Impostor Syndrome in Writing

pencil-918449_1920There’s this thing called “Impostor Syndrome“, which is essentially when someone is unable to accept that they are skilled or competent in a given area regardless of any achievements or accomplishments that prove otherwise.

People who suffer from it are able to acknowledge their successes, but attribute them to luck or good timing, without being able to take credit for their success personally. They are, in short, incapable of giving credit where credit is due when they are on the receiving end of said credit.

And while there is debate over whether or not it should even be classified as a syndrome, or whether it should even be considered a problem seeing as a massive number of people admit to experiencing it, I think it’s still a valid point of conversation, especially when it comes to my fellow writers.

During my career, I have come across writers of all kinds. There are writers who are beyond confident in their abilities (and who won’t let you forget just how good they are), and there are writers who will quietly and carefully outwrite their peers while refusing to acknowledge their real skills. The rest generally fit somewhere in between.

After training, reviewing, and working with so many writers over the years, I think that I can safely say that the writers I have met who undersell their abilities, the ones who question their competency, are the ones who create the strongest content. It is the writers who still believe they have room to learn and to grow, who take feedback and apply it in earnest, who become the masters.

One of the things I look for when hiring a writer is their ability to take edits without letting their ego get involved because those who can take critiques are the ones who are willing to keep honing their skills, regardless of their level of education or how many years of experience they have.

Even though I have come across a lot of writers who are convinced that they are the next big thing, it’s the ones who have at least a touch of Impostor Syndrome (or self-doubt) that actually go on to do great things.

While confidence is important, letting it overshadow your willingness to learn and to expand as a writer will only stunt your professional growth and keep you from becoming better.

I think a lot of us probably suffer from Impostor Syndrome to some degree, especially when it comes to our writing. Hell, I go to work every day and wonder how someone ever thought it was a good idea to put me in charge of a content team. But then I remember that it wasn’t an accident and that, as far as I know, no bribes were involved in the process.

While you should never let self-doubt take over or keep you from writing, letting go of your ego and accepting that there is probably always going to be a way to improve your content or your skills is often what separates the good writers from the great ones.

In short, a little self-doubt is probably normal and healthy. Too much or too little and you end up crippling your skills.

To find a happy balance, be open to edits and feedback. Take time to look over your own writing and consider where you think your weaknesses are. Remember that writing is subjective and that it’s important to find a balance between the technical and creative aspects of a piece of content in order to make it shine.



Whom Is Dead

sculpture-3055967_1920There are writing rules that we must never break (like using a serial comma), and there are writing rules that are meant to be broken (or dismissed altogether). Part of being a good writer is to know when to break the rules and when to embrace them.

I am a writer in the legal industry, which means that I work with a lot of highly educated, verbose, and technical people. It is my job to take the concepts that these people wish to communicate and shape them into something that an average Joe could understand.

Doing so involves a lot of energy, but after awhile, you get the hang of it. Especially after having spent four years in the trenches and passing your knowledge on to your burgeoning content team.

Recently, one of said team members wrote a blog post about some rather complicated legal process for the general public. Blog posts usually have a lighter tone and style than, say, an article. Aside from social posts, they’re the most casual form of content that we write at my place of employment.

When he sent it to me for review, he had left a comment highlighting the use of “who” in the post, noting that he was aware it should technically be “whom”, but that it threw off the rest of the piece and made it sound pretentious. He said he would change it if I wanted him to.

But he was right, the proper use of “whom’ would have been jarring to the reader, causing them to stagger and interrupting the otherwise smooth flow of the content.

“Leave it out,” I said. “Whom is dead.”

So, he published the post as usual and continued his day as usual. For about five minutes.

A notification.

A comment.


One of our subscribers had, seemingly, read the post as soon as it appeared in their email inbox, apparently eager to read content that could quite possibly bore a rock to death.

Not only had she read the post, she had left a comment. Regarding—you guessed it—our misuse of “who”. She explained to us (a team of professional writers) that we had made a typo and proceeded to teach us when to use “who” and when to use “whom”. Shame on us.

As you can imagine, we were very thankful (we weren’t).

Though our hearts wanted to reply with a touch of sass, we curbed our desires and explained why we had used “who” instead of “whom”, letting her know that in modern content, especially for online readers, it is often accepted as a style choice as opposed to a hard and fast rule. She didn’t respond.

“Whom” just happens to be another casualty in the transition from print content to digital content; the formal to the informal; the standard practice to the trend. A rule that is becoming something to be broken instead of followed.

May “whom” rest in peace, along with double-spacing after periods and (much to my personal dismay) cursive writing.