Imposter Syndrome, for authors

For those of us who truly care about writing, owning our author-ity as an author is sometimes a challenge, both because there is almost always a writer more successful than we are, and also because there are so many pretenders.

I was on a long bus trip across country years ago, and most of the people on the bus said they were writers or authors.  I did not declare myself, because though I was writing constantly, achieving a career in ” real” writing meant too much to me to declare yet at that stage.  Today, the field is even more packed with possible pretenders–hobby bloggers, or just those who reply a lot online can call themselves writers, and in a sense, authors… since they are technically published.

Italian impersonators for Johnny Depp and Elvis

Italian impersonators for Johnny Depp and Elvis

In psychology, the complex of not feeling “real” in one’s accomplishments is sometimes referred to as “the Imposter Syndrome” –one feels like an imposter. One of the writers I interviewed for my first book had already published two books, and in the interview she still could not call herself an author.  She said it took filling out her IRS 1040, when she entered “author” next to her income from the year–THAT was when she called herself an author, felt herself an author, and stepped into that identity.

I like the distinction between writer (who are many), and authors (who are fewer).  For me, an author carries the connotation of established achievement: either published as an author-ity in a subject, or established in publication–and is distinguished in the craft of writing.  Writer carries the connotation of a practitioner–one who practices and is engaged in the art of writing.

My moment of owning being an author was opening my first box of books arriving from The Writer Books  / Watson Guptill.  I opened it, pulled the book out, smelled it, and unexpectedly burst into sobs.  Deep belly animal like sobs, that I had no idea were there.  It wasn’t that the process had been difficult.  To the contrary–the interviews and writing process had been immensely transformative.

The sobs came from feeling I had made a contribution that could make a difference to others.  Freud said life was about sex and love.  To this, Jung added “and work.”  The sobs came from holding my work in my hands,work that I cared deeply about.   I had held probably more than 100 technical reports and manuals I had written, but none of them carried my writer DNA like this one did.

At that moment, I no longer felt like an imposter.  My identity shifted  from writer to author.

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