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Can You Write When You Feel Like an Imposter?

A writer recently said to me, “I feel like an imposter. How can I write as an expert when I’m working through these same problems again that I am supposed to be teaching in my book?”

This author was writing about relationships and suddenly found himself struggling with a specific relationship topic in his partnership—an issue he’d thought they’d resolved.

book coach Lisa Tener

Readers tend to know when you’re handing them a pile of **** and not walking the talk yourself. You’ve probably experienced it yourself when you read something and think, “That author’s not being authentic. They sound like they have it all figured out but I can tell it’s a load of ****”

On the other hand, I knew this writer and that he was not the b.s. type. He was just a human being, realizing there was more to address in this particular area of life.

When Imposter Syndrome Surfaces for Writers

Here’s the tricky part. When you decide to write a book about something, the universe is bound to throw you a curve ball:

Lisa Tener first book
While writing an anger book, anger came up with more lessons!
  • A New York Times bestselling author who wrote about women and food and women and money found herself losing everything in a Ponzi scheme.
  • While working on The Ultimate Guide to Transforming Anger, one of my co-authors and I ran into a glitch when we were angry at each other but not communicating.
  • An author of several New York Times bestsellers who writes about relationships finds herself in her fourth divorce!

Now, sometimes, people are phonies, and they should probably cut the **** and write about something else. But most people are just doing the work they’ve come to the earth school to work through.

When we write about a subject we have expertise in, it’s quite common—and even helpful—to find ourselves in the muck of struggling with our challenges once again.

Why You Need to Revisit the Challenge

Here’s my theory:

  1. There’s usually more than one layer to a problem, challenge or issue. As we write a book on a topic, it’s often the perfect time to go deeper and grow!
  2. To write about a topic, it’s helpful to remember the pain, as well as the path out of that pain. Revisiting an issue personally can help us remember what it’s like to walk in the readers’ shoes and experience what they are experiencing. This can help us write in a way that resonates with readers, is accessible, clear and doesn’t skip any steps.
  3. Addressing the issue anew may help you develop new insights to share with your readers. You may discover new tools, a new perspective or a new way to help people.

This need to revisit the problem does not make you an imposter unless you claim to be perfect or ignore the problem and pretend you’ve got it all together.

Journal Your Way Out of Imposter Syndrome

Journaling is an excellent tool for addressing imposter syndrome. There are two aspects of this process.

The first step is to remind yourself that you are not an imposter. You may want to :

Lisa Tener journaling
  1. Remind yourself of the ways you’ve addressed this or similar problems at other times in your life. Write about these experiences to remember that you have knowledge and wisdom here.
  2. Journal about the ways you’ve helped other people with this problem. This will help remind you that you are an expert—just not the expert who has everything 100% figured out and will never make a mistake or struggle ever again. Welcome to Earth!
  3. Journal about the tools you have at your disposal—tools you’ve picked up from others and tools you may have created to help yourself and others experience breakthroughs.

Second, you want to engage the problem and see what it teaches you. Be curious. Journaling questions can include:

Lisa Tener Journaling
  1. Why did this problem come up for me again?
  2. What is the problem telling me?
  3. Where am I out of integrity?
  4. What do I need to address, learn or change?
  5. What tools do I have that can help me address this?
  6. How have I helped others with this problem? If I were a client, what would I tell myself or suggest?
  7. What new things am I learning about the situation?

You can likely come up with additional questions specific to your issue. Write them all down and then explore them in your journal.

Avoid Being too Self-Effacing

A little humility goes a long way! Being vulnerable helps our readers connect with us and know we have been where they are.

However, it’s important to remember that readers of a self-help or how-to book seek expertise. They want to know that you’ve successfully addressed their problems as well. If you focus too much on being vulnerable and honest, you can lose their trust and faith that you can help them address their challenges and meet their goals.

I learned this lesson recently when I received a round of developmental editing from a colleague for my upcoming book. She noted too many places where I did the opposite of owning my authority, pointing out all the ways I struggled with something. “Fine to start with that, but let the reader know you know your stuff. Write with authority,” she told me.

If you’re writing self-help, how-to, business or any area where readers look to you for expertise, owning your hard-earned knowledge and wisdom is essential. Stand in your power and share what works.

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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