The term imposter syndrome was originally coined by the psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose in the 1970s. They believed that the syndrome applied mostly to high-achieving women. Further research, however, showed that its periodic sufferers can be just about anyone, especially those thrust into a new role, such as beginning college or getting a big promotion at work.
Experiencing imposter syndrome is no fun. It’s that feeling that you’re a fraud. You don’t belong where you’ve landed, and any moment, the folks around you are going to figure that out.
I confess I suffered from a bad case of imposter syndrome when I started my MFA program at Seton Hill. It seemed that every writer in the program had a different narrative than my own. They’d known since they were four or five that they were destined to become authors. They’d penned short stories, plays, and poetry in their early years.
That wasn’t my story at all. When I was four or five, I could not sit still whenever music was playing at our house. It didn’t matter whether it was jazz, blues, or classical piano. I had to move. I suppose it’s not too surprising that I grew up to become a dancer.
It’s not that I didn’t like to write. I loved writing essays and research papers. As an adult, when I was still dancing, I moonlighted as a freelance magazine journalist, primarily writing features for regional parenting magazines. But I was sure I lacked the fiction gene.
And then, after age and injury led to my retirement from dance, I got this idea for a young adult novel about an aspiring ballet dancer. Working on While I Danced started out as a therapy project. I was grieving the loss of dance in my life. But I soon caught the fiction bug. That’s how I ended up in Seton Hill’s MFA program, where I wondered if I’d ever feel like I belonged.
Fortunately, my Seton Hill mentors offered plenty of encouragement as well as critical feedback, and I kept going long after I’d graduated. In a handful of weeks, my fourth YA novel, Deadly Setup, will be released from Fire and Ice/Melange Books.
Mostly, my bout with imposter syndrome has abated. But here’s the thing. I still struggle with self-doubt, fear, and anxiety every time I get ready to start a new project. I’ve come to accept that these feelings will hang around whenever it’s time to type page one.
But that’s okay. Now that I’ve caught the fiction bug, there’s nothing to do but continue and remind myself how blessed I am to do such endlessly interesting work.