Writers logo

The Imposter Writer–Stop Doubting Yourself

Essay 1 | Writing & Self-Empowerment Series

By Mackenzie DavisPublished 7 months ago Updated 6 months ago 8 min read
Top Story - October 2023
The Imposter Writer–Stop Doubting Yourself
Photo by Jonas Brief on Unsplash

On September 21, 2023, Cendrine announced our new essay series: Writing & Self-Empowerment. And here we are!

Our aim is simple: To explore what gets writers inspired and keeps us going, even when we tell ourselves that we aren’t worth it. We want to open up discussions about the craft we share, particularly around self-confidence, and bring some optimism into the picture. Any questions you have, we want to try to answer.

With this piece, I want to establish a big picture for us around how to combat the common writerly struggle with self-esteem. Future essays will dive deeper into several topics I touch on here and also expand beyond.


“What am I doing?”

“Why do I think I’ll be successful at this?”

These questions circle my mind a lot while I write but also, and perhaps more frequently, when I don’t write. Lapses in consistency – when the space to over-analyze is gifted to my inner critic – are the ripest for doubt.

As writers, we’re familiar with the term, ‘imposter syndrome.’ Now, I've heard some arguments against this term, and perhaps I'll address that later. As it stands, there is a part of me that appreciates it for its bluntness. Imposter. Syndrome. Many, if not all, writers feel like hacks, even swindlers at times. We put on an act of being more practiced and experienced than we are. We pretend to offer something more valuable than others in our field. We literally make things up and expect people to give us money and admiration.

‘Imposter’ seems appropriate.

I wonder if it is, though. Everyone has to start somewhere. Where would we be without confidence, especially when we’re just beginning?

More importantly, what does every famous writer have in common? The answer: Rejection...numerous rejections. If you’re asking yourself what the professional writers did at this stage, the answer is, The Thing. The Writing Thing. Writing into the Void until it reveals your audience.

I think it's okay to feel like an imposter at the start or before you find your footing, which might take a long time. It's like we're entering a world in which some magical approval system watches our progress and deems us worthy at the opportune moment. I suppose a metaphor would be waiting in the lobby until you're buzzed up to the right office...you're walking that line between trespassing and having business to be there.

Of course, approval systems are integral to publishing—from third party platforms like Vocal and Medium, to a traditional publishing house, or even self-publishing—someone is gatekeeping. (Yes, even in the case of self-publishing. That’s when we become the gatekeeper. I'll wait til it's good enough...Sound familiar?) The question is: is the doorman of the building going to call the police on you, or let you wait as long as it takes for you to be buzzed in?

Here's where I imagine the second word comes in to save the day: 'Syndrome.' Doesn't that word imply that we're wrong to think we're imposters? It seems to be saying that because we feel like one, we have a disorder, which, isn't that communicating that our belief is not true, and instead, just a feeling?

We just feel like imposters. We aren't actually. It's like Munchausen's. We're feigning a disorder to justify why we can't succeed, to justify listening to our inner critic, to justify giving up before we've tried.

This is common.

Every writer struggles with self-confidence and self-esteem. A lot of us were “the shy kid” or “the nerdy kid” and have experienced formative social struggles. Think: not fitting in, being bullied, having few to no friends, and disagreeing with established norms. We have a complex about our worth. So what did we do? We used our outlet—creativity—to deal with it. Yet, in the process, we created a vicious cycle. If we didn’t get validation from our creativity, we decided we weren't worthy as a person.

This is very common for artists in general. After all, art is defined by having an audience; without it, everything we create is simply an expression or a one-sided conversation. So, it makes sense to crave validation in the form of eyes, minds, followers. The harmful aspect to this is making the attention be a mark of your character and value as a human being.

You are not your art. Separation is good.

Although we want to see our writing flourish, many of us established an unhealthy pattern of what our writing is and what it means. If I were to paint a picture of what this looks like, I'd describe it as a chimera of creator + creation, and wanting people to look at us with admiration and no criticism.

Now, I’ve already written a couple essays that discuss the value of art separation. Please go check those out here and there, if you want a more in-depth perspective. Here's a brief rundown:

All writing involves a process of splitting the authorial identity and creating personas. The author embodies different people when he/she writes: author, world-builder, narrator, character(s), plot-outliner, secret-keeper, editor, publisher, critic, reader. These personas create distance between the author and his/her work.

This is probably the most helpful when we think about autobiographical stories. They’re honest, about the author, and often use the first person voice. But, the story is not the author as a person. A different persona was used to write the narrator’s voice; it did not experience what the author did, didn’t have the time to reflect on patterns, didn’t see the lessons, etc. That "I" voice of an autobiography is just as much of a character as it would be in a fiction story.

Consider what might happen if a potter sold a handmade mug to a customer. Instead of remaining at the shop to sell more, he decided to watch her every move to make sure she never broke this mug—after all, it was his signature creation; didn’t she know how much work he put into making it? So he hovers when she washes it, dries it, puts it in the cupboard and takes it out again, even when she pours hot water to steep tea.

This is an artist who cannot remove himself from his creation for fear of it being mistreated. He is so insecure that he cannot enjoy the fact that someone liked it, bought it, and wanted to use it for its exact purpose for as long as it lasted. That wouldn’t do. He has to make sure she reveres it.

To do this is self-destruction.

I get it. Writers (artists) consider their work to be pieces of their soul. No one wants to be rejected, discarded, or ignored; I certainly don’t. We expect a certain care from readers, but when we become like the potter, we do damage.

We are merely the creator. Once our work is done, we step back. Our work must stand on its own. And it will. The benefit of willingly trusting that fact is that we channel the confidence to continue creating. Letting go, moving on, and surrendering control are symptoms of self-confidence.

And, isn’t that the ultimate goal that we all, as writers, share? To let go of our finished works, sit back with pride, and go, “Yes, now onto the next one?”

The hardest part is accepting what happens next – audience reception.

"What if no one reads it?"

"What if I get bad reviews?"

"I’ll give up writing if this isn’t a success."

Writers do themselves a disservice by believing that getting their writing published has anything to do with other people. By creating something from scratch, finishing it, and sending it out to the world, we've completed our goal.

We are not our work, remember, so anything that people say regarding it is also not directed at us, no matter the words used. Nobody knows us. Our work is not a window into our soul, even if it feels that way. (Can you accurately sum up a writer's beliefs, values, and essence after reading their work? How could you be sure, even if you thought you could?)

Yes, our work needs an audience. This simply boils down to eyes, minds, followers. These acts of viewing/reading, thinking, and sticking with our future projects are the positive affirmations that writers should expect. Personal notes with glowing reviews, are not reasonable to add in here. Personal notes cross into wanting admiration as a chimera. They ought to be bonuses, if we do get them.

Establishing the reception of our success is now a new goal. We need to untie it from the first one, and be proud that we've finally become a published author. Getting reads, reading reviews, making it onto a best seller’s list—those are part of this goal.

After finishing the marketing step, it's done. If your reception doesn’t meet your expectations, that's just fine. Consider all the people who never got this far. They're likely jealous of a writer's negative reviews because in their minds, “At least people are reading their stuff.” Getting bad press (or even no press) shouldn’t count as a failure and shouldn’t be a sign to quit the craft.

So – 'imposter syndrome.' Is it a term we ought to keep around?

The term seems to be most damaging when an artist doesn't account for their own skill and passion, instead putting it down to luck or other external forces. But as a simple term, I believe 'syndrome' accurately characterizes 'imposter' as being the wrong way to think about one's abilities. And as a whole term, it has the power to serve as a reminder that just because we feel it, doesn't mean it's true.

To doubt is to refuse to believe in the face of truth. We can do this Writing Thing. So what do we have to doubt?

  • Passion keeps us inspired.
  • Not knowing something means we get to learn.
  • Criticism can boost our drive and give us new ways of thinking.

But ‘doubt?' Doubt is only there to provide an out.

Is that what we want? If so, I fear we really are imposters.




Stay tuned for the next one! As I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, I am hoping to expand upon the ideas here, but feel free to leave questions if you feel I left something dangerously unpacked (lol).

Cendrine will be posting next. I’ll be sure to link her essay at the bottom of this one when she does! (Keep in mind, the post schedule might be infrequent. Make sure you’re subscribed to both of us, so you can stay up to date on this series!)

Do you want us to cover anything specific in a future essay? We look forward to your comments.

Thank you so much for reading!


Read Essay 2, by Cendrine.


About the Creator

Mackenzie Davis

“When you are describing a shape, or sound, or tint, don’t state the matter plainly, but put it in a hint. And learn to look at all things with a sort of mental squint.” Lewis Carroll

Find me elsewhere.

Copyright Mackenzie Davis.

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  2. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

Add your insights

Comments (23)

Sign in to comment
  • ROCK 6 months ago

    I do relate to your advise however as someone who rarely shows what is going on inside my head, writing is very scary and dangerous to me. It feels daring and also I feel nervous waiting for others to read my words. I am neurotic and if a nail biter would have nothing left to chew on.

  • Rob Angeli7 months ago

    Aptly put. Whereas I completely agree with the distance needed both to accomplish the work, and to psychologically protect ourselves from dilemmas of approval and ego that can come from casting our writings out before others, on the other hand I still believe that our writing is us in an even more profound way. The more you near your own artistic goals, the more true this becomes. I have some training that purports to assess the psychology of creators who mask themselves from readers from beyond the grave, and it has been essential in close-reading historical texts in order to find covert motive as opposed to stated e.g. as in the letters of Mary Stuart or the war memoirs of Julius Caesar. I believe people's structure and thoughts can be revived through the careful absorption of their words, even to the point of their working their [non-existent?] will upon the reader. More, I think that the Work is in some ways more the Artist than they are in their everyday lives, because a lot of everyday life behavior is adaptation to the We-World and geared to more pragmatic aims, breeding duplicity under its cozy domesticity. It is more a domain of imposture and pose than any poem can usually be, however graceless or pretentious. Distance is all the more essential in this approach to the center of ourselves, nature, and humanity, but it's also because there is such inherent closeness to the whole process. A very complex affair to which you give its due. Great work, and congrats on Top Story!

  • The Flying Man One7 months ago


  • Dana Crandell7 months ago

    I waited a few days until I had the time to really absorb this and I'm glad I did. I've dealt with imposter syndrome at many different stages. I won't bother naming them all here. Ironically, I'm most comfortable in autobiographical mode, although I'll admit that support from Vocal creators was a major factor in establishing that, as well as getting my feet wet in the fiction genre. And now? Now I'm working my way through it again as I push myself to self-publish. Just a big boy taking baby steps here. 😂

  • Samuel Wright7 months ago

    Embrace your inner impostor, fool them all...

  • D. J. Reddall7 months ago

    "Not knowing something means we get to learn." An invaluable assertion that should be tattooed upon everyone's grey matter. Congratulations for the richly merited acclaim this piece has received!

  • Lamar Wiggins7 months ago

    Glad to se this make the front page! Congrats!

  • Donna Fox (HKB)7 months ago

    I love this Mackenzie!! Your thoughts on imposter syndrome are relatable and it's encouraging to know you're not alone! I also love the reminder that the artists is not their work and how important separation is!! Wonderful work, congrats on Top Story!!

  • Antonella Rustica7 months ago

    Congratulations on your Top Story

  • Congratulations on your Top Story💯🎉

  • Test7 months ago

    Thoughtfully and carefully written. I loved this. Stellar advice and so relateable.. As a super private person, the hardest thing about writing is the sharing. The vulnerability of it. Not so much in the judgement of the words but more in the idea of people 'knowing' me beyond a superficial level. And its almost impossible to write without essence of self filtering through, even in fictional pieces. Its a weird dichotomy of wanting to be heard and wanting to remain safe in my silent space, Hmmm, I will be mulling all of this over for a while. Thank you for sharing! Excellently written as always. And congratulations on Top Story!

  • Paul Stewart7 months ago

    Wonderfully thorough and wise piece! well done and congrats on Top Story too!

  • Sage counsel.

  • Aaron Morrison7 months ago

    Was talking to another writer friend of mine, and we briefly discussed this general issue. Glad you wrote this.

  • Alexander McEvoy7 months ago

    Imposter syndrome is quite the drug. I haven’t written anything in like a week due to some brain shenanigans and it’s starting to hinder rather than help. Makes me feel like everything up to this point was a fluke. But we have to stay objective in times like these. Taking a break, even if it’s not intentional or desired, can be a useful and valuable tool. no one is any less a writer because they’re struggling with something that puts their writing on hold. Beautifully done, Mackenzie :) you express this all so well

  • Cendrine Marrouat7 months ago

    Mic drop, Mackenzie! I'm glad you started the series because this is a stellar essay. You got me thinking a LOT!

  • Omgggg, that potter analogy was so on point! I am the potter. Omggg I feel so attacked, lol. But yes, I gotta overcome this. Thank you so much for sharing this piece!

  • L.C. Schäfer7 months ago

    Lapses in consistency are the ripest for doubt. Isn't THAT the truth!

  • Test7 months ago

    Thoughtful, considered and well-penned discussion. It certainly is a humbling experience to be a writer. 💙Anneliese

  • LC Minniti7 months ago

    You always write such thought provoking pieces! You have a gift of being able to talk about the hard truths about being a writer while still being overall uplifting. This article is one of those. It’s a fine line we trot, the need for external validation, the shifting goals, the self doubt. It helps having a fellow writer articulate the nuances of the craft so kindly and perfectly.

  • Lamar Wiggins7 months ago

    Like I've said before, I love educational articles. This one covers a lot of ground that many of us think about but might not be able to rationalize with ourselves enough to arrive at these truths. And to accept them into our way of thinking about our place in the scheme of things. We don't always know who we are as a writer. We don't always know where we stand and if our work has ever made an impact on someone. It's a long, hard and lonely road to the top - whatever that means... I really enjoyed the following insight: "you're walking that line between trespassing and having business to be there." This is kind of how I felt when first joining Vocal. That has since changed. I would rather share my ideas than have them consume me from the inside out. I love fiction and will never stop writing it. One of my issues is over and under describing. Sometimes it's too much, sometimes not enough. Still searching for the right balance. I think that would be a good topic for you and Cendrine to tackle.... Balance: in all its applications pertaining to writers. Thank again for sharing your thoughts and insights.

  • Alex H Mittelman 7 months ago

    This is awesome and beneficial! Great work!

  • This was really well written and thought out. A valuable share that I think many will benefit from 🕊️🤍✨🙏

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.