She Doesn’t Even Go Here, Part 1: Navigating Imposter Syndrome in Art

Paige Pinto

I want to dive into something personal. 

Namely, imposter syndrome – I expect that most of us have experienced it, even if we haven’t been calling it by name. It’s that feeling like we’ve conned someone – boss, friend group, S.O. – into thinking that we’re way smarter/cooler/hotter than we are, and that, sooner or later, we’re going to fail, the act will fall, and we’ll be exposed for the flawed, ugly person we really are. It’s an anxiety founded by our own conviction that we’re always already inadequate. 

I want to talk about what that means in art: in creating, writing, producing, performing, sharing.

In our inaugural blog post, Manahil speaks about how 1811 came together through that incredible, vulnerable act of sharing your work. If you’re riding those waves of self-doubt, sharing is brave. It is really, really hard. As far as art goes, writing allows for a lot of privacy. You can practice in your bedroom without anyone knowing. You can share your work without seeing your audience’s face. You don’t have to share your work at all.

I have been writing for years and not submitting, developing pieces for specific contests and not entering. If you don’t show anyone your work, you don’t have to wonder: am I good enough, or am I just a pretender? The act of creating can be so private that sharing your work – the natural end goal of expression – can be brutally exposing. And yet, that’s what brought us together.

This project in particular has challenged my preconceptions of where I think I belong, where I think I have no right to be, and where I really am. This process of deciding to self-publish a book and then actually pursuing that decision to its inevitable conclusion (rather than running away screaming) has been a lesson in navigating imposter syndrome in art.

Alicia’s blog post addresses her own worry that, like all great (and mediocre, and exciting, and wonderful) ideas, this one would disappear into the abyss, railroaded by the eternal busy-ness of the everyday, conquered by our own distractions and non-committal flightiness. That fear feels especially valid considering my own track record of abandonment, the literary graveyard that is my old hard drive.

So, on the one hand, the very likely possibility that this project would never see the light of day.

On the other hand, the equally loud, sharp fear that it would.

Anxiety in art is fighting yourself at every step. Fighting your own imagined terrors of what happens when the words are on the page, when somebody reads them, when somebody judges them. Fighting through the impulse to quit because you’ve already judged yourself and, really, this is all you could come up with? And even more so, fighting your instinct to cringe away from the inevitable reaction: you thought this was worthy of publication? That this raw, half-baked drivel was fit for consumption by the masses?

Okay, maybe your brain isn’t doing that. But mine is. Every time I hit <enter> and begin a new paragraph, I could just walk away from my laptop. But I’m still here, very intense, and maybe a lot obsessed with this project – because I’m determined to see it through.

Anxiety in art – in creating, producing, performing – is often imposter syndrome, the sense that by licensing this one act, you’re claiming something about yourself. And, to be honest, that claim is a good one, one that’s difficult to contest: your right to expression, your right to be heard. Your right to exhale, to change and transform the world by saying, well, this is how I see it. But it can also feel presumptuous. Why should I ask you to listen? Don’t you have better things to do?

Even as I’m writing this, I’m worrying: maybe I’m the only one; what if no one else relates to this at all?

To get to my point: it’s hard. Sometimes working for yourself (i.e. writing and creating and sharing) feels like working against yourself, feels like it’s leaving you open to some serious damage. And sometimes, our instinct for safety goes against our best interests: hiding those stories in an old notebook only gets you halfway to beauty.

Anxiety in art is fighting yourself at every step. Fighting your own imagined terrors of what happens when the words are one the page, when somebody reads them, when somebody judges them.

This project has been an exercise in vulnerability: not just sharing a story with the group, but consistently sharing each revision and leaning on others to help you develop and grow — and then, eventually, reaching outside of ourselves to share these stories with the other people in our lives, the ones with whom perhaps we don’t usually share. 

That’s the other dimension here, the one that the cozy reach of a writer’s circle didn’t prepare me for: publication. Of everything, self-publishing feels the most exposing, the most dangerous. Unlike the deep undercover of imposter syndrome, self-publishing is a great stepping-out. You’re saying, I bypassed the system; no one approved me, but here I am. You occasionally feel like a fraud.

The people in my life who know about this project are excited to spread the news: Paige is writing a book – Paige, tell them about your book. And when the spotlight is on, my first impulse is to say, yes, but we’re self-publishing

Yes, but. Listen, but you don’t have to. Only if you want to. I’m as licensed as you let me be.

Obviously, there are many reasons to self-publish, and all of them legitimate. We’ve learned so much and had total control over the process. We get to put our work out there, regardless of whether it fits into a market – because we don’t have to worry about the bottom line. In ignoring the system, we get to ignore the necessity of approval. At the core, this is liberating. We’re creating this space for ourselves; this is just for us

If this project takes courage (and it does), at least I’m not stepping out on this limb alone. While it might be difficult to advocate for my own voice, to put my own work forward, it’s not nearly so hard to support these talented, creative friends I’ve made. And so: I have to end by saying thank you to my partners. Thank you to Alicia, for sharing your own writing in a way that gives me faith in the project, that reminds me that this is fun. Thank you to Browen, for the pep talks and heavy doses of realism whenever I step too far into self-doubt. 

And thank you infinitely to every contributor for their writing, for their sharing, for their confidence that this is the right thing to do. If I’m still hiding, it’s behind a group of people, one that I can get behind and get into totally as a fan, as a friend, and, most importantly, as myself.

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