Confidence and Imposter Syndrome: Why Do We Suffer?

Sunday, April 26, 2020
Man, imposter syndrome is so real. Let me tell you a couple recent anxiety-filled moments I had, and how I've gotten over them--or have I?

photo from by Alan Levine
I'm teaching a course for WOW! right now that I'm absolutely loving. It's about how to write middle-grade and young adult fiction. I have written and been traditionally published in both. I am a certified English teacher of 1st through 9th grades. I read this genre to my daughter and for my own pleasure. I had a book review column for six years for a mid-size newspaper. I edit novels for a living, and many people have gone on to indie or traditionally publish them. And still, STILL, I wonder: am I qualified to teach this course? I want to say this to myself right now:

OMG! What is wrong with you?

The other day, I felt like I had validation from an outside source. In the WOW! course, my students start their novel writing process with a tagline and book cover summary as well as picturing where in the bookstore or on the Amazon "bookshelf" their book would fit. My philosophy is before spending months on a book, figure out your goals and if you want to be published, where readers will find your books and whether they will want to read it. Is your book about something? You have to think of the story hook (the tagline) and where readers will find you. I know this is good advice, and it's helped me with my own writing. But I was doubting myself when teaching the class.

Maybe we shouldn't have started this way, I thought. Maybe we should have begun with planning the novel using Save the Cat.

But then I was listening to the lastest Self-Publishing Show podcast with Mark Dawson and James Blatch. They also offer classes, and they get good reviews just like we do at WOW! I know that the information they share on their podcast is "right," and it matches what I hear and read on other sites, including WOW!. (Why do I trust them and not myself?!?) But until I heard one of them say that it's smart to start with your book cover and tagline before you even write a word, I hadn't felt confident that I was correct to start this way when teaching my class. As I was listening to that episode, I even said out loud to myself (or to the dog, as we all know she is hanging on my every word): "So I do know what I'm talking about. I should be more confident in my abilities and teaching."

This week, I was also worried about some advice I gave to a picture book author. (Right now, there's a lot of time at home, folks, alone with our thoughts, right?) Let's look at my credentials: I have a picture book traditionally published. I have been to countless workshops on picture books. I have read hundreds of picture books, new and old. I know the trends. I offer a picture book package on my site, and one of my picture book clients recently secured an agent who sold the book to a publisher! (This is very exciting. It's almost like I have my own agent when a client is successful!) I know I help people take their ideas and make them better. But still I worried: Am I giving her the right advice?

Sometimes, I think the fact that I do worry is what makes me a good editor. If I thought I knew it all, then I wouldn't study and think about clients' work long after I shut down my computer.

But I'm still irked at myself for needing this outside validation. But isn't that true for most writers?  I thnk it's why we take rejection and bad reviews so personally and can't stop obsessing about them, even if we have 500 good reviews. I'm not sure if it's true for most editors, but it's true for me. And I'm working on having more confidence in my years of experience, repeat clients, good reviews, and so on. Having confidence is not boastful. It's not bragging. It's just understanding that I know what I'm talking about and I have the knowledge and skills to educate and help others reach their goals.

Here's to confidence and kicking imposter syndrome out the door!

Margo L. Dill is teaching the MG/YA class she mentioned above in the fall. You can sign up whenever. But she's teaching the WOW! novel writing course for any genre now, and the next one is on May 1. You can find that syllabus at the link. To find out more about Margo, go to


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--You KNOW I sing your praises every chance I get. Yes, you have the creds to teach the class and give advice.

You're right. Being self-confident does not mean you're a braggart. Everyone is good at something (or some things). Everyone also sucks at something (or many things). Being self-aware enough to know which things you can do well (or passably, if that is all that's required) and which things you can't do well is crucial.

Have fun with your class. I know your students are learning loads and loads of stuff.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I relate! I feel this often, but then someone else will say something like, you know so much about running an e-zine or building traffic or blogging or whatever. I remember one company hired me to blog for them (for a really nice rate) and said I could write anything as long as it was in my "specialty." And I'm like, "What's my speciality?" Lol. The editor said, "You know, making money online, freelance writing, inspiring writers." I had no idea that was my brand or what people thought I specialized in. It's funny how others perceive our strengths one way and we think of our work in a completely different way.

I also think all of this writing advice has filtered into our brains over the years from running the e-zine. We've had several articles share that same advice on writing the tagline, cover copy, and summary first. I also think Jessica Brody's Save the Cat mentions it. You know SO much about the business, Margo, and don't give yourself enough credit. Not only do you have the knowledge, but you've published books in those genres, are a whip-smart editor, and care about your clients' work. You're also one of the best teachers on the planet! :) Any advice that comes from you is from years and years of working, editing, writing, and publishing in the industry. You are the best!

That is really cool about your client landing an agent, who then sold her book. I helped a couple author friends get an agent, and you're right, it felt like I'd landed one myself. I think I celebrated more than them! :)

Renee Roberson said...

I agree with everyone else that you definitely have the chops and experience to back up all your gigs (authoring, teaching, editing, consulting, etc.) but I know how loud the voice of imposter syndrome can be. That's the way I feel about my new foray into podcaasting and I finally had to have a stern talk with myself the other day, LOL. I think in general, most of us writers are pretty neurotic, (and I mean that in the most loving way) so we have to learn to be sassy with ourselves to maintain that self-confidence.

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