From “Writer” to “Author of a Book”: 4 Tips for Imposter Syndrome

There’s a mental shift for writers when they start calling themselves an author of a book. Many writers seem to find some magic in the term, some kind of promise in the word.

If you are among the group of authors with only one published book, there’s good news. That’s all it takes to call yourself an author. Technically, if you have published only one book, I’d recommend you call yourself an emerging author.

Difference Between a “Writer” and an “Author”

Some people (who risk sounding pretentious) might elaborate on subtle differences between the terms writer and author, but really it just comes down to: have you published a book yet? Fiction or nonfiction, any age genre (adult, YA, children); authors with only one published book are still the author of a book.

Now, there are many types of writers.

Screen writers are highly involved in your favorite TV shows and movies. Copywriters craft the ads, commercials, and most of the social media posts (and blogs!) that you see.

Poets are writers who specialize in poetry. A fiction writer might not necessarily be an author of a book. Many fiction writers are accomplished at short form and focus on flash fiction or short stories.

Nonfiction writers compose essays, magazine and website content, and online tutorials and articles.

Technical writers compose textbooks, guidebooks, and manuals.

You can make an excellent living, engage many interests, and master many forms and platforms as a writer, without ever becoming the author of a book.

But if you do finish that first draft of your manuscript, you’re one step closer to calling yourself an author. Now, all you have to do is publish.

Imposter Syndrome

Not to gloss over the sometimes-difficult, multistep process of publishing, but…

One of the challenges that can keep many people from making the transition from writer of a manuscript to author of a book is imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is a situation in which a person feels or states that they are not worthy of their achievements or of acclaim, despite evidence to the contrary. People who struggle with imposter syndrome report feeling like a “fraud” or like they’ve fooled others into thinking highly of them.

I think you can see why this is a mindset that might (sometimes) affect writers (even very talented ones.) I have worked with people who had run multiple successful companies, had raised incredible children, had lived through extreme and extraordinary circumstances who all told me that they weren’t sure they could be an author of a book because they weren’t sure that anyone would be interested in their stories or ideas.

Every book you’ve ever read, every author you ever admired, began as a writer who decided that, even if they weren’t sure anyone would be interested, they were going to publish their book anyway.

Funny cartoon from Science of People showing two pie charts. One blue and one yellow.
From The Science of People, “The 5 Types of Imposter Syndrome (and How to Overcome It!)”

Becoming a Successful Author of a Book

Now, that’s not to say that publishing a single book will let you live the life of your dreams. Authors with only one published book have a long road ahead of them. Being an author is not the same as being a successful author. Generally, emerging authors tend to publish about seven or eight books; those authors who earn $100K per year or more have an average of thirty-three books to their names.

It can be helpful to consider your definition of success. An annual income of $100K as a book author is one measure of success. You might consider what else are elements of your personal success story—a successful launch party; a successful book signing or public speaking engagement; a successful media tour; a successful establishment of a Facebook group or other social media space to connect with your readership.

There are many standards by which you can measure success once you’re the author of a book, and you can build on those successes.

Writing through Imposter Syndrome

But first, in order to complete that all-important initial step from writer to author, you have to get past the dreadful imposter syndrome. There are many different approaches, but here are a few of my favorites that I’ve seen work over the years for different authors working on their first book.

Talk Back to Negative Voices

You can do this out loud (if you’re in a comfortable environment), or you might type it up as a dialogue screen in a blank document. When a negative thought tells you that you should stop writing, shouldn’t tell your story, or that you’ll never be the author of a book, you respond back to the thought with either a question like, “Is that really true?” or a statement that conveys the idea that “Your opinion isn’t welcome here.”

I find it can be particularly helpful to get this all out at the beginning of a scheduled or impromptu writing session. If you have half an hour to write, spend the first two to three minutes telling your self-doubt to take a hike…at least for the next twenty-eight minutes.

Let Negative Thoughts Sputter Out

Along the same lines, if you don’t find that talking back to negative self-criticism or doubt is the right approach for you, instead, try to imagine those thoughts being said to you by an angry toddler—fragmented language and all. Then, spend two to three minutes writing up what the negative toddler–thoughts are saying. You might find that—very quickly and like a toddler—the negative self-talk will run out of steam. Or you might find yourself laughing if you’re very good at writing a toddler’s voice, and in that case, consider becoming the author of a book for children.

Lock Away Negative Voices

You can also manage negative self-talk from imposter syndrome using visualization techniques, including “shrinking” the source of this critical inner voice. Visualize the person (or people) whose voices embody the negative thoughts, then visualize that person shrinking, becoming small, small enough that you can drop them into a glass jar on which you tightly screw the lid, muting the voice. If you hear multiple voices or inner critics, repeat the process with each person/thought until they are all secured in these mental glass jars. Then, place all the jars in a mental cabinet, close the door, and physically lock it. Now, sit down to write.

Try the Mirror Technique with a Writerly Twist

You have probably heard of the motivational process/Law of Attraction of repeating positive mantras (or affirmations) to yourself in the mirror, daily, in order to boost confidence, increase self-compassion, and focus your mental energy—aka, the mirror technique. This is a great idea, of course, and there is some research showing that mirror affirmations may help support student achievement (in certain circumstances); so why not writers?

The basic mirror technique is simple: You spend at least 1 minute in front of the mirror repeating to yourself positive, self-affirming statements. (Some say you can simply think the statements, but I suggest speaking them aloud.) General recommendations include phrases like, “I can do anything I put my mind to” or “I am worthy.”

For writers, and specifically a writer who wants to become the author of a book, I recommend trying author-motivational phrases such as: 

  • “I am an author.”
  • “All it takes is one published book.”
  • “All of my favorite books started as ideas.”
  • “I am creative.”
  • “I can write my way out of any plothole.”
  • “You can edit a bad draft, but you can’t edit a blank page.”

If you have another writer-related motivational phrase, give it priority in your daily affirmation routine.

Image of a small cat looking in mirror at reflection of a lion with the caption "What matters most is how you see yourself." Encouragement for writers and author of a book.

If you don’t have a daily affirmation routine, you can always try this as a practice to pump yourself up before writing time. Give yourself a one-minute pep talk, then sit at your keyboard and let the imposter syndrome watch you work.

Whatever you need to do to become the author of a book that you want to be, keep writing.

We help dreams become books

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