Why You Can’t Possibly Be An Imposter

Jan 17, 2018

I taught a class at Creative Live* on Monday on Getting your Writing Done and one segment is called Why you Can’t Possibly be an Imposter.

While the following thoughts are specific to writers, perhaps they can be applied to other creative pursuits… and maybe being human itself.

When I asked on Facebook if anyone had feared being a writing imposter and what those fears sounded like, people said:

  • “Wow, do I love bookstores. And there are so many books in them! How could I possibly write something that would stand out?”
  • “I can never write as well as Anne Lamott, Tiny Fey, Lisa Jones…”
  • “Everything I might write about someone else has already said, and said far better than I could.”
  • “This is so hard, if I was a real writer, it would be easy.”
  • “I’ve never had any formal training or taken any writing courses.”
  • “I’m not smart enough, I didn’t go to the right college, I’m not sure I have anything to say.”

Here is my response:

YOU CAN ONLY BE AN IMPOSTER BY IGNORING YOURSELF.

Feeling or acting like an imposter as a writer is a result of dismissing what you care about. Ignoring what you find interesting. Disregarding what enrages you, what problem you want to help solve, what you are curious about.

When you turn away from what interests you, from your experiences, your stories, your curiosities, when you look around for what you should write about according to someone else, that’s when the imposter hooey takes over your creative brain.

Case in point:

When the title for my first book The Woman’s Comfort Book came to me in a time of terrible creative stuckness, I knew it was a good idea but that was all I knew.

How could I know anything else? An idea comes floating by or an image or a character says something and then we must pay attention. Explore it. And as we do so, we change. We become the person who can write what we want to write by paying attention to what interests us!

Of course, I didn’t know that at 26.

I had tasted a fair amount of frustration and failure as a screenwriter and I doubted myself. A story took root that sounded something like “Who am I to write a book?”

And yet… the title beckoned as did my giant desire to be a writer.

Little by little, over a few years, without knowing what I was doing, I followed that title. I had experiences, I did research, I lived into it.

Finally I sat down to write a book proposal and here came the story “Who am I to write this?” I wrote the proposal the way I thought I shouldwhich was to imitate a psychology Ph.D. voice.

It was god awful boring. Eight editors turned it down.

But two of those editors gave me notes because they liked the title. Their notes sent me back to my original scribbled thoughts on a wrinkled piece of notebook paper.

I stared at it.

I remembered what I felt when that title first came to me,

I remembered what I discovered and experienced in the last years.

I remembered my desire to help women flourish.

I rewrote the proposal. I stayed in touch with what I wanted to say, what I did know, what was true and rich from my point of view.

Both editors wanted to buy the book and it went on to help hundreds of thousands of women around the world.

***

The next time you ask yourself who are you to write _______, or nobody will care, or you haven’t gone to the right school, etc. do this instead:

Make a list.

Of everything you find interesting and want to learn more about….

Or of 10 experiences you’ve had and what they taught you…

Or of 5 things you most want to change in the world and one thing you know about making that change from your experience.

Or a list of what you disagree with in a popular article or book.

Then write a fast and dirty first draft without stopping to look anything up. Write the way you speak. Write it as an email to a friend explaining, teaching, imploring. Forget about transitions. Put ?? when you don’t know a word.

Keep asking yourself, “What do I know about this? What do I think? What do I believe?”

Writers choose.

Writers take a stand no matter their genre.

Writers pay exquisite attention to what captures their attention.

And as you do, the story of “But who I am” dwindles into nothing in the rear view mirror.

Now off you go.

Love,

Jen

P.S. My Creative Live class is on sale all week at super saver rate.*

*Indicates an affiliate link which means I will earn a small affiliate commission for any purchases you make.

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