TWIC/Are You a Screenwriting Imposter?

Week ending 3/6/20.

This past Thursday, a day in which I had six client sessions, I found myself having three different conversation about something that afflicts so many of the writers I work with: Imposter syndrome.

Mind you, these conversations are nothing new to me; in fact, it would probably be easier for me to  count those ongoing coaching clients that I’ve been working with for any length of time that I HAVEN’T had those conversations with then it would be counting those who’ve confided in me at some point (if not many times over) that they are, in fact, suffering from a severe and often ever-present case of imposter syndrome, questioning whether they have the work ethic, passion and/or talent required to claim writing as their own.

Now, just to be clear, most writers don’t show up to that first meeting with me and lay it all out there: Most writers don’t confide in me immediately that they fear that they are not good enough, that they wonder whether they actually have the chops to repeat their previous successful writing effort, or tell me that they are concerned that despite any progress they’ve made with their writing career the truth is that maybe they don’t have what it takes to make a real, long-term career of it, and, in fact, just got lucky.

No. Most writers reveal this to me over time, sharing that, even though they might not have mentioned it, and despite any successes, this feeling, this suspicion, has been nagging at them for a while.

It looks differently at different stages of a writer’s career progress, as illuminated by the various conversations I had with writers this past Thursday, who are, in fact, in very different career junctures.

The writer who has been at it for a few years but is, for all intents and purposes, just starting out on his professional journey, who is working hard on his craft but has yet to win or become finalist in any of the big screenwriting competition or TV writing fellowship despite ongoing input that his work is getting stronger and stronger from writers group members, consultant and instructors, told me that he is continually worried he’s not writing enough, or writing well enough. The writer was smart enough to chalk it up to standard writerly anxiety but… that doesn’t make the feeling go away, it only provides it with a palatable label. For the record, the writer is a VERY talented scribe, so him getting there is something about which I have no doubt! Though I am sure that as he continues to travel along this road, these feelings won’t easily let up.

The writer who’s already placed well in a number of reputable screenwriting competitions but whose productivity has slowed down going into 2020, and who has not yet been able to lock down representation despite a number of conversations, wondered if this is proof that she was never really truly a writer. After all, she told me, if she was, if she hadn’t been faking it, would she have had such a hard time getting back into the writing after her end-of-year travels? I did what I could to remind her that many projects are difficult to get started; in fact, for many writers, getting in the groove on a new project is often the most challenging writing time. This is in no way proof that the writer is a fake; instead, it’s just part of the process from many scribes. 

And then I talked to a writer who was just commenced on a writing assignment, and found himself freezing up right out of the gate. He had tried writing the agreed-upon, previously outlined opening sequence, but it wasn’t landing. What if this was evidence that he was the wrong guy for the job? That whatever he delivers upon deadline will never be good enough, and that he will never be hired again? What if this is the project that reveals that he was never as good as everyone around him claimed? The moment that everyone catches his bluff, and realizes that he actually doesn’t deserve to be here?

Here is what I’ve learned over the years: There are plenty of writers out there who feel like imposters, and seek out evidence to help confirm that suspicion. For many, this will not be something that will go away as they become more successful; it may manifest differently at different career stages, but in all likelihood, it will not altogether disappear. BUT, just because a writer worries that he is an imposter every once in a while, it doesn’t mean that it’s real. 

Therefore, if imposter syndrome is part of your reality, you have to accept it as part of your process, but not give it more heed than it deserves. Find people that you can talk to about it, whoo can empathize and understand, and who recognize your insecurities and can talk you off the ledge. After all, a big part of being able to build and maintain a screenwriting career is about getting an effective support system in place, made of people who believe in you and your writing, and can help quiet those doubts and fears whenever they swell. We all have our demons, and rarely do they just go away. Therefore, you have to know how to manage them so that they don’t interfere with what you’re doing for your screenwriting career every day.