Dealing with Impostor Syndrome as a Writer

Last Updated on December 4, 2018 by Michael Brockbank

Do you have a hard time accepting compliments even if they’re warranted? Do you lack the belief of having any skill even if experience and knowledge say otherwise? Then you might be suffering from “impostor syndrome.” And you’re not alone.

In reality, impostor syndrome affects millions of people with varying degrees. While most are simply affected by minor insecurities, a large number have more debilitating mental issues.

In fact, I am one such person who suffers from an acute form of impostor syndrome.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is a mental disorder that essentially centers around one’s self-confidence and esteem. It’s the belief that you’re never going to be good enough or that you’ll be labeled a fraud by peers.

It all boils down to losing belief in your abilities and skill to the point of actual failure.

What makes this more difficult to manage in today’s society is the fact that so many people jump on the “expert victim” bandwagon. So many people are willing to give opinions even if those opinions are not based in fact.

For instance, something as small as a comment on a blog with an opposing viewpoint could trigger impostor syndrome, even if the comment is completely false.

For a professional writer, this could be especially harmful to a career.

How Impostor Syndrome is Debilitating for a Writer

It takes more than good grammar and spelling to be a successful writer. Whether you’re putting together a novel or freelance as a professional blogger, it’s all about connecting with an audience.

But what happens when you lack faith that you can accomplish this? There’s a good chance that you’ll start wallowing in not being good enough or asking yourself, “who am I to write this piece?”

When you start focusing on the negative and lack self-confidence in any given task, you’re more likely to make mistakes. Many of us will inadvertently sabotage careers under the guise of not feeling we’re good enough.

Take myself, for example. I have a hard time finishing novels I start. At first, I thought perhaps I was afraid of success. But now I feel that I lack the confidence to finish writing my own projects.

I have no problem working for other clients. My current retainer praises my words as gold for her company. But I just don’t see how I am as good as she claims. And that’s one of the signs of impostor syndrome.

My Own Experience with Impostor Syndrome

I cannot count the number of times I have erased or otherwise destroyed stories and novels simply because I didn’t think they made the cut. Even the ones that people loved wound up in the trash.

When someone compliments my work, I brush it aside by thinking they’re only saying they like it to avoid hurting my feelings.

The reality is that not everyone is that empathetic towards others. It’s kind of a cynical view to have, but I found that it’s often more true than not.

My current retaining client believes that I am the end-all, be-all when it comes to blogging for her company. She’s constantly telling me she needs to find another author with my skill. But in my mind, I don’t see why she thinks so highly of me.

My biggest issues center around self-confidence and esteem. Sure, I have a lot of clients who have given me a great deal of money over the years. But I still can’t get over the idea that I am as good as they say.

And this mindset impacts the YouTube channel as well. Who am I to give advice for being a freelance writer? This mentality is then fueled by the fact that I have five subscribers and very few views.

But what makes me an expert in the field is the fact that I’ve completed nearly 7,000 pieces for clients since January of 2012. And I still often feel I am not good enough.

5 Types of “Impostors”

Those who feel “impostor” feelings do so in a variety of ways. Not everyone experiences this problem on the same level with the same attitude. In fact, there are several distinct differences among those who feel they aren’t worthy of success.

Valerie Young, expert of impostor syndrome, has broken down the five types of people who experience impostor syndrome. 1


A perfectionist will push themselves with ultra-high goals expecting precise results. If there is any deviation, the person will feel like a failure.

For instance, a perfectionist will want 1000 content mill articles completed without a single revision request. If an editor needs a comma in one of those thousand articles, the writer would feel as though he or she failed.

It may sound extreme, but it does happen. For me, it was having a rejection on my record. After nearly 6,000 articles sold to clients on Textbroker, I’ve had three rejections – two of which were not my fault. For a while, I felt like I was a failure.

Expert in the Field

Experts feel they have to know a topic inside and out before working on a project. Many of them won’t even apply for specific jobs if they don’t meet the exact requirements.

Let’s say a writer meets every requirement of a job posting except one. Instead of writing 60 words per minute, he or she can only do 55. Although the company may hire the writer anyway, he or she will still not apply.

Another problem “experts” face is the lack of asking questions. In his or her mind, the writer should already know the answer…and asking would only show incompetence.

Being a Natural Genius

Some people have an incredible ability to learn quickly with skills seemingly come naturally. If those people struggle with a new task, they might feel they’re not good enough.

Then the brain kicks in and begins to fill the person’s head with doubt. The end result is a negative mindset and higher levels of stress.

It’s when these people struggle the most is when mistakes become common. Some may even rage-quit a job because they are ashamed of themselves for not being able to grasp the task sooner.

Working as a Soloist

The soloist aspect of impostor syndrome are those people who must work alone. They feel that if they have to ask for help, then they’re either failing or coming off as fraudulent.

For freelance writers such as myself, this isn’t too bad of a problem. Most of us work by ourselves anyway. But what makes this problematic is the feeling of being a fraud if you have to ask the client several questions about the job.

Personally, I’ve always been one to ask questions. Even as an employer, I’d rather staff ask questions and do the job right than have to go back and fix a mistake.

A Superhero Mentality

Superhero people push above and beyond the call of duty and often work harder than those around them. This isn’t because the superhero wants to set an example for everyone else. It’s because the person needs to prove they belong.

It’s all about proving skill and efficiency to peers to the point where they don’t feel like anyone could call them an impostor.

Usually, the superhero will feel incredibly stressed when he or she is unable to meet a goal or accomplish a task.[template id=”2087″]

Testing Yourself for Impostor Syndrome

If you’re unsure about whether you suffer from impostor syndrome, you can always take a psyche test. Even though you’d want to do this with a qualified psychologist, these tests can give you the basics of what you might face.

Personally, I scored relatively high at the website…which prove what I already knew about myself. In fact according to the numbers, I have frequent bouts of feeling like an impostor. And I can say that it’s fairly accurate. 2

Another test I found online is a PDF file. However, it’s pretty easy to take and is very similar to the one I just mentioned. It was developed by Pauline Rose Clance, a psychologist who first identified impostor syndrome. 3

6 Ways to Deal with Impostor Syndrome as a Freelancer

So, what can you do when you don’t feel like you belong or are incapable of accepting praise from clients? If it goes unchecked, it could affect how you work and reduce your chances of finding more lucrative opportunities.

Some of these methods are easier said than done, especially if you lack as much self-confidence as myself. However, they may be helpful for restructuring your mentality to succeed.

1. Accept Compliments

One of the biggest things I need to work on is accepting compliments without my default response of, “I try.” Just say, “Thank you” and realize the person is giving the compliment because they like what he or she read.

Give others the benefit of a doubt that they will tell you whether they like the content or not.

This is one of the reasons why I started publishing on Wattpad. It gives me a chance to receive constructive criticism or praise from complete strangers based solely on how and what I write.

2. Write a List of Accomplishments and Abilities

On a piece of paper, write down all of your accomplishments and abilities. This includes praises from others. It’s kind of like a visual exercise as you see exactly why you’re a professional. The trick, though, is to be perfectly honest with yourself.

And this is often a problem for someone who suffers from impostor syndrome. We really don’t see a lot of the good traits others see in ourselves.

If you need help, ask someone you know to get the ball rolling for identifying positive professional attributes.

3. Stop Trying to Impress Everyone

Like I tell my clients, children and others I try to help become freelancers, “You can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time.” Don’t try to impress everyone. Simply focus on your target market or client.

It’s these people who will help propel your success. Not some self-indulgent, entitled millennial making comments on your blog.

Trolls will be trolls regardless if you’re good or not.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Wrong

No one knows everything about every topic. And although I do know an incredible amount of information, I’m not afraid of saying, “I’m wrong.”

Just because you didn’t know something, it doesn’t mean you’re a fake or failure. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It just means you need to brush up on what you do know so that you can better serve clients in the future.

5. Realize Why You Got the Job

If you’re writing for a client, there’s a reason. Apparently, he or she saw something inside you that is worth the price. And it’s not because they feel pity.

No one is going to pay you more than a hundred dollars a day because they feel sorry for you.

If you’re working content mills and keep getting direct orders from specific clients, it’s because they want more of what you provide. It’s that simple.

You deserve to be “here.”

6. Don’t Deny Others

Keep in mind that you’re not the only one affected by impostor syndrome. When you don’t give your all or throw away a novel because it doesn’t meet your standards, you’re also denying others from experiencing what you have to offer.

Instead of you being the critic, be the author.

Let everyone else judge for themselves whether they’ll like a piece of content or not. In fact, it’s arrogant to think you know what’s better for someone you’ve never met.

It’s a Long Journey

Don’t expect to kick impostor syndrome overnight. For many of us, it’s a long and arduous process to see value in ourselves. But the sooner you start, the more successful you’ll be in the long run.

I’m much better today than I was a year ago. I still have a great deal of self-doubt to work through, but it’s getting there. However, I can definitely say things have become much better throughout this process.

Now I just need to kick the laziness in the ass and finish my novel.[template id=”2089″]

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Michael Brockbank

Michael has been a freelance writer since January of 2012. He has completed more than 8,000 jobs for a variety of clients ranging from animals to travel. Currently, he is the Content Marketing Team Lead of GreenGeeks Web Hosting.

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