Despite the title, I’m not saying I’ve made it, whatever that might mean.
However, I wanted a quick word about Imposter Syndrome. But also, how self-doubt is different from a healthy skepticism about what you’re making, singing or writing etc. if creative.
This morning, rather than doom scrolling the news, I’m allowing myself a little time to revel in something I’ve done. I’m excited to be joining 21 brilliant poets, as the latest featured poet on Black Bough Poetry’s ‘Silver Branch Series’ – which can be found here: https://www.blackboughpoetry.com/matt-gilbert-september-2022
From my early teens, then as a student and into my early twenties, I used to write poems. Sometimes getting them into University magazines, like Nottingham’s fondly remembered (by me at least) Pulp magazine. Then, for a few reasons, mostly down to self doubt, I stopped.
And I carried on stopping for a long time.
Despite in my day job being a relatively successful copywriter – I even won a few awards along the way, I didn’t dare go back to trying to write, let alone share, or submit my own stuff – poetry in particular.
When I began this blog it was, in a tentative way, a means of getting my own writing back out there. Pretty quickly, I realised that a lot of my posts seemed to contain poem like passages, or lyrical elements trying to get out. Still I didn’t take the hint.
Three years ago, because of a little, whispered voice buried deep inside that still believed, I started to write poems again. I’ve since had quite a few published elsewhere – although, of course, this didn’t happen by chance, every acceptance has been fuelled by multiple rejections – sometimes painfully rapid ones, others signalled only through an endless silence. If you’d like to read some of my non-blog stuff – click here or on the Published Elsewhere tab above.
Today, my Silver Branch feature came out. I’m really chuffed (but I still had a little bit of concern about looking like a big show off!). I also feel a bit annoyed with myself that I gave up for so long, wasted so much time, although, in the end, I came back to writing poems.
However, this is not to say that all doubt is bad. Somehow, and it isn’t easy, you have to find a way to separate doubt about a line, a word, a verse, an idea, from self-doubt. You are you. We’re all flawed and messy and interesting and loveable to varying degrees. But if, say, you write a poem that doesn’t work,
or something that line by line is fine, but in the end just isn’t very interesting, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t.
A little doubt about the work is a good thing. It is a cliche to say that a poem is never finished. How many poems included in collections are revised by poets and differ from their earlier published versions in magazines or websites? Standing back and chiselling away a little further, cutting here, swapping a word or a line or two there, losing a verse, can sometimes make a very big difference. (I’ve just cut a paragraph that I feared sounded too much like trite positivity straight out of a greetings card. Or an inept reprise of Becket’s ‘Fail’ quote. Maybe this whole piece is? Arrgggh. Here comes the doubt again). Sometimes we know a piece is worth sharing and must keep the faith. Get rejected, send it out again. Sometimes there may be a reason why something keeps getting ignored or sent back. Take another look.
No one deserves success. Talent alone, is often not enough. But if you create, or act, or do almost anything you love and suffer from imposter syndrome, think about this – as others have been quick to point out – look at our last two PMs (their cabinets and hangers on). Did they reach their positions out of merit? Or being nice guys? Or sheer brilliance? (ok the previous one did win an election, but look what happened next…).
The opposite of Imposter Syndrome, egotism, boosterism, or sheer blind arrogance is not only bad for the individual, but bad news for everyone. If you, rather than a desire to be world king, have a creative urge, scratch the itch.
You are not an imposter. Is everything you produce brilliant and deserving of fame and fortune? No.
Both things can be true.
If you write, or paint, or sing, or whatever it is that gets that creative impulse twitching, keep at it, allow doubts about the work, but don’t forget to be kind to yourself.