In this second episode of the Gracewriters Podcast, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss Imposter Syndrome – the feeling that you are not a good writer, and will soon be found out. Many creatives seem to experience these feelings. Christian writers have an extra problem in that we sometimes fear we are failing God… but we also have His powerful help as we follow our calling.
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Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript, or find the podcast on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/gracewriters-podcast/id1519376330
In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, editor, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, author of sweet romance
- Donita Bundy, author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- What is Imposter Syndrome, and why does it affect creatives so much?
- Does it affect Christian writers? (Spoiler alert: yes!)
- How can we tackle Imposter Syndrome to stop it interfering with our calling as gracewriters?
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Connect with us at Gracewriters.com.
Welcome to Episode 2 of the Gracewriters podcast. Today we are going to talk about Imposter Syndrome. Thank you so much for all of your feedback on our first episode. We really value that and it encourages us, and it gives us hints for what we should cover in the future. So please do keep those requests coming. Just go to Gracewriters.com and click on the podcast tab up the top and then you can leave us all of your comments and suggestions and questions for the podcast.
I’m Belinda Pollard – I started Gracewriters. I’m an author, speaker and blogger and I’ve been helping people write and publish books for many years.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Joy. I’m a writer of sweet romance. I live in Brisbane in Australia and this is actually my idea and I’m not sure that it’s a good one! You can find me on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy. I’m a writer, a blogger and a creative writing teacher. I also have a slight addiction to photography but you can find out all about me and what I do at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Fantastic, thanks gang. So our topic today is Imposter Syndrome. We hear it a lot; it’s a bit of a buzzword. What does it actually mean? Alison, you’ve been doing some research for us.
Alison Joy: Yes, because I feel like it applies to me, especially in regards to this podcast. So it’s basically admitting you’re a phony and any minute you’re going to get found out, and that you’ve only got to where you are by pure luck.
These are feelings that might happen even though you’ve got some evidence of success. But you still feel like you shouldn’t be where you are or shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing. I’ve found out that it’s pretty common to everybody, to all of man.
So I had a dig around and I typed in “Imposter Syndrome quotes” and was a bit overwhelmed by what I found. So I thought I’d share a few with you.
Albert Einstein felt his work got more attention than it deserved. Actor, Screen Writer and Producer Mike Meyers says he still believes that the no-talent police are going to come along and arrest him. Meryl Streep: ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie, I can’t act anyway so why am I doing this?’ Jennifer Lopez: ‘Even though I’d sold 70 million albums, there was a feeling that I’m no good at this.’ When Jodie Foster received her Oscar she expected somebody to come knocking on her door at any time and take it away because they’d made a mistake.
This is a phenomenon that was first studied in the 1970s. Psychologists found a lot of female undergraduates at the university felt like they didn’t deserve to be there, or that there had been a mistake in the admission and they were there because of clerical error. She teamed up with another psychologist and they started studying it. What they found was that this was something common across all gender, race, age and occupation. It was just something that everybody seems to have to deal with at some time. I think I’ve found that it tends to be more prevalent in creatives, and maybe authors a little bit more than anyone else.
Writer and Podcaster, Joanna Penn, she was at a ThrillerFest convention and there was a panel of 5 authors and between them they had sold about 600 million books so, you know, quite a few more than I have at this particular point in time! Somebody got up and said, ‘Look I’ve just started writing and I’m having this problem’ and one by one all the authors just said yes, yes and started naming their issues with Imposter Syndrome – basically their issues that they’ve had.
There is an American author, passed away not so long ago, Maya Angelou, and she had something like 11 books and she’d received multiple awards and her quote was, ‘I’ve run a game on everyone and they’re going to find me out.’
It’s just something that as writers it seems to be a common occurrence or a common theme. I think being Christian writers that adds another layer again to the whole thing.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, there is like another layer of expectation isn’t it and there is another layer of potential failure in the sense that if we’re wanting to honour God by our writing, then that’s another opportunity to fail. Will we not honour God? Did He not actually ask me to do this? Am I supposed to be somewhere else doing something more practical or more worthy or more whatever? So I think there is that extra layer for us as Christians and I also think even though it might have only been studied and labeled in the 70s it’s an extremely old problem.
Last week on the blog we looked at a bunch of the giants of the faith right back through the Bible who all experienced what was essentially Imposter Syndrome. So it’s not an uncommon thing at all.
Donita have you got have any thoughts about that and what the source of it might be?
Donita Bundy: The source I think is probably just human nature and how we all struggle with doubt. As you were saying before, on the spiritual level, should we be doing what we’re doing? Has God called us? I think another question that we ask ourselves as Christian writers, whether it’s mainstream or to a Christian audience, have we captured the message that God has given us? So we’re feeling called, we’re doing what we feel we should be doing but are we doing it well enough and are we honouring God with our words?
I think we are like a washing machine of all the doubts that we have as humans, as Christians. As we’ve heard, it’s not new and it’s not uncommon. It’s something we live with but, because there’s an extra level of doubt or the extra level of Imposter Syndrome we get as Christians, we also have an extra level of support because we’re Christians. It’s a two-edged sword being a Christian writer.
Belinda Pollard: I’ve been thinking about it and I think one of the reasons perhaps and I find this – because as you know, when the world is open and we’re not stuck at home I go around and I speak at different writer’s groups – you wouldn’t believe how much I encounter this. I encounter it from writers that I might admire and think are amazing, and they think they haven’t achieved anything. It’s that same fear of being found out.
But I think one of the problems is that we have a false concept of success.
We think that we are not successes because we look at what other people do and we don’t understand the battle that they’ve had, to get where they are. We have an inflated idea of how successful they are in even just worldly terms like how many sales they’ve made, or how easy it was for them to get a publishing contract.
We overestimate what everyone else is achieving and undervalue what we are achieving. It’s a really insidious thing and I just think we need to tackle it in a couple of directions perhaps. In a way, you know, it’s not the end of the world if we feel like we might be failures but it is a problem if it stops us fulfilling our purpose, our calling, what God has, the part that God has us to play.
As gracewriters, Christians who write to change popular culture, we are part of an army, a global army of Christians called to do this thing. We all need to be playing our part, not sitting at home thinking I’m not good enough, I can’t possible do it, nobody would want me to do this. We need to be released into what we’ve been called to do.
Alison, I think you came up with a few practical tips for things that we could do to help overcome this?
Alison Joy: I think one of the things is to realise that we’re not alone in this. Even though we doubt ourselves privately cause we believe we are the only ones thinking that way, but nobody else ever voices their fears, so we think we’re alone. But I think one of the things we need to do is to start talking about it. Talk to other writers and saying, ‘Hey this is what I’m going through. How are you doing, have you gone through this, how are you dealing with it?’
I think if you’re a writer you’re always going to cop criticism, left right and centre, it just comes with the territory. I think we have to try and develop a thick skin because some people aren’t going to like our work and we’ve got to be okay with that. I’ll ultimately get a lot of advice from people who have never written a book, and tell us what we should be doing.
But I think one of the things, if you go back and look at your old stuff you’ve written and you cringe at it and you think ‘yuck’ but I think that’s probably a sign that you’ve grown as a writer. You can go back and look at your other work, previous work and then realise that you’ve progressed, that you’ve come a long way from there.
I think the main thing is to write and keep writing, because you’re only going to get better if you keep writing.
Belinda Pollard: Momentum actually keeps us moving. I totally agree with you on that, Alison, because when we’re actually writing and we’re focusing on the task and just moving forward in it, we don’t have as much brain capacity to be worrying about this other garbage. We’re just focused on that and moving forward. Yes, that’s great and any other suggestions then?
Alison Joy: I think you’ve got to give yourself permission to be bad, or just accept that that’s going to happen at some times that you’re going to think you’re not doing really well, any good. Just try and not to let the negativity get the best of you. I mean it’s going to be hard but try and surround yourself with positivity. It’s just something that I think you need to realise it’s common to most writers and you’re not alone and just keep plugging away at it.
Donita Bundy: You know I say the same thing to my students every week about the permission for the draft, their first writing, to be horrible and be sucky. That’s the goal for first draft, that’s what you’re supposed to do and that’s the purpose. But it’s one thing to tell your students every week, ‘It’s okay, this is what’s it’s supposed to be, it’s supposed to be just you telling your story.’ It’s all of that. We hear it all the time but then when I’m sitting at home and doing my own writing, I’m struggling with the same issues.
So it’s all very well to say this stuff and believe it when you preach it, but then when you’re sitting at home and it’s real, it’s still hard. But absolutely I think the freedom to not be good is a great gift!
Belinda Pollard: The thing to freedom…
Alison Joy: Stephen King apparently said that the first draft – nobody ever sees his first draft of the book. I think for me something somebody said recently, ‘You just write and write and you can always go back’. Nobody has to see your first draft anyway.
Belinda Pollard: But I think even not just in terms of your drafts, also in terms of your career. This is not something that exists in a moment in time, this a progression.
I often joke with some of my friends that I like to leave plenty of room for improvement. In actual fact I am a little bit of a perfectionist and I’m quite hard on myself. But one of the things that I found really helped me when I was getting to ready to publish my first novel, so I’d been writing non-fiction for decades and biblical devotions for decades but all of a sudden I was publishing a novel. It was very confronting and scary – putting my imagination out there to be looked at by people.
One of the mental changes that helped me a lot was realizing that it was my first book, not my best book. So it was my best book that I could possibly write in that time, in terms of writing fiction – my very first novel. It was my very best book that I could create at that time. But the next book would be better, and it is better because it’s underway now, and then the third book would be better again, and it would continue to improve over time.
Also, another one of the things that has helped me and I think Donita might have a bit more to raise in this regard too but another thing that’s helped me is, as a gracewriter, as the fact that what I’m writing for is to bring gracenotes into popular culture and gradually tilt people’s eyes a little bit more towards Jesus. If that’s my main and most serious goal, that doesn’t actually depend upon how successful my books are in worldly terms, on how many people are reading them, on how great the reviews are, on how much money I’m making from them.
That all becomes quite irrelevant because if there’s a message that God has for one person out there through the book that I’m writing – and he will modify that message in their brain. He will turn it into what it needs to be. It’s takes a lot of the pressure off for me, to think, yeah I’m not called to be – and this is something we’ve discussed before – I’m not called to be a success, I’m called to be obedient.
Did you have some more on those spiritual aspects of how we deal with this, Donita?
Donita Bundy: Well personally, since COVID started and the lockdown happened around everywhere, I felt God calling me into a deeper, more intentional relationship. It started by looking into Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.
The first discipline was a meditation and I’m a very visual person. I’m not someone who does well just to sit in a room and stay like that for a while, so I took my meditation outside. Every morning – I live in the bush, I live on a mountain – and every morning I would go for a walk up and down our mountain and use that time to meditate on the glory of God.
It turned into an incredible time of worship. In fact what I was doing is putting God up on his throne and when I did that it shifted perspective.
God was almighty and all things are possible in Him. I wanted to draw closer to God in this new relationship but of course the thing that stopped me was sin. So not only did it start off as a time of worship it turned into a time of, ‘well I can’t get closer because of this sin’, so it became a daily regular time of confession. So putting me on my knees. Not literally because I was on the road and I can’t kneel but in my heart and in my spirit it’s like: I am a sinner and this sin is stopping this connection.
Then because this mountain – and it’s winter here in Australia and it’s chilly and in the morning up on the mountain there is an icy breeze that blows. I didn’t have to imagine it passing through me because it literally did! But what I imagined was after I confessed, that that icy breeze was taking with it all the sin, all the darkness, all that failure away.
I would also confess the doubt that I was feeling, this Imposter Syndrome. In fact before we even talked about this as a topic for Gracewriters, it was something that I had to confess because if I was called and I was writing God’s word then where was my doubt and why was I doubting.
So I popped that out there as well, and then once that had been pushed aside and swept clean, I was then put on my feet. I would pray for that day I would be anointed for the words I needed particularly for that day in like the daily bread we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.
What are the words I need for this day only? Not the project for next week or the book chapter that I’m attacking later on, but for this specific day. Whether I was teaching a class, writing a blog or in the book or whatever it was, to be anointed with the words for that day.
Then once God was on His throne and I was freshly cleansed and I was picked up, purposed and anointed, I couldn’t help but rejoice that I was living the dream.
I am so blessed to be living in the environment that I live in, the family I have and the job that He has laid on my heart for this time in my life, which is to write. For me this is heaven, so why would I not be rejoicing.
I would then return from my walk absolutely focused on the fact that it wasn’t my writing. Even though my life and my life experiences and my gifts that He has given me is the context from which I write from and the voice that it’s couched in, the words and the messages are God’s.
So that has helped me remove the doubt and the Imposter Syndrome because of that closer connection. I am God’s child. I am forgiven, loved, restored, purposed. If I stay close to Him and pray for that anointing and that inspiration, well then that helps chase the doubt away.
Now it’s not completely gone and my days aren’t perfect. I still stumble, I still struggle, I still have bad days.
But overall I am moving from a place of doubt and frustration into a more holistic connection with God, which comes out on the page as well.
So I have found like a lot of those tips that you shared Alison, I totally agree with that communicating and sharing that we’re not alone. Giving ourselves permission to not be ideal and not get it right, and like you said Belinda, I write for a very small audience.
I write young adult, urban fantasy set in an ancient world. My target audience is small. My readership is small. If we measure success on how many books I sell or how many people I connect with, I’m not.
But those few that do and celebrate with me that story, that is the success and that’s what I am learning to embrace and think: yes, with God’s inspiration and help I’ve achieved this goal. I’ve written a book. It’s published. I’m doing stuff and that’s how I feel.
Belinda Pollard: That’s fantastic.
Donita Bundy: That’s the extra level that we have as Christians that non-Christian writers don’t have.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, it is an extra benefit, isn’t it, to even just in a small and almost – it’s just a small way of describing it that we have an extra benefit, but in fact it’s actually massive and it’s our core, it’s our direction.
One of the things that I have found extremely helpful during this time of the pandemic lockdown etc has been the opportunity to meet with other gracewriters on our monthly Zoom catch-up, and to talk about some of the issues that are common to us.
One of the fabulous things that’s arisen from that is this thing where a few of us have been setting a timer on our phone or on our watch or whatever to remind us on the hour. Then we do some deep breathing which is physiologically calming – part of God’s design – but also we are doing a bit of meditation with it. Either the names of Jesus or ‘You in and me out’ sort of thing. Various different things that we’re meditating. One of the things I’ve recently changed with mine and when my phone beeps it also puts up a little message that says ‘start again’.
So because I have that feeling of failing constantly, and so with each new hour, okay, it goes beep, I’ve got to do the breathing in and the breathing out for twenty seconds, and then I start again.
That and knowing that we’re working together on it, knowing that we’re experiencing it together, we’re experiencing similar problems has really helped and encouraged me.
Thank you guys. Any last little thing that either of you would like to say.
Alison Joy: I think sometimes we get caught up in our own inability rather than God’s ability. I think maybe we shouldn’t look at our shortcomings and just look to Jesus.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, definitely and it’s something we need to keep doing because it’s not a … . Did you have anything else, Donita, briefly?
Donita Bundy: Just to reiterate that, yes, it’s a daily thing; it’s an hourly thing. For me, yes putting God on His throne over everything. In Him all things are possible. I am not capable, He is. I stay with Him; He’ll get the job done. Shift responsibility! I choose to stick with Him and I choose to do my bit and He’s promised me He’ll do His bit, so that works for me.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you everybody for joining us today on the Gracewriters podcast and please do go to Gracewriters.com. Look for the podcast tab and leave us your feedback, suggest topics, ask questions, whatever you would like to do.
Please do also join us at the Gracewriters catch-up on Zoom, which is on the first Saturday of the month, Brisbane time. So that means it is Friday evening in the US, and unfortunately quite late Friday night in the UK, but we would love to have you join us there. You will be extremely warmly welcomed.
We also have a free online forum where you can come and discuss various writing issues. You can ask for prayer. We definitely need prayer both for the Gracewriters growing group and for us as individual gracewriters. Please do be involved in prayer.
Donita, would you like to perhaps pray for us before we go out into the week?
Donita Bundy: Thanks Belinda.
Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the calling to partner with you in spreading your glory. We pray for each gracewriter that you have spread throughout the world. That we would all finds ways to connect with you, the way that you have called us into relationship. Father God we pray that as we work to share your Word and your glory throughout the World in your Words that you would be inspiring us to use the voice you have given us to share the message that you are giving us.
We pray for protection over all of our work and that we would find encouragement in each other and in your Word in the Bible. So we pray protection over our work, over ourselves and our family. We pray inspiration that your Word would come to life in our writing and that we would honour you, not only with the words that we write but the words that we speak and with our lives. We ask this in Jesus name. Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Amen. Thank you Donita Bundy and Alison Young (Alison Joy). I am Belinda Pollard and we will see you at the next Gracewriters podcast.
Thank you for joining us today at the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Connect with us at Gracewriters.com. We’d love to see you there.
Karen Kepert says
Thankyou ladies for another great session. I think what you had to say is relevant not only to writers but to everybody. We all doubt ourselves about something at times. I plan to share this talk with my small group.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been through the whole Imposter Syndrome with myself – every time I’ve felt called by God to do anything new. I had to fight it again and again with my music. It’s not the stuff that gets used for congregational singing, and doesn’t appeal to younger audiences. But I’ve learnt over time it has its place and it really doesn’t matter if it only appeals to a smaller group, as long as I’m getting it out there.
Donita, I particularly identified with you going out bush to have your time with God. I too find that the best way to really listen to Him and I miss it with all the shutdowns and when the weather’s not great.
I’ve decided to be brave and put this poem up. We had to write a villanelle in a writing group I joined last year. I’m tempted to say how bad it is, but them I’m reminded of what the talk was about this morning, so here goes:
Walking through the bush, absorbing the sound,
Leaving behind the struggles of my day,
His peace in this tranquility I’ve found.
Watching lizards scuttle over the ground.
Hearing magpies sing their melodic way.
Walking through the bush, absorbing the sound.
Captured by bush harmonies all around,
My mind feels slowly drawn toward His way.
His peace in this tranquility I’ve found.
Sweet fragrance and such beauty all abound.
Blue sky shines bright, my heart no longer grey.
Walking through the bush, absorbing the sound.
Tormenting, fearful thoughts no longer hound.
Breathing His presence in, I bow to pray.
His peace in this tranquility I’ve found.
Basking in God’s creation all around,
Knowing it’s time to go, I yearn to stay.
Walking through the bush, absorbing the sound.
His peace in this tranquility I’ve found.
© Karen Kepert 2019
Belinda Pollard says
Thank you so much for your thoughtful response, Karen, and for having the courage to share your beautiful words. I, too, find nature very nourishing. I love your line: ‘my heart no longer grey’.
Bill Brockmeier says
Well, another useful and effective podcast. Thanks, ladies for putting your heads and hearts together on this installment.
While you were conversing on this topic, the name “Gracewriters” itself came to my mind. I know the group’s name primarily refers to us writers using the written word to “publish” (make public) God’s manifold grace. But it also reminds me that I can only write BY God’s grace. In my particular case, I know for an absolute fact that I cannot write fiction (especially dialogue!) “worth a bucket of spit,” but God’s grace totally makes up for my inadequacies. Wherever I am lacking as a writer, He seems to make up the difference. This is not an excuse to be lazy, or to not progress in the craft, but should always be my honest evaluation of wherever I find myself as a writer.
In a strange way, I believe this often helps me avoid being made ineffective by the “imposter syndrome.” Being an imposter implies some level of intent to deceive others into thinking I am something I am not. But being upfront about my lack of experience and skill helps me turn any praise I might receive back onto Him, Who makes all things possible.
Belinda Pollard says
Bill, it is so true that everything we do, we do by the grace of God. I do find it comforting that God can make what he will of my faltering words – he can transform it, in a way, in the ears and eyes and heart of my hearer/reader. Thank you for your comment!