Imposter syndrome strikes many creative types. (I write about my own struggles to overcome this nasty complex in an earlier post, and for additional recommended reading, check out this article on the topic from a favorite resource, The Writer’s Edit.) Imposter syndrome in a nutshell: You’re certain everyone will find out how much of a fraud you are, regardless of the experiences and hard work you’ve put in that qualify you for this particular endeavor, and so you just might engage in self-sabotaging behavior. At the very least, you hold yourself back, in whatever what “holding yourself back” manifests in your own life.
But what if you’re early in your creative journey? What if you don’t have the credentials quite yet? What do you do when you experience the feeling of rejection and frustration that comes with the work involved in art, but don’t yet have anything to show for this turmoil? What if you feel like you’re wasting your time?
Real talk: I haven’t had success in creative writing, ever. Sure, I didn’t work too hard at my writing when I was an undergraduate, even though I was enamored with the idea of being a Writer (capital “w” intentional). As an adult, I’m still figuring out how to make room for writing in my life, how to focus my energy, how to handle criticism, how to improve, how to build habits, so that I can write. “Success,” whatever that looks like to me (TBD, obvs), isn’t going to come right now, and maybe never will. Part of me knows that’s OK. I’m not striving to a Writer, the idea of which I encountered at age 20, but a writer in my own way, on a path that’s my own.
I grapple, though, with whether or not this is all for naught. This work is hard and incredibly time-consuming, even for the uptight schedule-oriented person that I am. All the things I could be doing besides writing fiction in the early mornings or weekend afternoons crosses my mind, striking me in my low, insecure moments. What if I were to start a business (even if it were a loosely structured copywriting business)? What if I were to develop another skill, gain a new hobby? Learned a new language? Got another job? Drove for Lyft? Volunteered more? Experimented with dairy-free/gluten-free baked goods (ugh.)? I don’t have the time to write, creatively, fulltime, but the handful of hours I do spend each week may be lost, pointless, wasted. Does it have to be this way?
What do you all think? What do you do when you’re not seeing the outcomes you want with your creative work?
I don’t know if I have a great answer to these floating concerns: that all my time put into writing is wasted. That I’ll never get anything published. That no one–besides those I’m forcing to do so–will read my work. That I could be doing anything else and that will have been on the surface a more productive endeavor.
But when I think about giving up, never writing anything that falls under the “creative” category ever again, such a proposition seems ridiculous. I can’t imagine not. The answer to the question, deep in my heart, to “what do you want to be when you grow up?” still is, “a writer.” Many of the career moves I’ve made have been with the underlying goal of giving me an opportunity to write, to have the time and energy to do creative work. Ask me now, as I lament and question myself, what’s my dream is, and the answer is still, as it has been since I was a kid, to be a writer. The writing I’ve done lately, in the past year, that’s been rejected and unappreciated and misunderstood and has frustrated the hell out of me, has brought me a joy that I haven’t found since I was in my early 20s and writing sporadically at best. It conjures a magic I’ve never encountered anywhere else. This is what I remind myself of when I doubt myself, when I worry that I’m wasting my time. Nothing else is going to give me this magic. And that’s what I’ve got to remember.