I suffer with this pretty much all the time.
I sometimes think it might be easier for my mental health to just quit pretending to be an author and a creative writing teacher and the other gazillion hats I seem to wear these days and just retreat back to my cave (otherwise known as my cellar) and watch TV on Netflix all day.
Become a passive consumer rather than a creator.
But that would be the wrong decision.
Let’s backtrack a moment. On Wednesday night I read out my story The Man Who Murdered Himself at our newly relocated Birmingham open mic event. We had been based at Waterstones, but in a move of corporate short sightedness it was decided that events like open mics don’t sell books and so we were out. The management and the staff of the Birmingham Waterstones shop are fantastic by the way, and have always been very supportive of these events. I don’t know the whole story but it seems like this decision was out of their hands.
Anyway, back to Tilt cafe/bar and our new open mic night. I co host this event with Rick Sanders, poet, funny guy and all round good egg. We mostly take a back seat and let as many people perform as want to, but on this evening we had a few slots empty towards the end of the event so I put myself down to read. I’m pretty relaxed about this now and can step up in front of an audience and do a reading without much in the way of nerves. But even so, as I got about halfway through my story, I couldn’t help but notice my feelings of Imposter Syndrome stirring as the beast whispered into my ear ‘This story is pretty bloody weak to be honest, isn’t it? I mean, come on, take a look at everybody’s faces, they look bored as all hell.’
But, as I always do, I ploughed on and read to the finish.
After the event I was approached by Jonathon Watkiss, a punk poet/singer/record producer/filmmaker who told me he loved the story and would love to turn it into a short film.
Take that, Impostor Syndrome!
You’d think it would help, wouldn’t you? That kind of validation?
I’m booked to speak to a group of Year 7 children at Kinver High School this week. No big deal. I run a monthly creative writing workshop for young people in the Year 7 to 12 group every month. I also run a creative writing workshop for children in the Year 5 to Year 6 group every week.
But still my arch nemesis Imposter Syndrome is sneaking up on me, asking me what possible right do I have to claim to be enough of an expert in creative writing that I can go into a school and run a workshop?
Just get in touch and tell them the truth! Confess!
Because the truth of the matter is, I’m just pretending. I’m not really an author. Not a ‘proper’ one at least. And all those creative writing workshops I run? Come on, anyone could run those.
Time to retreat to my cave.
Except, no. I can’t do that.
I refuse to do that.
Because, at the end of the day, aren’t we all pretending to some extent?
And if pretending to be an author means spending hours and hours sat in front of a computer writing and editing and rewriting and deleting the rubbish stuff and writing better stuff until you feel it can’t be any better (except you always know it could be better but you have to stop and publish at some point) and on and on day after day and week after week, well, when you stop to think about it, isn’t that what ‘real’ authors do?
And if pretending to be a creative writing workshop leader means spending time preparing for each workshop, working on a structured plan for the session specific to the group I will be meeting, gathering resources, being prepared to stand up in front of that group and deliver the lesson whilst being willing to adapt to meet the needs of the students, well, when you stop to think about it, isn’t that what ‘real’ creative writing workshop leaders do?
Maybe I’m an imposter and maybe I’m not.
Maybe I’m doing this for real, or maybe I’m just pretending.
I’ve decided it doesn’t matter.
Because some days, when the fear and the doubt is nibbling away at the edges of your conscious mind, when the doubts are creeping in and that voice whispers in your ear, ‘Are you sure you can do this?’ I find that it’s just best to step up and do it anyway. Pretend to be what you actually are.
Acting ‘as if you can’ is a powerful tool for success.