Whether you are a writer or an editorial professional, chances are you’ve felt the effects of imposter syndrome.
As a freelance editor and proofreader, I work alone on my clients’ manuscripts, with no direct oversight or chain of command. Working alone, it’s all too easy for doubts and fears to creep into the working day. In this week’s post, we’ll look at how we can overcome our fears and doubts.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
According to Wikipedia, the phrase “imposter phenomenon” was first used in 1978 and describes a feeling of doubting your own talents, skills or accomplishments and is the fear of being “found out” as a “fraud”.
Creatives, often working alone and without an easily accessible network, can feel this frequently. But it can lead to anxiety or stress, so it’s important to recognise what we are feeling and recognise that we are not alone. Although it can be hard to find, a little reassurance is sometimes all it takes.
Imposter Syndrome for Writers
Is this story good enough? Have I followed the submissions guidelines? Is my dialogue strong enough?
If you are finding yourself constantly questioning yourself, doubting your abilities as a writer, you’re probably experiencing some imposter syndrome. For writers, it often stems from comparing yourself to other writers. To be a writer, you have to read. So you’re exposed to other great writing and then, if you’re not careful, you’ll begin to compare your work with those that you admire.
But every writer is different. Your expression may be completely different to that of another writer’s. And your expression is just as valid as someone else’s. It’s important to remember that your words are just as valid as this year’s Booker Prize winner’s.
When imposter syndrome cripples your ability to write, take some time out. A moment away from the keyboard is good for you. Take a walk, cook something nice for lunch, go shopping for something nice. Be kind to yourself so that when you do get back in front of the manuscript, you’re more equipped to write.
Finding a community can be especially beneficial. Whether that’s in a physical writers’ group or an online space. You’ll find writers are incredibly supportive of one another and others will know exactly what you are going through. Listen to the advice others give; one day, you may well be the person passing on that same advice.
Imposter Syndrome for Editorial Professionals
As editors and proofreaders, often working alone and not really seeing others’ work, we can start to doubt our abilities and skills. Doubts can lead to panic: the real fear of missing a single typo (regardless of the 1,257 other corrections you’ve made!).
Like writers, it’s easy for editors and proofreaders to compare themselves to others, compounding the sense of imposter syndrome. I know that I look to other fiction editors websites, blogs and resources and wonder how they manage it all. I see testimonials from big publishing firms that (it can feel to me) as being a dream to work for.
What I don’t see, is the work, the stress, the anxiety or the feelings of those other editors. Just like writers comparing themselves to other writers, editors should be mindful of doing this too.
Collaboration is one excellent way of alleviating some sense of imposter syndrome. I recently was contacted by another editor (one that, see above, I admire greatly). They wanted to know about working together and sent me a small sample to work on. Which I did. With great anxiety! But, at the end, we compared our edits, finding we’d broadly matched. Nothing has been a greater reassurance than that one, simple exercise!
Another great imposter syndrome buster is joining, and being part of, an editorial community and professional body. As a member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading I know I have a body of other editors and proofreaders to turn to should I have a question (and I frequently do!). And, as above with writers, the tables are frequently turned: I can answer questions.
Is some Imposter Syndrome good for us?
The feeling of being an imposter can be completely debilitating, stopping writers from writing, editors from editing or proofreaders from proofreading! It can crush us, make us feel like we’re not doing anything right.
But it can be a reminder. Maybe it’s time to stop what you’re doing and take a course. Whether you are a writer, editor or proofreader (or a combination of!), there’s always something new to learn. New skills, new methods, new ideas will help to keep imposter syndrome at bay.
And it’s also a reminder to connect with others who are doing the same as you. It’s not always about competition: collaboration is important and lifts us all.
Look after yourself. You’re doing a fabulous job. When the doubts do creep in, remember that you are not alone. There’s a whole world of editors, proofreaders and writers out there who you can lean on when you need them.
Nick (he/him) is an editor and proofreader, specialising in LGBTQ+ writing. He is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and a member of PEN, the Professional Editors Network.
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