Monday, 25 July 2016

Imposter Syndrome by Tamsyn Murray

I've heard a lot about Imposter Syndrome over the years: the fear that you are not what everyone thinks you are. The fear that you will be found out and exposed as a ringer. The fear that your first/second/fourth/fifteenth book was a fluke - you don't really know what you're doing.


Students I've worked with have often been amazed that successful writers still get The Fear. My answer had always been, 'Of course they do.' With each new project they might worry that they have forgotten how to write, or they may be stuck by the solid gold certainty that what they are writing is a steaming pile of donkey doo. They may Google 'jobs for failed writers'.

I am no stranger to donkey doo but I never recognised my fears as being linked to Imposter Syndrome until recently. Oddly enough, my brush with it wasn't directly related to writing. Some of you might remember that I was on Sky News at the end of May, talking about getting kids reading. The interview itself passed in a blur and I was pleasantly surprised afterwards that I'd sounded knowledgeable and lucid. Almost like I knew what I was talking about...

'But you do know what you're talking about,' a friend pointed out. 'You've had fourteen books for children published, you're Patron of Reading at two schools. You know about this stuff.'

And when I came to think about it, I realised she was right - I did know about it. I wasn't an imposter.

My second brush with Imposter Syndrome happened last week, as I was sat in the audience of Les Miserables, in London. Every performer was breathtaking and I remember thinking in passing how much better at singing than me they were (I sing and act with an amateur dramatics group), how small they made me feel by comparison: was there any point in singing myself when I would never be as good as that? The next morning I was at home singing the same songs (sorry, neighbours) and I remembered a director once telling me, 'You don't know how good you are.' And I felt a bit better. Yes, I am not as accomplished as the professional performers whose job it is to sing and act every night, but that doesn't mean I am not good. It doesn't mean I should give up.

Me playing Gianetta in The Gondoliers

Writers often compare themselves to fellow writers, for all kinds of reasons, and the comparison often leaves us feeling bad about ourselves. It helps if you understand that this is all part of The Fear, masquerading as Imposter Syndrome. The truth is, no one can write your book like you. No one knows your story better than you. So the next time you recognise The Fear, whisper to yourself, 'You don't know how good you are.'

And then do something prove it.

(PS I can't tell you how many times I have considered editing this post to make it less boasty-sounding. Looks like I still have some battles to come with Imposter Syndrome...)

1 comment:

Joan Lennon said...

"No one can write your book like you." It's true!