Ask a Helping Han #3: Creative Imposter Syndrome

Dear Han,

Recently, I started a short and casual online writing programme designed to build people's confidence and get them writing creatively again. It's only been a few days, but it's been a great experience so far, and my initial terror is starting to give way to something a bit more like nervous excitement.

The problem is that I feel like such a fraud.

I'm not in a creative profession. When I was in school and university, I leaned pretty heavily to the humanities but I shifted direction in my professional life and went into accounting and management. I now work in the finance team of a large international charity. I like my job, but other than some casual bits of amateur dramatics, I haven't felt able to pursue creative interests in many years.

Something I'm particularly struggling with is that I write in a few very different styles. I might write something silly and cheerful about a witch with a taste for sparkly rainbow hats one day, and the next day go for something firmly on the bleaker side of the weird-spectrum. It feels really inconsistent, and I worry that it's not how you're supposed to do things.

I'm just a dabbler, so ultimately it doesn't really matter, but I don't want to stop writing. It is, in many ways, such a joy to start writing againbut I keep second-guessing myself, and I can see myself talking myself out of it entirely. Again.

How can I start to build and believe in my own creativity? How do I stop feeling like a fraud for doing any creative writing at all, even when it's just for myself?


Writer or Fraudster? 


Dear Writer,

My dear, you have come to the right place on this one! As a former art major turned nonprofit administrative employee, I have also stumbled down the road from creative to practical on my educational and career path. The good news is, you are not in any way a fraud! You don’t have to have a creative job to deserve to be creative—we all need to pay the bills, and in any case, some of us aren’t temperamentally suited to the chaotic nature of creative fields. Despite what the broader cultural narrative may tell you, there is no “correct” way to pursue your creative impulses—especially if you’re doing them for your own enjoyment, and not as a potential way of supporting yourself.

The arts—whether visual, musical, performing, or written—provide us value in so many ways. Some of them are readily consumable by the general public, and provide their audiences with new ways of seeing, feeling, or thinking. Some exist to push boundaries. Some exist to create beauty in the world. Some of them we make just for ourselves, to exercise those parts of our imaginations that need a good stretch every once in awhile. You don’t have to be writing the next great American (or British or German or whatever) novel to be allowed to write. You just have to enjoy writing.

As for committing to a style, I, for one, find it highly overrated. In academic programs, you’re often pushed to find your “true” voice or style in your art. I firmly believe that in art, as in life, we contain multitudes. I myself am a writer, an artist, a musician, a baker, and a craft enthusiast. I’ve written humor and heartache, personal essays and historical fiction. I’ve painted in oils and in watercolor everything from portraits to landscapes to abstractions. I’ve played piano and French horn, and I’ve sung in show choirs and classical ensembles. I knit, I draw, I sculpt. I do none of these things with any exceptional level of talent—most of them I’d say I am competent at, at best. Generally speaking, I complete about 7% of the projects I start (this figure is not in any way mathematically derived), and never in a timely manner. Once upon a time, this got me down—could I really claim to be an artist or writer when I never finished a painting or a story? Ultimately though, I realized that it didn’t matter. I wasn’t creating for anyone else; I was doing it because I enjoyed doing it. Because I had an idea in my head that was just itching to materialize. Most of the time, once I’d let it out, I was done with it; it wasn’t about the finished product, it was about the process.

Keep going to your workshop. Enjoy the hell out of your writing. Follow whatever thread strikes your fancy, see where it leads you, and if you get bored with it, let it go and find another one. There is no correct way to create. You don’t have to earn the right to do it. Keep on keeping on, and give zero fucks what anyone else may think about it. Maybe you will write a great novel some day, or maybe you’ll just end up with a notebook full of beautiful vignettes that it brought you joy to write. Do this for you, because you love doing it. If you stop loving it, stop doing it. But it’s your right to create as much as you want to for as long as it makes you happy.



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