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10 Ways Freelance Writers can Fight Imposter Syndrome

The fight against self-doubt has never been more critical.

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10 Ways Freelance Writers can Fight Imposter Syndrome Featured image: young black woman sitting in front of a laptop pondering something.
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I am sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but imposter syndrome is like a bad virus: it never truly goes away. Even after decades of writing, I still struggle with it regularly.

Thankfully, with the right treatment, you can force imposter syndrome into dormancy so that it stops bothering you for a while. And here are my best tips on how to do that.

1. Show Up.

What would you do for your friend who was struggling with confidence and self-doubt? You’d show up, right? You’d be there with a hug, some encouraging words, or maybe a few memes to let them know just how much they mean to you. You’d do everything in your power to keep them going and get them through the doubt.

This is exactly what you need to do for yourself on a regular basis. Show up. Give yourself some love, repeat those same encouraging words, read through those same memes, and do everything in your power to keep yourself going.

It’s also important to remember to do this even before you’re stuck in the throes of imposter syndrome. If you wait until you’re at the bottom, you won’t believe your own words when you try to talk yourself back up. Regular self-care is going to be one of your best defenses against imposter syndrome.

2. Start Accepting Validation from Others.

Raise your hand if you ever cringe or dismiss any and all praise someone tries to share with you. Whether they are telling you that they like your story idea or your character idea or just the few pages that you’ve let them read, listen to them. Let their words sink in.

We are often raised to seek out praise and validation but then balk when we receive it, as if it’s not good enough praise. Like, “they’re just your friends and family, they love you, they have to praise you,” even though they don’t. No, we hold out for expert praise, stranger praise, praise-ier praise.

It’s not going to be easy, but when someone tries to give you a compliment, fight your urge to dismiss it and listen to them. They don’t need to be an expert at writing or at your job to know what they like to read.

3. Don’t Forget to Write For Yourself.

As you launch into ghostwriting, you’re going to find out just how easy it is to get bogged down with writing for clients and forget altogether how to write for yourself.

Now, this isn’t bad at first. After all, you’re still writing and you love to write so of course you’ll be happy whether you’re writing for clients or writing for yourself, right? That’s what I thought, too. But after a while you start to realize that loving to write is not the same as loving to write for clients. And you start to realize that even though you’re doing what you love, writing, it doesn’t always mean you love the projects you’re working on. And in those times, you can start to forget exactly why it is you love to write. Turns out, forgetting to write for yourself is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a freelance writer.

By writing for yourself, you rekindle the passion you have for writing. You get to go back to the beginning and remember everything about writing that you love — that made you want to go into writing as a profession in the first place. So be sure to set aside time every week to write just for you.

4. Remind Yourself of What You’ve Already Accomplished.

Just sitting down to start a new business is a huge accomplishment. Landing your first client is a huge accomplishment. Completing your first contract and getting paid is a huge accomplishment.

Why do you think so many entrepreneurs and CEOs have “the first dollar they ever made” framed and hung up on a wall somewhere in their office (at least they do in the movies)? Because it’s that important.

Celebrate every win, big and small, without trying to qualify it or downplay it. Downplaying your wins as “no big deal” defeats the purpose of having a win. And besides, of course it’s a big deal. It’s a very big deal.

And remember to save every email from your clients letting you know how happy they are with your work or what kind of an impact you’ve had on their business. Every once in a while, when you start feeling like imposter syndrome is taking over, then hearing straight from your clients how much your work has meant to them will prove to be exactly what you need.

5. Give Yourself Permission to Suck Sometimes.

I once woke up early because of some construction going on in the neighborhood and decided to make my husband some coffee. In my sleep-deprived lumbering, I accidentally used salt instead of sugar and didn’t notice until I brought it to him. That poor man tried so very hard to be nice to me and just drink the salty coffee, thinking that I was experimenting with yet another recipe that I’d found. But he finally told me and I was mortified.

I apologized profusely, made him a new cup of coffee, and found a new spot to store the salt where it wouldn’t be anywhere near the sugar. In other words, I acknowledged the problem, made it right, and then implemented a plan to help prevent the mistake in the future.

You know what I didn’t do? I didn’t dwell on it and then decide that I just wasn’t cut out to make him coffee anymore. I didn’t call myself a bad wife or a bad partner, I didn’t give up on the routine at all.

Everyone has a bad day. We all make mistakes, we all type in the wrong their or there every once in a while, we all miss a glaring point that the client asked us to make sure made it into their book, we all lose an email from time to time — we all make mistakes.

The important thing to remember here is that a mistake doesn’t need to completely unravel your entire career. Misunderstanding a client isn’t good, missing a deadline isn’t good, but these are mistakes that can be easily corrected — they don’t mean you’re not cut out for this sort of thing.

6. Remind Yourself About The Work You’re Doing.

If there’s one thing that all imposters (real imposters) have in common, it’s this: they all show up on payday even though they never put in any of the work.

I’m sure you’ve come across many of these throughout your life: the member of your group in school who didn’t do anything for that group project but got the grade, that person at your job who never did anything for the presentation but accepted the credit. These are imposters.

A real imposter isn’t putting in the work, but they make everyone else believe that they are.

So, if you start feeling like an imposter, take a look at the actual work you’re performing and the effort it takes to complete that work. If you’re putting in the work, even if you’re not one hundred percent confident in your skills to complete that work, then you deserve to be compensated for it.

7. Get Into Some Groups and Start Networking.

Freelance groups are amazing for reminding us that we aren’t alone. Writing is a lonely profession, and freelance ghostwriting tends to be even lonelier because we can’t divulge ideas the way other writers can. But that doesn’t mean we are on our own.

Every struggle that we go through as freelance writers, someone else is going through at the same time. Someone else has started doubting their ability, or wonders if they can succeed at writing, or is struggling with imposter syndrome the same as you. And if you connect with these other freelance writers, you’ll soon realize that the only person you’re defrauding is yourself.

8. Wanting to Improve is Not the Same as Being Bad.

We tend to believe that experts have it all together already and even if they make mistakes, those mistakes are minor and not indicative of any real problems. I am not sure how this belief got started or why it’s so widespread, but if I could kill any myth, it would be this one.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to wait to be an expert and are never making mistakes to start your business. And most entrepreneurs agree that there is always room for improvement — there is always something new they could learn that would help them be more efficient or more streamlined or more profitable.

So if you don’t know something, learn it. Don’t be afraid to pick up some courses, pick up some books, and see how they can help you improve.

9. You Can’t Break The Project You’re Writing.

There’s no wrong way to be a writer. You can get up early and get all your words written in the morning, or write throughout the day. You can write with your laptop on the sofa or put together a dedicated office. The most important thing for you to remember is to put together a writing routine that works for you. It may change or evolve as you do, but don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to other writers and thinking you need to emulate their writing routine or office.

Your clients aren’t going to care if the only time you’re able to pump out any words is between the hours of 9 and 11 at night. What they are going to care about it whether or not you delivered on your promises and if you can answer their questions when they ask.

10. Mentor Someone Else.

You know that phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know?” Well, it turns out that sometimes, you don’t know what you do know.

We have a tendency to pigeon-hole ourselves into a specific hierarchy: when we’re new at something we continue to think of ourselves as new until we meet someone who is even newer. And when you’re starting your new ghostwriting business, you will likely do the same thing: continue to think of yourself as new for months or even years to come. But if you get into some writers groups and join a few freelancing communities, you’ll realize that you know a lot and have a lot to offer someone else.

Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome Hold You Back.

Imposter syndrome has this nasty little habit of making us believe that we don’t deserve to reap the rewards for the hard work we’ve put in. In fact, imposter syndrome makes us believe that all the hard work we’ve put into any project is just to cover up the fact that we’re frauds.

We’re not.

We put in the work because we’re good at what we do.

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