On Imposter Syndrome, Self-Doubt, and Encouragement: My Writing Journey.
Welcome to Issue 2 of Pulling the Thread! It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been a month since I published the first issue. And that I have written and published five issues of Subtext. Makes it feel more real. Like I’m doing it. Which ties in beautifully to what I’m going to be talking about in this issue of Pulling the Thread: imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is something that everyone is familiar with, whether you have personally experienced it or not. At the very least, you know about it and what it is. If not, well, it’s pretty simple really. Imposter syndrome boils down to this:
You feel like an imposter at what you are doing. That you are a fraud and any success you may have is a fluke and is in no way caused by your skill, talent, or determination. It’s creating a poem, story, book, or a painting, and then thinking you can’t capture that magic again. It was one and done because you clearly don’t know what you’re doing. It’s “can you do that again?” It’s “do I deserve this job, this praise, this publication, this award?”
Beyond that, it can even be thinking you don’t have the same magic that you used to, because you’re not the same person you used to be. There’s no way anything you do now can be as good as anything you’ve done in the past.
For me, it manifests in my self-doubt. That I don’t have the credentials or knowledge or mastery or know-how or however you want to say it, or whatever you want to call it, to provide anything of value to anyone else. After all, I could only be considered a hobbyist writer, right? I haven’t published. I don’t make a living as a creative writer (currently a proposal manager for a custom metal fabrication company that does government and nuclear contracts). So, how could I try to pass myself off as any kind of expert? Why should anyone listen to me?
It doesn’t matter that I have a Bachelor of Arts in English/Creative Writing or that I have a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. It doesn’t matter that, even though I haven’t traditionally published, I am an accomplished poet that has written hundreds of poems (and many of them quite good). It doesn’t matter that people are genuinely interested in what I have to say and share. It doesn’t matter that I provide insight and support to other poets and artists, offering encouragement, feedback, and praise. I should say, to my self-doubt, none of that matters.
Because, if there’s only one thing I’ve learned from time spent on Threads and interacting with people and artists and creatives there (and there’s more than one thing, trust me) it’s this: I do have something to share and I do have value. I found people that were hungry for the same thing I was: genuine conversation, discussion, and acknowledging other people’s work. And there is so much good work out there! And it really doesn’t take much time to even find it.
But self-doubt and imposter syndrome get in the way. A lot. I’ve been crippled by it in the past. I actually quit writing creatively, deleted my website, and quit thinking of myself as a writer. That was it. I was done. I wasn’t accomplishing anything and I had nothing important to say anyway. Thanks to the overwhelming responses and encouragement on Threads, I’ve realized that sentiment to be the bullshit that it is. Because it is bullshit. And if you’re experiencing the same thing or going through the same thing, I’d tell you that as well: it’s bullshit! For me, this sense of community and belonging has been huge. As is the positive feedback and encouragement. I’ve found people are genuinely interested in what I have to say and offer, and that makes a big difference. Knowing that other people value your work can convince you to keep going even if you don’t believe in yourself. A kind of “fake it ‘til you make it” kind of mentality. And that can work. I will acknowledge that it doesn’t work for everyone and that it doesn’t always work on the bigger stuff in your life. For that, I’d encourage you to reach out and ask for help. There is no weakness in asking for help; there is only strength.
For me, Threads came at just the right time. I was just starting to manage my depression after ignoring it and pushing it aside for my entire life. It came when I was at my lowest and initially it was a way to talk about my depression. A way to be open and honest and hopefully help other people do the same, and realize that they aren’t alone. But it blossomed into something so much more than that. I stumbled into a vibrant and growing and kind and encouraging writing community. And I rediscovered my passion and identity as a writer and a poet. And my passion for sharing and spreading art and its importance. And encouraging people to take that leap and dive back into art and writing. To ignore the rules and just go for it. Because I’d rather there be more art in the world instead of people being concerned about following the “right rules” to write a poem or paint or draw or sing or write a book. And for the most part, if you’ve read Issue 1 of Pulling the Thread, you’d see that I don’t think there are really any rules when it comes to writing.
But that was last issue. We’re talking about imposter syndrome and self-doubt. Which reminds me, Issue 4 of Subtext featured Nicole’s poem “Action Potential” which was a fantastic piece (which she also performed at a poetry reading) about this exact topic. If you haven’t read/watched her poem yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. It’s really good.
So, I found Threads (or maybe it found me?) and through it, and the amazing people I’ve found there, (or found me) I’ve rediscovered my passion and identity as a writer. More than that, I found the passion and identity as a champion for others and their work, and for encouraging people to jump headfirst into the world of art. I realized that I have been making excuses my entire life. It was easier for me not to try. Honestly, the reason I got my MFA in the first place was because I wanted to be a college professor. I let that slip away because that field in creative writing can be incredibly competitive. But I gave up before I even tried because it was easier to do nothing than to risk failure. Or success. And that was basically the story of my writing. People kept asking why I wasn’t published yet and I just always excused it. “Oh, it’s not that easy.” “There’s more than just writing something and getting it published.” When, in truth, those were easy excuses and lies. The easy part IS submitting your work. Sure, you’ll get rejected a ton. But it really is as simple as finding places accepting submissions and sending in your work. And I held back from that because it was easier to have something to bitch and complain about than to actually do something and…succeed? I’m sure part of it was that I was afraid of failure. Who isn’t? But you can’t fail if you don’t even try.
But Threads started to change my perspective. I think it was a combination of the newness and freshness of the app, that I had started therapy, was starting medications, and it all just aligned with a sudden realization that I was done being on the sidelines of my own life. And I started finding poets. And I started commenting. I started providing in-depth feedback and commentary. And the craziest thing happened (for me): people responded. And they responded well. I’ve had people ask me for feedback. I found that I had a voice, an opinion, advice, and knowledge that people were interested in. (And, as I’ve been told, a way of saying it that draws people in, even if they don’t like poetry very much.) It’s like I finally woke up and realized who I was and what I actually wanted to do with my life.
I had dabbled before, with a website. But I never actually DID anything to make it successful. I posted a story, a poem. And maybe, MAYBE, I shared it on social media. But I didn’t engage. I was afraid of interacting with people, even on that digital level. I’ve overcome that anxiety largely due to Threads and the amazing people there. I convinced myself I couldn’t market myself and gave up before I even started. On Threads I realized something. Marketing myself isn’t just trying to share posts and say “buy my book (that I haven’t written yet)!” It’s showing who I am. Who I am at my most genuine and authentic. Which is what I’ve done. Like everyone else, I discovered I was hungry for something real. No more of the curated posts and videos. Give me the raw person. The emotion, the words, the authenticity. We all were.
For me, it went beyond that. I started to think about why I suddenly became such an advocate and cheerleader for people. Why was I providing the in-depth feedback and commentary that I was? Sure, I enjoy doing it and I seem to be pretty good at it. But was there something deeper? And I realized there was.
I got into writing because of a creative writing elective class in junior high school and was captivated. Took more creative writing classes throughout the rest of high school and knew that was what I wanted to do at college. I still think about how fortunate I was that my school even offered creative writing. It was a small school in a small farming town known primarily for potatoes. My graduating class was like 30-something students. And that was pretty typical of most class sizes. But offer it they did, and here we are.
I had supportive teachers and professors, for the most part. One professor stands out as allowing me to really take risks and learn about myself as a writer. But other than that, I did not have support in my writing. Okay, that is not entirely true. My wife (high school sweethearts, together for 20 years now) has been my biggest supporter since we’ve been together. She (rightfully) aggressively pointed out that I had made this seem like I had no one. Which isn’t true. I had her. She has supported me through it all, through depression, through my pursuit of a writing career, and she is the one that always gets stuck with proofreading my work before I share it. Very much she has been a constant friend, companion, partner, and supporter. What I didn’t have, and what stands out to me, is the support of the people that should have given it freely. Family. Friends. From them, I didn’t have the encouragement and compassion I am desperately trying to share with everyone. I remember family calling some of my (high school at the time) writing dime store novel trash. They were disappointed and disgusted when I chose to pursue a degree in creative writing. Mind you, they provided no financial support either, and I was kicked out of the house five days after I graduated high school. But to be upset and act like they had any say in my education? I distinctly remember one conversation where my choice to pursue an MFA in creative writing was called a “frivolous luxury not everyone has the privilege to afford.” Because a “real” degree was obviously better. They weren’t proud of me until I got the job I have now, working as a proposal manger. Because that’s clearly a more respectable profession.
Fortunately, I had quit caring what they thought a long way back. I knew I could never be good enough or do anything that they would approve of (including my relationship with my then girlfriend/now wife, they were very not happy about our relationship), so why bother? I pursued what I wanted, and the mistakes, failures, and successes that came with that. I paid (borrowed) my way through both of my degrees without any familial support and went along with my life. Ironically, my MFA helped me get the job I have now. It impressed my boss. Yeah, that’s right. Suck it! Anyway, my point is this: I know what it’s like to not have support and encouragement; to have people actively work to discourage and dissuade you. And, to be blunt, fuck that. That’s not okay.
And I don’t want anyone else to feel that way. Like, I get that I can’t help everyone. But still. No one should feel that way. No one should ever, EVER, have someone else actively discourage them. No one should feel like they can’t write a poem because they don’t know the rules or because they may not be “good enough.” Again, fuck that.
YOU are worth it.
YOU deserve it.
YOU are a capable and an amazing human being.
So, I will be your champion and cheerleader. I will dedicate my time to providing support and feedback and encouragement. Because it’s needed. Because it’s important. And because I love it, I’m passionate about it, and I’m good at it. (Take that, imposter syndrome!)
Now, whether I can turn this into a career? That’s to be seen. But I won’t stop doing this. I won’t stop writing. I won’t stop finding poets and artists and raising them up and championing their work. I won’t stop taking the time to provide feedback and commentary. I won’t stop providing people constructive feedback and guidance when they ask for it. Because we need art. WE NEED ART. We need creativity. And people NEED to be encouraged and supported. Stop thinking you aren’t good enough. That you don’t deserve it. Tell imposter syndrome to fuck off. Because you are good enough. And you do deserve it. The only person you ever need to be good enough for is yourself.
My life has been one big battle with imposter syndrome and people in my life that SHOULD have been champions for me but weren’t. They did nothing but try to feed the self-doubt and to discourage and dissuade. I don’t have the answers to try and help you in your own battle. But I’ll be damned if I let you fight it alone.
I’ve learned that this is my qualification. I have an education and the degrees, the practical knowledge and talent in writing, the desire and drive to actively help and encourage others, and I have battled through it on my own. Please don’t feel like you have to. If I can’t help you, there are countless other poets, writers, and artists out there that can. We are never alone and a like-minded and supportive community is closer than you think.
Next month, I may be talking about publishing. We’ll see. Or, if there’s something else you’d like me to talk about, comment it, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), contact me, or tag me on Threads or Instagram (I do kinda check that one).