It’s not always easy to judge success as a writer. Sure, if your name pops up on the best sellers list or if you get a major motion picture deal or six-figure check, that’s definitely going to count as success.
But what about the freelance writer with a string of great clients or the potential contact waiting for the novelist in the wing or the journalist who just pulled out a really fantastic article? Success is subjective for any artist, and with the massive size of the commercial writing industry, that’s doubly true.
Which means we often spend our time looking over at our writer and journalist friends and measuring by their standard, and that’s never a good idea. Because when you measure your type of writing against someone else’s and it doesn’t add up, well, you’re bound to feel inferior, and that inferiority manifests in the favorite of all phenomena, Imposter Syndrome.
Find me someone in any industry who hasn’t felt like they’re faking it, and I’ll eat my keyboard. As humans, we are routinely asked to dive in with both feet and figure out how things work when we’re already too deep in to get out.
We figure out how to Adult by messing up doctors appointments and buying all ice cream and no laundry detergent until we learn how to grocery shop and make our calls the right way. We figure out how to do our careers, whatever they are, by jumping into them. We figure out how to raise families by bringing babies home from the hospital or adoption center and figuring it out. Much of being human is just finding a way to make things work and hoping no one knows just how little you do.
And oh, yeah, the writer does not know what she’s doing.
In some careers, the path is a little more obvious. That’s not to say easier. Someone on their journey to becoming a doctor faces a different set of challenges and obstacles than an aspiring novelist. (And the fact that I just used the word aspiring is proof enough that imposter syndrome is real….) The difference is, there’s a pretty basic schedule and order to becoming a doctor. The schooling is organized and structured and if you follow the rules, you’ll get to the finish line just as you expected.
With writing, there aren’t any rules. I don’t have a writing degree. I have a journalism degree and frankly, I do a lot more creative writing than journalism in my day to day. That’s just how things worked out for me. Every single day, I’m figuring out a new resource that works, a new marketing tool or a different publisher that I want to work with. The industry is in constant flux—it has been since the dawn of the printing press and that means nothing about the way one writer does something will necessarily work for another one.
And that leads to a hell of a lot of head turning and wondering am I doing this right? Do I belong here? Everyone is so much more successful than me.
Chances are, they’re not. They’re just good at hiding their own insecurities and questions.
You don’t ever really grow out of Imposter Syndrome, this sense of faking it, of doing it wrong, doing it differently from everyone around you. Internationally-recognized and acclaimed authors still talk about their fears that one day someone will realize the world has made a horrible mistake.
When your writing—this creative expression you’ve put your heart and soul into—is on the line, it’s easy to be overly critical and questioning of tour own successes and progress in a way you would never be for anyone else’s.
But we have to find a way to work around it. Because the great thing about not having a path, about not have an order of operations, about following our own journey, is that the right way is the way we’re doing it right at that moment. Sure, we might make mistakes, and things are bound to change and evolve. But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. That’s just a part of the process.
So when you hear that little voice in the back of your head wondering why it seems like everyone is so much more successful than you, better articles, better contracts, better sales, push it down. Because wherever you are, and wherever you want to be in your career, you’re in the right place for who and what you are right now. The rest will come, but only if you believe it. ♦