing deal, gaining award recognition, or hitting a best-seller list can all be thrilling accomplishments. But with each new level of success comes the fear that you may not live up to it. The higher you climb, the farther you have to fall—and imposter syndrome will try its hardest to knock you off that pedestal.

Working With Editors

Constructive feedback is necessary for story development. But there’s no denying how vulnerable it is to let another human set eyes on your precious first draft. Even when you know an editor’s insights and tweaks are meant to improve your work, it’s hard not to feel like every red mark on your manuscript is a personal failure.

Learning how to emotionally detach from your writing is essential (and something we’ll touch on later in this series). But working with an editor you trust and who respects your creative vision can make all the difference in keeping imposter syndrome at bay. If you’re looking for a gentle (yet honest) hand to guide your manuscript to its peak potential, check out my editing and book coaching services.

One of the limiting beliefs that imposter syndrome loves to feed is that you should be farther along than you are. If you find yourself stuck in a nasty cycle of comparison, check out part two of my Managing Imposter Syndrome series—which teaches you how to embrace being a beginner. 


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Story Coach, Story Development

I’m Pam, Your Story Coach

I help busy professionals write and polish the book of their dreams. Let’s bring authenticity to your speculations, flow to your structure, and heart to your words.

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