Saturday, February 1, 2014

When Feeling Like a Fraud

Often in a writer’s career there are times when they question if they are really a writer or (to borrow from Neil Gaimon) that some man with a clipboard will show up on their doorstep and tell them that they need to get a real job, wear a tie and go into the office every day. This anxiety comes from the uncertainty that we hold in ourselves. It is that voice that says you are not good enough, you are washed up, you really don’t have a clue what you are doing, you have missed your opportunity—and we listen to that voice. What can we do when we are faced with feeling like we are frauds?

Sadly, there isn’t any single answer to how to face it. Not every writer handles this the right way. Some “disappear” from the industry. Some turn to substance abuse. Some even turn to suicide, as we feel hollow without our art or we feel that drive that pushes us like an unrelenting taskmaster. Others face it in more healthy ways of reaching out to other writers and feeling their support or to supporting friends and family.

From a personal point of view, this feeling is a constant companion. I have had some poems, articles, and short stories published but I haven’t “made it.” This is how I keep my “monster” gagged. To be honest it hasn’t always worked. I have almost walked away from this calling in life more than once . . . more times than I want to count. But there is a drive that keeps me going. 

1.  Remember you are human, not the embodiment of perfection.

There is a saying on a plaque that my grandmother had given my father. I didn’t know where it had come from until after she passed away or I would have thanked her when she was alive, because it has kept me going through a lot in life: “Don’t worry if you work hard and your rewards are few. Remember, the mighty oak was once a nut like you!"

All humor aside, the fact is our art and ourselves as writers are organic. We may have heard the call of our muse when we were very young or much later in life, but that call was a seed planted in our minds (or soul). We start to work on our art. We haven’t been touched by some divine being with the ability to just sit down and create a masterpiece. Our abilities grow and the path is frustrating, rocky, slippery and never straight. To be strong in our art we have to face these tribulations, as much as we don’t want to. Without facing those fears, failures and stumbles we couldn’t be the writers we are today. Some of us get recognition for our art sooner than others, but even those writers are still growing or they quickly become forgotten.

2.  Remember why you write.

If I had a quarter for every time a “want-to-be” writer  have approached me or asked at a writing workshop or conference “how do I get rich writing?” I might be able to pay the National Debt off for us all and still live comfortably. Not that wanting to write for money is bad—I would love to be able to live on that kind of income rather than rely on a second full time job—but if you are going to write because you think you are going to get rich you may as well grab a pick axe and a pan and mine for gold somewhere else. It would probably be as much work with as little payoff as this craft of ours.

You decided to answer the call to be a writer for a reason. Do you remember when you were  bright eyed with the idea, the feeling behind those first scribbled words were  first put on the page (digital or paper)? Why did you do it? What about it gave you satisfaction? Your reason to write may have changed since those first steps into this strange creative world. What was the initial reason? If that reason has changed, has it changed for the better?

When we are writing for the wrong reason, we get in our own way and we doubt our talents and gifts. We see our flaws, our failures, and succumb to the negative seduction of the inner critic. When I feel like a fraud, I look at what I am trying to write and what I am trying to do. I dissect my motives behind the question of “why write this story?”  That question can kill the work I am doing or cause it to be shelved for a later time because the fault and the doubts aren’t really about my talent but about the motive behind the story. I have to reconnect with the art in me and what has brought me to this insane industry in the first place—has led to the sacrifices we all make in pursuit of it.

3. Remember that any flaw as a writer that you have, you are never as bad as you think. (No matter what any critic says either)

We all have our problem areas in our art. Some of us it is dialogue, some it is avoiding cookie cutter characters, some it is description, some of it is voice. We all have them. To us they stick out and we get frustrated OR we submit for publication with blinders on and then wonder why it got rejected. This frustration and feeling of rejection is the gateway through which our doubts and fears enter. We can sit there and ponder, “Well [enter other author name] writes crap or ill disguised fan fiction that gets published. Why can’t I?” Then our frustration grows and often unrealistically.

The fact is, unless you are some kind of “Mozart” of the writing world, you are flawed and those flaws bleed into your writing. Instead of being frustrated, embrace those flaws—learn them and learn how to find them in your manuscript. Stop beating yourself up over it and adapt to overcome. Yes, it means a lot of work. Everything we achieve or fail to achieve is directly related to how smartly and diligently we work on our art. Why beat yourself up over being you? How useful is that to improving what you do? (If that sounds flip, it really isn’t. I face this not only as a writer, but also as a martial artist. It is in what we do when we face it that defines us as an artist.)

4. Remember that every writer has flaws.

I wish I was any of my literary heroes: Erle Stanley Gardner, Isaac Asimov, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Alexandre Dumas, and the list go on. The fact is, I’m not. Not anywhere near them. Because I have grown to idealize them, much as many writers do Stephen King, James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, Walter Mosby, and others, we start to see them as the idea rather than the flawed human and flawed writers that they were or are. Pick up any one who has been published a lot and read their work with a jaundice eye of our craft and you will be able to see their flaws. As you read them over time you will see how they have grown as a writer to over come those flaws BY WRITITNG!

They may have gone to some workshops or taken some classes here and there, but they worked to improve their craft by constantly writing and working to improve their flaws. These flaws sometimes still stand out like a “neon kick me sign” in their first drafts, but they go back and rework the pieces to improve them.  Personally, I have created a writing method for me to be able to spot my flaws as a writer with a laser focus. As I fix them and trying to ignore that inner critic, I have to remember that I am organic. I will always have flaws. There is no perfect manuscript and all you can do is do your best and remember why you write in the first place.

The truth is that we all face the feeling in being an inadequate writer or being a fraud.  It is how we face this feeling that defines us as an artist. We only become frauds and failures when we give into the feeling and walk away from your calling.

Thank you for reading and please visit and You find me on Facebook at You can also follow me on twitter @Owlkenpowriter and the Writer’s Lens @TheWritersLens.

 Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.


  1. Great, great insights, David.

    I used to bandy about that same word: Fraud.

    Lately I'm thinking about it more in terms of Opportunity Cost. Some of my novels only took seven weeks to write. One took three years. And what do I have to show for my decade of ass-in-chair hours? A bunch of war tales and "Oh, I was THISCLOSE!" whiner weedles? Bah!

    And then... And then lightening struck. An agent signed my current book for representation. Then, looking through my pile of "dead soldier" manuscripts, she signed for one of those as well.

    So what is the takeaway? That I'm not really a fraud? Nope. I'll always be a fraud to my friends and family.

    That I'm finally a good enough writer from all the practice with failure? Nope.

    The takeaway is that my pages were on a slushpile the day the woman who would become my agent was in the mood to read my kind of voice. Long effing odds. LONG ODDS. And my pages were in THAT particular slush pile only because you had a Facebook post about perseverance ten minutes after I posted I was going to quit writing. You shamed me into seeing it through until I had a rejection from every agent who repps my genre.

    You miss 100% of the shots you never take.

    1. Shawn...Congrats and thank you for this comment and for sticking with it!

  2. David, I feel that way every time I write. One of these days someone's gonna figure out how full of it I am and that message will go viral even if I never will.

    I know I'll never be as good as Stephen King. Or David Baldacci. Or Lewis Grizzard. So I might as well be myself; there's a whole lot less competition.

    Back in my band days (I've played professionally for a long time) we'd finish a gig, notice how the audience loved us, and hoist our glasses. "Tricked 'em again," is what we'd say.