5 Ways to Overcome Impostor Syndrome

At WorldCon 2015, I was talking to a young aspiring author when I realized she wanted advice from me, because as she said, “You’re a real author.”

Crap. Other people at WorldCon who were real authors. Not me.


When Imposter Syndrome strikes, i just want to hide my face like Rosie.

Now just so folks understand on that day: I had two novels published by 48Fourteen, I had sold a short story, and had self published 4 graphic novels, and a comic book series—but I didn’t consider myself a “real” author.  I was selling books that I wrote at my dealer’s room table—but I didn’t consider myself a “real” author. I was an imposter and I knew if other people discovered this, I would be a laughing stock.

IMG_0684.jpgSo here are the five ways, I deal with it:

I stopped comparing myself to other people.  If I compare myself to Stephen King, Tanya Huff, or David Brin or [Insert your favorite author’s name here] it’s easy to fall into the trap of “my work sucks compared to their work.” Or more insidiously, “I can’t write dialogue like….”

If I compare myself to their sales, I could really feel bad. So I don’t. Worse, it’s not only big name authors. Sometimes I find myself feeling bitter against early career authors like me. “How did they get so many Facebook Followers,” I’ll ask.

The only person I am up against is ME. I want each book to be better. In other words, I am not here to live the life of another person, I only can be the best me.

So if you find yourself comparing yourself to outers, turn off Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Do not read biographies of successful authors if they drive you crazy.

1b) I don’t let anyone else compare me to others either. When family and friends have advised me by pointing out another author’s work or sales, I have learned to say, “I am working on being my bestself, not a second class [Insert name here].”

2) I had to get over “I must be perfect” thinking.

Vernor Vinge described this well in The Children of the Sky: “Sometimes, sitting here in the dark, slowly slowly creating strategy, she wondered if she was only fooling herself to think her plans were clever.”

I was shocked to learn that as soon as I published Faminelands: The Carp’s Eye, people considered me “an expert.” I learned how to write and publish comics by doing Faminelands.

When I feel I must be perfect, I remind myself the best football teams (Go Seahawks!) inevitably lose the Superbowl. CEOs sometimes make the wrong call for their companies. And. I will make mistakes. If you are doing it, you are the expert, just like me.

So let go of your ideas of perfection.

3) I had to accept that I had some role in my successes and failures. It sounds strange, but its easy to forget that I worked to get where I am. Yes, I had support of my loving family. Yes, I am white, generally healthy, heterosexual, and middle class so I have some privileges that not everyone has. I admit that. However, I also jumped on opportunities when they came my way. I wrote my damn books. I called bookstores, I went to conventions, and worked on my shyness. I never gave up, even when I was knocked down.


Heres’s my books at Barnes&Noble, but sometimes I doubt I’m a real author.

4) I work it out. Literally. I refuse to let Imposter Syndrome stop me from working, because of this, Impostor Syndrome cannot damage me. Because I consistently take action, I have nine years of empirical evidence that with each book, I learn something new. 

5) Learn to say, “Shut up, Brain, it’s just Impostor Syndrome again.” Trust me, naming feelings actually settles the feelings of insecurity.

So that’s my advice. Please share your stories and other advice in the comments!

3 responses to this post.

  1. One of my biggest problems is getting over the drive to say something clever. When signing books or talking, I agonize over finding something awesome to say. I need to train myself to relax and ignore that urge, cuz it’s just awkward. If I could spit out clever words on the fly I’d be a rapper, not a prose writer.


  2. Great post Elizabeth. Bottom line for us as authors is persistence, both in belief and hard work. I used to be shy about saying I was a writer for the same reasons you mentioned, but with four novels published now and loads of short stories I know who I am. I am a writer and I tell people that. I may not be well known yet but I believe in my work. I am good writer and I will never stop trying to reach as many as people as possible, nor will I stop writing. Your advice is solid. Don’t compare to others. Keep on improving and learning. Good stuff. More power to you.


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