Stranger in a Strange Head: Imposter Syndrome

Welcome to Part 5 of my WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write ups.

The panelists for the titular panel were: Cassie Hart as moderator, Curtis Chen, Ash Charlton, Margot Atwell, and Grant Stone.

I know, I know, I’ve dealt with impostor syndrome before, I’ve even hit panels on imposter syndrome before, but every con I go to is full of amateurs and professionals suffering. (Google just reassured me that I can end imposter with an -er or an -or and be correct. But never -ure.)

This panel didn’t have a description, but the title pretty much says it all.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Before we get started, we should make sure we’re all working off the same definition.

Impostor syndrome, according to wikipedia, (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

I.E. Me. Right now.

In other words? The feeling that people think you’re better than you know you are. That you don’t deserve to be where you are.

In the writing world, no matter which path you take, you can always feel not-good-enough.

For the writer-wanna-be, just finishing your first manuscript can seem like that step that will make you feel like a ‘real writer’. For the querying writer, getting that agent. For the writer out on submission, getting that publisher to sign. For the writer publishing either way (traditional or indie), holding that first copy where the book is real. Then getting that first sale, then getting the next sale, then earning those big bucks. Then winning that award!

There’s always something bigger to strive for, before you feel you can call yourself a ‘real’ writer, or a successful author.

Things That Can Trigger Imposter Syndrome

Confession, the start of this panel was kinda… hilarious. When you attend a panel, the first thing the panelists do is introduce themselves and discuss their credentials to be on the panel.

How does one list one’s accomplishments to prove they do belong there, without disproving their own imposter status? It proved for many of them a rather strong cognitive dissonance – holding two opposing beliefs in your head is hard.

  1. Proving you belong on an impostor syndrome panel (am I an imposter at being an imposter)
  2. Sharing your work with others. (they could judge it)
  3. External validation from people you know. (they’re just being kind)
  4. One panelist used to feel like an imposter because he is gay, now he feels like an imposter because he’s a cis, white, man
  5. Starting to write a new book (what if last time was a fluke? What if you’ve lost the touch.)
  6. Comparing oneself to others in the room

That last one can be the most insidious, especially in this day-and-age of social media. One of the things it is best to remember is that most people share their wins, their successes, and even their struggles are sanitized or framed in a “look-what-I-overcame” sort of way.

You’re comparing your real life, your real self, with alls it’s ups and downs and playing phone games ’til 5 in the morning, comparing that you, to others on their best day — when they’re all ready for it, with their best dress on, and face all made up.

So many of those ‘overnight successes’ have been working hard, hustling, and practicing their craft for a decade or more.

Ways To Mitigate Imposter Syndrome

When applying for jobs, studies have found that men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the listed skills, women when they meet 100%. The best way to reach the moon is to shoot for the stars and miss.

This list is long, so hopefully something in here will resonate for you.

  1. Meeting and interacting with the people you’re comparing yourself to
    • You find out they’re real people, with their own foils and foibles
  2. Remind yourself why you’re in their company and what your qualifications are
  3. Ask yourself, who taught you that you weren’t as good as the others? Are they someone whose judgement you trust?
  4. As an author, 95% of the authors around you are there, or have been there, and are sweet and friendly and helpful and welcoming.
  5. While we all think we’re nobody next to somebody, we’re all somebody to someone.
  6. Remember: the way you see yourself is not how people see you, (and in this day and age, remember that text communication isn’t the same as video, isn’t the same as in person. Someone who seems terse and judgey just might stink at texting, or have bad bandwidth, or screaming neighbors…)
  7. There’s always someone ahead of you… but there’s always someone behind you. You need to consider which axis you’re judging and remember that your path to success isn’t necessarily linear. A writer-career bingo is better than a line, because no two paths are the same.
  8. Play to your own strengths, don’t chase someone else’s success.
  9. While external validation can help… it’s very unhealthy and co-dependent. Finding joy in your work helps. What lights you up and makes you want to do it?
  10. When all else fails? Power poses! Literally. They can stimulate your brain in helpful ways.
  11. Try finding a song that resets or recenters your brain, not necessarily ones that peps you up.
  12. Dress in a way that makes you look confident: snazzy bow ties, bright hair, business geek.
  13. If you use a pen name, channel that alter ego and make it all the best parts of yourself — still you, but just the aspects that you want the world to see.
  14. Remember to separate who you are from what you do. Just being you makes you worthwhile… without accolades.
  15. Think about the expectations and next steps or goals, and see if they’re actually things you want — or just what seemed like the next step. If you want them? If you want something else entirely? Figure out the steps to get you there and take them.
  16. When you step out of your comfort zone, acknowledge it and give yourself credit for trying.
  17. Have friends and family who encourage and support you, and push you to grow. If you don’t have anyone that supportive, find better friends!
  18. You can opt to the pressure to make your hobby a hustle! Write for yourself and enjoy the hobby. Share it as you like.
  19. In the day-job world, there’s a spot, usually about 3-months into a job, where many people know exactly how much they don’t know and they’re struggling. Pushing past it, you often find that you’re good at the job. With writing, you keep promoting yourself and you’re going to struggle every time you advance. Be patient and work through it.
  20. Be your own friend. (This one gets a little recursive) Tons of people are far more empathetic with others than they are with themselves. And be empathetic with yourself if you’re not good at this at first. It takes practice, and you wouldn’t write off a friend for being bad at this…
  21. Set your goals as things you can control, not things reliant on someone else: how much you work rather than whether or not you get rejections.
  22. If all else fails? Own it! Pretend to be the person they think you are, or fake it ’til you make it!

Supportive Quotes/Mantras

  1. “I am worthy. I am worthy. I am worthy.”
  2. “Ground yourself in things that fill you up.”
  3. “You have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” (Hamilton)
  4. “F*ck you honey, you’re lucky to have me here.”

If you’re going to put yourself out there, you have to be ready for feedback — and rejection is a form of feedback… but it’s also a form of progress.

You’ve had the idea and you’ve put it on paper.

Maybe you’ve finished the piece and sent it out? When you get that rejection, you can be ready to send it again, (to someone else). They’re not always saying ‘no’. Often, they’re saying ‘not right, now. But keep going.”

Don’t self reject. If you work hard and keep at it, you’re going to keep getting better, and keep getting closer to that next stage in your career, however you define it.


If you’ve fought with impostor syndrome, share how you’ve overcome it. Or at least fought it back.

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