What am I doing here? I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t have as much experience as everyone else. I’m not good enough to be on this course. I can’t write as well as everyone else. Can I even write?
These are the thoughts that raced around my head in the first five weeks after starting my creative writing masters. Even when we were told it was a competitive, respected course and that earning a place on it meant we had potential, I thought; maybe they were short on applicants this year. They’re just saying that to make us feel better. Or, it applies to everyone else but not me, they can’t have seen much promise in the work that I submitted. Perhaps they took pity on me in the interview.
This pattern of thinking has a name; Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome is ‘the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.’
My mind always defaults to this way of thinking but I’ve only been aware of it being called Imposter Syndrome in the last couple of years, and that isn’t a coincidence. In a time when we are exposed to the success of others on a daily basis, just from opening Instagram or scrolling through Twitter, it’s hard not to compare ourselves. With that comes a feeling of inadequacy or a questioning of whether we deserve to be where we are or have what we have.
Imposter Syndrome has wormed its way into a number of aspects in my life but most recently it has hijacked my writerly ambitions (it won’t let me call myself a writer yet).
I struggled to feel worthy of a place on my course for a number of reasons. Discounting the Imposter Syndrome for a moment, I wasn’t wholly unjustified to feel like that. I haven’t ever studied creative writing and I haven’t even done much writing in my spare time so, out of everyone, I am one of the least experienced and without a great deal to show for something that’s supposed to be my passion. I started the course not knowing whether I could even write, and I felt like everyone else had had some confirmation that they could, or they’d learnt how to.
The thing is, as I’ve learnt now, it’s assumed that everyone can write and therefore our valuable workshop time wasn’t going to be wasted on reassuring each other. It was quite clear from the pieces that everyone submitted to our first workshop that they could write, and very well. Criticism concentrated on structure, content, language, characterisation; useful aspects to study in our writing, but I still didn’t feel I should be there. Imposter Syndrome read between the lines when I was receiving my feedback and told me that everyone was just being nice, even though I respect their opinions as talented writers. The unsaid things, like the quality of my writing or whether they enjoyed particular points, meant to me that they weren’t good enough and I went away dejected, ignoring the positive comments I received.
It made sense too because I have so much to learn, but my inability to focus on the positives was getting me down and reinforcing my mindset that I’m not supposed to be on the course; that I’m simply growing my student debt to feed a self-involved fantasy.
This week, I received some positive feedback for a piece of writing and one of my tutors told me she really enjoyed my work and she always looked forward to reading it. I was genuinely in shock from hearing their comments. You’d think that they would drown out the self-doubt but of course, my brain decided to question the integrity of their feedback. How could they have enjoyed something I wrote? Are they just being nice because they can tell I don’t have much self-confidence? It’s just a one off though, I won’t be able to do it again.
Even as someone who is lacking in self-confidence and self-esteem, I can see how irrational, unnecessary and more worryingly, unhealthy, these thoughts are. This week was a turning point when I realised that I was being even more hard on myself than usual. Instead I told myself that I deserve the positive feedback and it means that I’m improving as a writer, which is my main ambition in doing the course. I might not be at the same level as those around me but I’m on my own journey (sorry to be cringey but I couldn’t think of another word) and I’m heading in the right direction.
If you have self-doubting thoughts, try your best to turn them around because they are almost always deceiving you. It amazes me how wrong our brains can be about ourselves. Surely, we should be the people they know best? I tend to underestimate my own ability to be kind to myself too, which doesn’t help to break the vicious cycle of negative thoughts but this week I did so, I’m writing this post to remind myself that I can outsmart the harsh critic in my head and you can do the same to yours too.