Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Day 5 - Impostor syndrome

When does a writer start being a writer? The moment she writes a word? The day she completes a piece of writing? The first time her work is published?

Turns out that for me, none of that was enough. I had won an award for a short story, had published a few children's stories in a newspaper supplement, and yet, I didn't consider myself a writer.

At a party, a friend was introducing me to someone, and she waved her hand at me, and said, "She's a writer." I looked over my shoulder to see whom she was pointing at. And then grinned sheepishly.

It was at this time that I won a prize for my children's story. What followed after that was beyond anything I had expected. First of all, my story was performed by schoolchildren. It gave me such a high. Shortly after that, The Hindu called to ask if they could do a feature on me.

It was unreal. Why would they want to do a feature on poor little me? In my head, a writer is someone mature and accomplished. And I was the opposite. So why would a newspaper want to feature me? And it wasn't even just any rag - The Hindu, of all papers.

 And then it got wilder. On the day of the interview, the photographer arrived first, and went click-click-click, making me pose, and turn, and saying - stand in the light, stand facing the light, smile, relax your features.... and I obeyed like a zombie. Just as he was leaving, the interviewer arrived, and she talked to me for about an hour. It was fun to give the interview, but the moment she left, my brain couldn't take it anymore.

It was a severe dichotomy  in my head - "what should be (a writer)" vs. "what is (me)." And I couldn't reconcile the two. Then it turned physical. My teeth started chattering, I started trembling, and my legs wobbled. I was alone at home. I heated a cup of water for myself (I was shivering too much to trust myself to brew a cup of tea.) I wrapped myself in a blanket and curled up on the sofa and sipped the hot water until my body relaxed.

And then, I started crying. I have no idea why. Hot tears flowing down my cheek like they wouldn't stop. I don't remember too much what I did.  I think I called S and my mom, but I am not sure.

And what thoughts were going on in my head?

 "This shouldn't be happening to me."
 "I'm just an average writer who had a stroke of luck - they shouldn't be making so much of me."
"I'll never be able to write another good word, and then the whole world will know I am fake."
"They should stop calling me a writer - I am not one."
"Is there any way I can get them to stop the article getting published?"

In a few hours, I was completely back to normal.  I even looked forward to the article, and though it initially shocked me to see my face printed across half a page, I enjoyed all the attention when it did come out.

Later, a conversation with my aunt revealed to me that what I was feeling was called "Impostor syndrome" and it is very real, and that I am not alone. Can't tell you how relieved I was to find that I wasn't abnormal after all!

Even then, I could not call myself a writer. I would cringe if I was refered to as a writer. Given that I hold so much esteem for writers, why do I run away from that name? Do I think so low of myself?  I don't think so. Is it a false sense of modesty? I have no idea. Or maybe my idea of a writer is someone with a book to her name or something big like that, and so I don't consider myself "there" yet. I wish I knew what it was.

Only in the last  year, I have been comfortable with that tag, and though I hesitate slightly before I say it, I do say - "I'm a writer." And the more I say it, the easier it gets.

Note:  I needed a year and a half to bring myself to write about this! Gotta thank my post-a-day effort.


Revati Upadhya said...

Shucks, cannot tell you how often in the last 1 year I have felt it. Now that I know it has a proper name and tag, I feel less abnormal. It is even weirder for me because writing is what I have done professionally and otherwise. Its all I know, and yet, I hesitate to call myself that. I did a post on it recently too..

Good to know there are others like me :)
You are a writer Shruthi, and a very good one at that!

Radhika said...

You are so naive Shruthi. No doubts please. Every bit of your writing holds attention of the reader till the last word. Keep writing :-)

rk bellur said...


JayEnAar said...

Shruti, the best writing is simple, direct, unpretentious and honest. It creates a mood , paints a picture with words, evokes an emotion and draws the reader into the writers world. Anyone who can write like that, and you do, is by my definition, a writer.

Shruthi said...

hAAthi, yeah I read that post and connected too! And oh, thanks.

Radhika, sweet of you to say that!

RK bellur, yeah!

JayEnAar, thank you!

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