Imposter Syndrome. Is it real or not? I’d love to hear your take on this topic. However, for this #AuthorToolboxBlogHop post, I’d like to focus on making it real for your story. An author’s job is to make his or her story world and characters real to the reader, whether fiction or memoir.
Let’s begin with a definition. Dictionary.com defines Imposter Syndrome as:
anxiety or self-doubt that results from persistently undervaluing one’s competence and active role in achieving success, while falsely attributing one’s accomplishments to luck or other external forces.
I don’t know about you, but in some instances, this defines me. Inferiority grabbed ahold of me and hung on with both hands for most of my college journey—especially at the University of Pennsylvania. I couldn’t get past the fact that I lacked the foundation the other students received to prepare for the Ivy League. I felt I got lucky receiving the Phi Theta Kappa scholarship to attend Penn. This brings on the feeling of being a “fake” IL student; the “oh-my-gosh what if they find out I’m not as smart as the other students” feeling. This is what I’m getting as part of the Imposter Syndrome.
I’ve talked about Character Arcs and the need for progression of the character in the story before in an Author Toolbox post. You can read it here.
To make our characters believable with whatever syndrome we want to give them, we need to look closely at the character as a whole person. We need to know what goes on in his life, on the outside, yes, but also what it means to him on the inside, why he feels so strongly about what is happening. Again, it’s the why of the story. Why does what happens on the outside of the character, the plot, matter to the character personally? Story is about how what happens in the plot affects one specific person—our protagonist.
We can give our protagonist all sorts of disorders and problems. But we need to thoroughly understand both the disorder and the inner problem and how they manifest in this particular character. Many real people feel inferior to other highly accomplished people. I believe Imposter Syndrome is alive and kicking. I am a highly insecure writer; hence my connection to Insecure Writers Support Group, a great group to find support and security by the way.
I hope these few suggestions help you to understand the need to know your protagonist intimately to create a character the reader will truly care about, whether it’s fiction or memoir.
Please ask any questions about my college memoir and share any insight you may have about the use of Imposter Syndrome in writing your story in the comments section of Adventures in Writing. Thanks so much!
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28 thoughts on “Imposter Syndrome in Fiction or Memoir #AuthorToolboxBlogHop”
I sometimes feel that way as a guitar player. What if the others discover I'm really not that good?
I am certainly that way as a writer and was as a lawyer. Although I looked like everyone else when I was at court, I felt like a little kid with a bunch of adults.
This actually occurs to me less often these days. So much so that I'm surprised now when the I'm-a-fraud-feeling comes over me. It's still crippling.
I think I'll be more secure after more publications come my way.
Another thought provoking post Victoria – I wonder if recognising the problem is the first step in finding solutions?
Hi Victoria – so easy to mix up … especially when writing one. I think Memoir must be personal and obviously personal, even if there's some fiction included – but it cannot simply be all fiction … it'll show up to the reader.
Good luck with all your writing and now the school year … take care – all the best – Hilary
I think there's different levels of imposter syndrome .. there's your doubts about your plot and storyline, and then there's a belief in your technical writing skills. Luckily I write nonfiction, so I just have to battle with the technical writing side of things.
I think many of us go through this "imposter syndrome" in one form or another, Alex. It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Thanks so much for sharing this, but I'm sure you are a dynamite guitar player. Enjoy your week!
Oh my gosh, Natalie! I feel like a little kid surrounded by professionals all the time. Thank you so much for sharing this with the readers of Adventures in Writing. I truly appreciate it. Have a beautiful week!
Good for you, Joylene! But yes, this "I'm-a-fraud-feeling" is definitely crippling. Thank you so much for visiting Adventures in Writing and leaving a note. It's greatly appreciated. All best to you!
Oh my goodness, Dawn, me too! Now if I could only get those "more publications" I'd be thrilled … and perhaps a bit more secure.
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Thanks so much for your note. Enjoy your week!
I think so, Tony. However, in this instance, sometimes Imposter Syndrome can be a misnomer. "Feeling" like an imposter is definitely different from actually being one. That's why this problem is so real to so many people. Imposter Syndrome is full of emotion–and a very good situation to have your character in as readers can connect to this for sure.
Thank you so much for your kind words here at Adventures in Writing, Tony. They truly mean a lot to me. All best to you, sir!
You are right, Hilary. Memoir must be all truth. You, the writer's personal truth. What you believe. All of it. But to read memoir, it needs to be set up like storytelling, using fiction elements: tension, hook the reader, beginning, middle, and end, character development. Memoir writers use fiction elements–but not fiction as in not true stories.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here at Adventures in Writing. I appreciate it more than I can say. All best to you, my dear!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing! Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a note. I think you are correct. There are definitely levels to imposter syndrome: from simple doubts as to your ability to succeed to full-blown inability to cope with life situations.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on Imposter Syndrome here at Adventures in Writing. Please stop by again. Have a beautiful day!
I absolutely have my days feeling this way, and more often I think than I always admit to myself. I've also written a novel in which the protagonist definitely experiences this. I found it something of a challenge to write about, though, because the way it manifested for the character was a kind of freezing and shutting down, which meant that action in the story decreased. Something to keep thinking about. Thank you for the interesting post!
I think it is a real state of mind that most people experience at one time or another. The 'make it til you fake it' ideology doesn't really work if you are crippled with self doubt. Getting into the character's mind certainly helps us create a more rounded personality.
I think imposter syndrome is very real, Victoria, especially with (insecure) writers. Even – or especially – within the IWSG, I feel that way, since I’m a newbie author and a non-native English speaker who never learned about English literature or took a creative writing class. Yes, I’m good with words, but only that doesn’t create a successful book or flourishing career!
So sorry I'm late commenting. Yesterday got away from me. This is a really thoughtful and important post. Thanks for writing it. I love how you brought us to the subject matter, so we could understand why it's important and also so we could think about the breadth of representation options there are out in terms of syndromes.
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Jimmy! Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. Thank you for your kind words.
Yes, characters with this condition can "shut down." Our job as writers is to open them back up again by the end of the story and we need to do this by story action. I mean concrete events that trigger in the protagonist a change in character. Good luck with your writing in progress.
Hi Mandy! Welcome back to Adventures in Writing.
You are right. Imposter Syndrome can be crippling to a person/character. The reader needs to understand the character's thinking to see how this syndrome manifests itself in his or her life. Only then can the reader understand how what happens in the story can change the character for the better, or worse, depending upon your story goal.
I think Imposter Syndrome is real too, Liesbet! Your story, Liesbet, is a deep one. Your protagonist is trying to understand life and find herself in this big wide world. And she does it on the high seas. Truly amazing. It's just very difficult to pull it all together, deeply enough so the reader can see how what is happening in the story is affecting the protagonist.
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Thanks so much for your note. Enjoy your weekend!
Thank you, Raimey, for your kind words here at Adventures in Writing. They mean a lot to me. Writers helping writers. That's what Author Toolbox Blog posts are about.
Again I truly appreciate your kind words. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here at Adventures in Writing. Have a beautiful weekend!
I think impostor syndrome is something that's always a struggle, regardless of what field you're in. Every time I felt that nagging whisper in the back of my head in college, I'd remind myself that it wasn't real, that thinking that didn't help me, and that I really was doing well at something. Sometimes it even worked haha.
I do think it's interesting to look at portraying that in a character too. I had never considered that before, but it would be very interesting to explore. Thank you for this fascinating piece!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Marlena! Thank you so much for your kind words. I truly appreciate them.
Yes, I tell myself constantly that I've worked hard to get where I am. And yes, sometimes it works … for a while. Then I'm back in the soup again!
I think Imposter Syndrome is a great character trait for fiction writers. It can be personified in so many ways. Thanks again for your comment here at Adventures in Writing. Please stop by again!
I may be the rare case that hasn't experienced imposter syndrome. I believe in my work. Anyone better than me is a challenge not a reason for disappointment.
I think it stems from being a Leo, the oldest child, and an INTJ.
I like that: we're there "to open them back up." And that's just what we have to keep doing with ourselves too!
Good for you, Cheryl! You probably are the rare breed. We should all feel secure in our place in the world. And yes, we all should be challenged and work hard to make it. Imposter Syndrome, I think, is more a feeling of insecurity. And it can become debilitating. That's when you need help.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts here at Adventures in Writing. Have a beautiful week!
So true, Jimmy! As writers, we need to be sure we don't shut down, either in our creation of stories or in our lives. Thank you so much for your note here at Adventures in Writing. Have a beautiful weekend!