The writer life: Impostor syndrome

Am I a real writer?

It’s a question that seems to nag most of us.

The answer, of course, is if you’re writing. Anything. For anyone, including yourself. A writer is one who writes, with our without expectations.

Then many of us get something published. For me, that was a news story in The University of Texas’ student newspaper, The Daily Texan. For many who write fiction, it’s a short story in a literary magazine or anthology. For those who write nonfiction, it night be an op-ed in a newspaper, news magazine, or website.

At that point, most consider us authors (or a subset, like journalist, blogger, etc.). But we can’t be real authors, right? I mean, it’s not like we’ve written and published a book or anything.

Then we write a book, and it’s out there for the world to consume. At this point, we’re definitely authors. Right? Right?

Many people don’t think so. We fell like impostors, deceiving the world into thinking we are writers and authors, trying to put ourselves into the same group as the real authors whose works fill our bookshelves.

The point is that for many of us, myself included, impostor syndrome — that feeling that we’re not really writers, or authors, or novelists — is hard to kick.

I’ll use myself and another author, Jennifer Hillier, as an example.

When my debut novel (Deep Background) was published, I was invited to join the International Thriller Writers as a member of their 2019 class of debut authors. That was obviously a thrill (no pun intended).

But Deep Background was published with a small press (Black Rose Writing) and this group was full of real authors whose novels were published with real publishers. So, despite the fact I was not treated any differently than my new friends at ThrillerFest in New York last summer, I felt like I was nowhere close to belonging to that group.

On that Saturday morning in the Grand Hyatt in midtown, I stood up and was applauded by bestsellers and award-winners and mid-listers, all of whom seemed to be on a whole different level from me.

Jennifer Hillier

Among them was Jennifer Hillier, who was at the conference as a nominee for the big award of the night — best hardcover novel. She was also the author of several fantastic serial killer novels. She was one of the rock stars.

Hillier won, and gave a sincere, teary, humble acceptance speech. Afterward, she was receiving congratulations from everyone. But not me. I’d seen her all weekend and was far too intimidated to introduce myself.

Fast forward nine months. Hillier is doing the media tour for her next novel, Little Secrets, which is on every publication’s list of best books of the year.

One of those podcasts is The Crew Reviews (co-hosted by fellow ITW debut author Mike Houtz). They featured Hillier recently, and during the interview she was incredibly honest about her struggles with impostor syndrome and the inherent vulnerability we all feel when we put our writing out into the world. She also described her own nervousness at meeting the big-timers at ThrillerFest.

Wow. Even Hillier, a real author, has these same feelings. She suffers from impostor syndrome.

If I know myself, whenever events like ThirllerFest resume, I’ll still be too shy to introduce myself as a fellow writer, a peer of sorts. But, there is comfort in knowing I’m not the only one.

And that goes a long way when I’m staring at the cursor, wondering if I’m even worthy of attempting to write my next novel.

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