Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Writer's Wednesday - Imposter Syndrome by Kate Hardy

Every so often, all the romance authors I know succumb to a certain disease. It’s one of these things that comes and goes… and the very first time you get it, you think it’s just you and you don’t want to mention it to anyone in case they think you’re really stupid.

Then it gets so bad that you talk to an author friend, in confidence. Just one. And, guess what? It turns out that she’s had it, too. So you get braver. You mention it to another. She’s had it. And then you realise you’re very far from being alone – that it’s part of being an author.

What am I talking about?

Impostor syndrome. (It’s been dubbed that by Dr Valerie Young – you can read about it here .)

It’s the feeling that you’re a fraud. That your last book was only accepted because your editor was temporarily insane and you managed to convince her that it was a good read. That you’ll never finish your current book or sell another – and if you do, the critics will hold it up as a beacon of awfulness and ridicule you. That all the other authors in your line will be #1 in the Waldies list and you’ll be the only one who won’t be in the top 10 and you’re a failure…

Recognise it? I thought you might.

Impostor syndrome usually hits when you’re stuck on a book, when you’ve had a snarky review, or when you get big revisions. Though it can also hit when you’ve reached a milestone – it hit me just before I received my pin from Mills & Boon to mark the publication of my 25th book, and it hit me again when said book won the RNA’s Romance Prize.

So how do you deal with it?

Firstly, look at what triggered the attack.

Struggling with the book – Don’t know where you’re going? Could be that you’re trying to make your characters do something they don’t want to do, or you’ve gone off at a tangent and lost the conflict. Best thing you can do here is brainstorm the problem with your editor (that’s what she’s there for – she’s not going to revoke your contract if you admit it’s going badly. She’ll make suggestions and, before you know it, you’ll have a chain of ‘what ifs’ which will fix the problem) or friends. Take a deep breath and don’t be afraid to cut the bits that don’t work. (Oh, you have a tight deadline? If you’re struggling, you’ll write more slowly than if you cut 10,000 words and then find yourself free to write again.) Give yourself permission to write – it’s a bit of a cliché that it’s easier to fix a bad page than a blank page, but it’s true. You might cut half (or even more than that) of what you’ve written, but it will move your book forward.

Snarky reviews – this is a tougher one; if someone doesn’t like your book, it feels as if they don’t like you either. But remember: it’s your book, not you, and it’s only ONE person’s opinion. Think of all the books a friend has raved about but which left you cold, or which you loved and a close friend just didn’t ‘get’. And books which win awards also get snarky reviews. (Trust me. Done that one. It feels as if you’re being chewed up – like the person being eaten by the dragon on a carved bench-end, here.) The person’s opinion that counts is your editor’s – if it was a really terrible book, she wouldn’t have bought it in the first place (because publishers are not charities, and especially in this economic climate your editor isn’t going to buy your book simply because she likes you. She’ll give you revisions instead). It’s worth keeping a file of nice reviews and nice comments – so when you get bad ones, look at all the good ones and remember there are more people out there who like your book than those who don’t.

Revisions – especially if they’re big, and/or it’s the first time (or first time for ages) you’ve had revisions like this. Firstly, very, VERY few books go through with no revisions. (I think it’s been about three in 37 books, for me.) Secondly, you’re the author and you’re often way too close to the book to judge it properly – what you think you’ve written might not be what comes across on the page. Think of your book as a rough diamond: your editor can see the gleam and also which bits you need to cut or polish to make everyone else see that same gleam. It’s not a reflection of you and it doesn’t mean you’re rubbish – it means there’s an even better book that’s going to emerge at the end of it. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Dealing with success – this is a paradox, but sometimes when you achieve success it makes you convinced that this is the point where you’re going to be found out as a fraud. Especially given ‘tall poppy syndrome’, where people just LOVE cutting someone down to size and make snarky remarks. (I happen to think snarkiness is akin to bullying. It’s not funny or clever. It’s mean.) What you do here is pretend it’s happened to someone else. Supposing one of your friends wins an award or hits the Waldies list or reaches a publishing milestone or gets a dream contract: how would you react? Would you dismiss it, or be genuinely pleased for her and congratulate her? Thought so. Try to do the same to yourself: you’ve worked hard for it, you deserve it, and take the time to enjoy your achievement.

Bottom line – if you’re suffering from impostor syndrome, talk to your author friends. They’ll reassure you, tell you their own stories, and you’ll feel heaps better. Go conquer that world.

Kate has three books currently on the shelves: One Night, One Baby in the US; The Spanish Doctor’s Love Child in the UK (and in Australia and the US in September); and Hotly Bedded, Conveniently Wedded is on the shelves in the UK in September but available at the Mills and Boon website right now.

You can find out more about these books, and Kate, on her website ( and her blog (

One Night, One Baby

Spanish Doctor’s Love Child

Hotly Bedded, Conveniently Wedded


  1. Man, I know that feeling. I've been wanting to ask my editor, "Are you sure?" But then I don't want to insult her. Plus, she might be on to something. She liked my other book.

    But definitely, I'm a fraud in a writer's clothing.

  2. Kate,

    Great post as always. And very reassuring as I am currently having major imposter issues with my current WIP. But then I find it's all part of the process, the dark night of the soul that forces your best work to the surface. What a shame it has to be such agony though.


  3. Right there with you Heidi - total agony time for me too - but we push on thru huh? Such great points Kate - and so nice to know we're not alone in what can be such a solitary profession - HOORAY for the internet!!! I love the idea about pretending it happened to someone else - really appeals to my multiple personalities ;)

  4. Huh. Well, I know the rest of you are the real thing, but I'm definitely an impostor.

    This is really good advice, though, Pam, especially about thinking how you'd feel for your friends when they achieve.

  5. Melissa - welcome to the club! Glad your editor liked your book :o)

  6. Heidi - glad I could reassure you. We all go through it. The good news is you do come out the other side... and it helps you deal with it the next time round. (Note the sneaking in of the bad news from Pollyanna Kate *g*)

  7. Nat - multiple personalities is a good way of getting into the head of your hero AND your heroine *g*

  8. Julie, Julie, Julie. You were on the shortlist with me: therefore NOT an impostor *g*

    It's all about learning not to give yourself a hard time and smacking the crows on the head. (I find a Radley handbag helps, there. And vast quantities of ice cream. I want an ice cream maker...)

  9. I love the idea of keeping a book of praise. Not the singing variety but the written stuff. Very handy for when doubt creeps in.

    Great post, Kate!

  10. AS a bona fide imposter, I'd like to thank you Kate for showing me I'm in good company. If Julie Cohen is an imposter, then why would I aspire to be anything more?

  11. Imposter syndrome. I'm a fraud and I'm going to be found out as such any day now. Oh, yes! Those are my default settings! And have been ever since the shock and delerious excitement of having my first Medical accepted. I've just finished number 10 - and I can't believe it. I still think I must somehow be fooling everyone, or they didn't mean me, and it's all going to come crashing down around me.

    It seems to get worse with each book, too. I've just begun number 11. I hate beginnings. I'm riddled with all those doubts that it was a fluke before and I can't do it again. Knowing that I'm not alone in these feelings does help. It's sticking the head down and getting on with writing, however bad you think it is. And if you are lucky enough, as I am, to have the most wonderful editor in the whole universe, you'll come out the other side.

    Kate, you are an inspiration to us all, a superb writer and a generous friend.

    Mags xx

  12. Kelly - it really does work. (And thank you.)

  13. Anna - you're definitely in good company. (And may I point out that your Maverick Millionaire spent two weeks on the Waldies list?)

  14. Mags, you're absolutely not a fluke. You have Impostor Syndrome. And look how many others do, too... :o)

  15. I'm suffering from this right now--I just turned in book 2 and am waiting to hear that they've given up drugs since they bought the first one and have embraced sobriety and that I need to go back to the day job. (nooooo!! Not students!!! They're horrible!!!)

    But it does warm the cockles of my newbie heart to hear y'all 'fess up to this feeling--at least I know I'm in good (successful) company. But I'm glad by BFF is a therapist and can look after my sanity for free.

  16. Kate --
    As you are well aware, nobody but me is the imposter. Everyone else is a brilliant writer. It is me whose words turn to porridge.

  17. Baloney Michelle! I know this because last week you told me MY book was porridge!


    Gotta love an honest critique partner, eh!

    Seriously though this was a great post. I know I certainly get those feelings too, especially when the writing isn't going well. And when the writing is going well, I don't trust it either. I think it's brilliant and it might be total crap. I am always amazed when I actually read my finished book and it's not bad!

  18. Ah yes, but I have very faith that my critque partners can fix porridge. Myself -- sometimes, I am not so sure.

    Actually, I do think it isomething that happens to every writer. No one was born published. Very few people fall into publishing. The vast majority of us are here because we want it very badly indeed and we are also well aware of our feelings. And how the writing never quite reaches the vision.

  19. Kimberley – the worst part is waiting to hear from your ed. It gives you WAY too much time to develop a bad case of impostor syndrome. I recommend consumption of chocolate and ice cream… and start your next book to take your mind off the wait :o)

  20. Michelle – and who was shortlisted for the RNA prize last year, hmm? Would it be a certain M. Styles?

    Cracking the whip here: be kind to yourself. And that's an order :o)

  21. Donna – ah, I forgot about the days when the writing’s going well and you think your judgement is off… (And I bet Michelle did NOT tell you your book was porridge! Or if she did, she told you what you needed to add to turn it from porridge into an sparkling manuscript.)

  22. Yes she did! And...yes she did to the other too. There is a very good reason I keep her around you know! She helps keep that imposter thing at bay a lot. When things go screwy, she's always there. Not just about the writing either.

    I think the times when I think what I've done is brilliant are worse than thinking the writing is crap. It's really hard when you don't trust your own judgment. It's that whole being in love with your words and then loathing the whole thing. :-)

  23. Well, I'm a day late and a dollar short, but that's because I'm an imposter!
    Kate, you've written a great blog and I ate up every word. I'm with Margaret, starting a new book and thinking, yeah, like I can actually do this. Ha ha
    And recently, I was offered representation for one of my single titles, and I immediately thought, "What's wrong with this person?" Sick. This is really sick and useless thinking. So I recommend we all give it up and start patting ourselves on the back. We've done a wonderful thing by choosing to write books. And we're all blessed that they've been published. Wonderful stuff.

    Kate, your book list is amazing, you imposter you!