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How to Defeat Impostor Syndrome

HfHWarning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

I’ve got some bad news: It’s only a matter of time before everybody finds out you’re a fraud. Those publications of yours? A fluke. Your story that got a good review? The reviewer was drunk. That time your crush blew you a kiss? Totally meant for the person standing behind you.

And the good news? I never promised good news. Have fun circling the drain!

Impostor Bears [1]
photo by Petteri Sulonen

Ha ha! Just kidding! That was all a delightful jape! You’re not a phony, you’ve got a raging case of impostor syndrome [2]. Impostor syndrome is the sense of dread you feel that all of your success, achievements, and accomplishments were acquired through luck, nepotism, and pity. It has hamstrung the careers of many writers whose names I’m too lazy to look up. But it doesn’t have to ruin yours. There are many ways to beat impostor syndrome. Some folks will tell you impostor syndrome is merely the result of leveling up [3], or will reassure you that you really have earned all those accolades [4]. That’s easy for a bunch of famous, successful authors to say from atop their ivory towers. Well, Famous Author Bill Ferris is offering you some different strategies from atop his throne of skulls:

  1. False positive. Many folks who say they’re afflicted with impostor syndrome don’t have it, because they have not accomplished anything worth faking. You can’t call yourself a criminal mastermind for stealing packs of gum, and you can’t call yourself an impostor because of your “success” at earning $10 plus contributor’s copies in that literary journal. You’re not a fraud, you’re just mediocre. What a relief!
  2. Re-gift it. Impostor syndrome is like an earworm; it gets stuck in your head till it drives you crazy, and the easiest way to get rid of it is to give it to somebody else. Mention to a friend how similar their novel is to one of your favorites, the one that everybody has read and is now sick of. Point out how the magazine that published their latest short story is going under because their terrible stories made their subscribers set themselves on fire.

  1. It’s impostors all the way down. I’m gonna let you in on The Big, Dirty Secret of Adulthood. The thing is, we’re ALL frauds. EVERYBODY makes it up as they go along and hopes nobody notices. Every one of your favorite authors felt like they were phonies just like you. Your creative writing teacher who inspired you to be an author is wracked with guilt over encouraging impressionable youngsters into a dead-end career. Your parents were once screw-ups just like you who had no business raising another human being. This is bigger than your measly writing career. The whole of human history is basically Wile E. Coyote stepping off a cliff — everything will be just fine as long as nobody looks down. What I’m saying is that impostor syndrome is your desire to look down, and that you indulging your self-doubt could literally trigger the end of civilization.

Those will all do the trick. But I’d now like to recommend my favorite way to tackle impostor syndrome:

  1. Embrace it. Forget about curing your condition. If you feel like a fraud, I say lean into it. Relish your role as a charlatan! Pretend you’re a charming rogue, like Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can. Don’t live in fear that they’re going to find you out. Instead, sip your brandy and puff on your imitation-Cuban cigar, cackling that you’ve flim-flammed the rubes yet another day. By the time they uncover your literary long con, you’ll be across state lines and out of their jurisdiction, your suitcase bulging with your ill-gotten Pulitzers and Pushcarts. You’ll want them to discover your ruse just so you can see the look on their faces when they realize how thoroughly you’ve bamboozled them. And while they’re gnashing their teeth and cursing your name, that’s when you’ll switch genres, take a nom de plume [5], and start the grift again from the beginning.

Have you beaten impostor syndrome? Share your home remedies in the comments section!

About Bill Ferris [6]

After college, Bill Ferris [7] left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.