What is Imposter Syndrome?

How to overcome self-doubt

The therapist in Her Little Secret suffers from doubts about her capability. While she is a registered psychotherapist and has completed all the training, she is concerned that she isn’t good enough, because her route to success was not conventional. Coming from a working class background, she feels comparatively uneducated and less intelligent than her peers. This causes her to work hard to prove to herself, and others, that she meets the standards. But even so, she doubts herself and often feels like a fraud.  

We can all suffer fleeting moments of uncertainty about whether we are capable or good enough. The psychological term for this is imposter syndrome. It has been estimated that nearly 70% of individuals will experience signs and symptoms of impostor phenomenon at least once in their life. It’s that feeling of doubt that creeps in and the accompanying fear that we will be found out as a ‘fraud’. On these occasions we feel we don’t belong in the relationship, group, organisation, or job we are in; that we have got there through luck or that we are somehow fooling others we are more than we are. Often there are nagging thoughts: ‘I’m not good enough’; ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’; ‘All these other people are more talented/skilled/qualified than me’.

The term Imposter Syndrome was first used in 1978 to refer to that feeling of being ‘a fraud’. Early research suggested it was common in high-achieving women, but it has since been acknowledged that anyone can suffer from it. While all of us my occasionally have these thoughts and feel we are out of our depth on a task or in a specific situation, for some it is a chronic mind set. Those with a continuous cycle of imposter syndrome typically take one of two approaches to new goals and assignments:

  • Some people over-prepare. They think of everything that could go wrong and ensure they have addressed it. They research and check their facts. They complete the work long before the deadline so they have time to check again. Then, when they receive good feedback they put it down to all their hard work. ‘Thank goodness I put so much effort in, I wouldn’t have managed it otherwise.’

  • The other approach is to procrastinate. These people put it off and avoid thinking about the work they need to do. It ends up being a desperate effort to get everything completed in time. After achieving the task any positive feedback is disregarded and they put their achievements down to fluke. ‘Phew, that was lucky!’

These approaches serve to reinforce the negative self-talk and beliefs and continue the fear of being found out as a fraud so the cycle continues.

If this sounds like you, some great hints and tips for addressing it can be found on this website: https://impostorsyndrome.com/10-steps-overcome-impostor/

Meanwhile, rest assured you are not alone, it also happens to the great and the good. Acclaimed author, Maya Angelou is quoted as saying, ‘I have written 11 books, but each time I think, “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a  game on everyone and they’re going to find me out.”’

What are some good questions to ask about a book?

Book group questions

When you read a novel certain questions might pop into your mind. You might ponder the title or the names chosen for the characters. Maybe you wonder how the author decided on a particular twist and look back to see what clues were hidden in the text. It might remind you of other books you’ve read or films you have seen. Possibly you imagined the lead characters and how they looked.

A couple of colleagues told me they’d like to recommend Her Little Secret to their book group. There are many lists of generic book group questions online but they ask me if I could come up with some questions, so here they are!

  1. Her Little Secret was not the author’s original title. What would you have titled the book?
  2. What does the cover design suggest to you? What cover would you have chosen?
  3. Why does Cristina, the therapist lack confidence despite her qualifications and experience? Why does she feel she is not good enough?
  4. Why is Cristina so enthralled by Leon? What does he represent to her?
  5. What feelings did Leon provoke in you? Does he have any redeeming qualities?
  6. How did you feel when Cristina ignored warning signs? Why do you think she did this?
  7. How would the story be different if told from Leon’s perspective?
  8. What was your favourite part of the book and why? What was your least favourite? Which scenes are most memorable and why?
  9. Who did you care about in the book and why? Who would you like to have as a friend?
  10. How did the male and female characters differ in the way they communicate, their priorities in life, their relationships? Does this reflect your experience of gender differences?
  11. If the book was made into a film, who would you select to play each character?
  12. What do you imagine might happen next in Cristina’s life?
  13. What questions would you like to ask the author?
  14. Would you know that the author has aphantasia – an inability to visualise in her mind’s eye? (For more information on Aphantasia see the blog post below or my article for Books by Women https://booksbywomen.org/describing-what-you-cant-imagine/ )

Why do people love print books?

Printed books are here to stay!

Do you prefer a print book or e-book? Hardback or paperback? These simple questions can spark surprising amounts of debate amongst readers. Clearly each have their pros and cons and we all have personal preferences. Interesting research by Neilson suggests that, in the UK, people under the age of 44 make up 63% of the market for physical books, while 52% of e-book sales are to those over 45. Physical books till outsell e-books, although crime, romance and thrillers are popular on e-readers.

When I first discovered e-books I bought a library full, enthused by the choice of taking so many books on holiday or on the train. However, I soon became frustrated, unable to remember the titles of books I’d read and enjoyed, sometimes accidently buying a print copy without realising I’d already read the book.

Whilst hardbacks can look beautiful on the bookshelf and are long lasting, they can be harder to manage when reading – particularly if you have a habit of reading in bed and have ever been clocked in the head by one as you fall asleep!

To me, a well-worn paperback is a much loved book. It means I have interacted with the text in some way. Argumentative comments, ticks and exclamation marks scribbled in the margins of my factual books, show how much I engaged with the material. In novels, I underline paragraphs I’ve enjoyed or, for want of a pencil, bend the bottom corners so I can re-find them . Guilty of reading several books at a time, I create diagrams of relationships inside the front cover, to help recall who is who. If there is important information about characters I make a note of the page number next to their name. The sins of bent corners*, writing in the margins, an ill-chosen bookmark, highlighting passages  – all of these things can provoke huge debate and passionate argument amongst readers.

Many of my friends and family were awaiting the release of the paperback version of Her Little Secret. Whilst ebooks and audio are a convenient way of taking your library with you when travelling, it seems many of us still love to hold a book in our hands!

*In the US there is even a second hand book shop called Bent Corners

How many rounds of editing does a book need?

More than you’d think – different types of editing

When I started writing a novel, I thought editing meant finessing the awful first draft. I imagined it was like tidying a house before guests arrive, getting it in a fit state to be seen by others. To me this involved polishing sentences; adding texture to the story; checking for consistency in names/ dates/descriptions; fixing grammar and typos. What I didn’t realise was that the first draft is rarely the foundation you can build upon. Yes, I might have rounded characters, know their wants and needs, and ensured the plot hits the key beat points, but somehow it’s not gelling terribly well. There are plot holes, the protagonist is not how I imagined her to be, by the end of the book I’ve lost her voice so she comes across as someone entirely different…

There are 101 reasons why it might not work, but the next stage is to fix it.

Every author has their own approach. I find it easiest to plan out the key steps in the story, but others prefer to write first and see what develops. Generally in the early editing rounds I ask trusted writer friends to read the manuscript and be brutal in their feedback. When I’m happy with the next iteration(s) I share the book with my agent for her comments. Another round of changes follow. When we’re happy with the manuscript, it will be sent to my editor for her review. She will have her own ideas about what works and what doesn’t and so I move into a further round of structural edits. Following the editor’s approval, there will still be line edits, then proofing before the book goes to print.

It’s impossible to say how many rounds of edits a writer will go through, or how long it will take – a lot depends on the genre and the experience of the writer. The photo gives you an idea how many significant edits there were before Her Little Secret reached the final draft!

If you’re interested in the different stages of editing there is a lot of helpful information online. A clear explanation can be found here: https://www.nickytayloreditorial.com/different-stages-of-editing/

What is aphantasia?

Writing with aphantasia – different ways of experiencing the world


Aphantasia is the inability to create images voluntarily in your own mind. It was only this year I discovered there was a term for it! Since my childhood I’ve known that I can’t visualise people, even my partner and close friends/family, although I can describe them in words. Similarly places and objects: I have a sense of them more than an image in my mind’s eye. Apparently I am far from alone in this – Wiki lists a number of famous creative people who also have aphantasia, including several fantasy and science fiction writers and illustrators. I don’t know how they get round it but, as you can imagine, it can be a problem when trying to describe a character or a scene. 

My method is to think of the key qualities/characteristics I want my character to have: for example, Cristina is in her 50s and has dark wavy hair. I then search online until I find a photo of someone who looks like the person I want her to be. I do the same for environments. For example, I have a sense of the ‘summerhouse’ Cristina uses as her therapy room but I need to find an image that fits in order for me to describe it. All these images go into a scrap book or I make a collage so I can literally see the world I’m creating and refer to it as I work. 

If you’d like to read more see my article for Books By Women at Describing What You Can’t Imagine : Women Writers, Women’s Books (booksbywomen.org)

More info on aphantasia can be found here: 

Photo by Virginia Johnson on Unsplash

How do you develop fictional characters?

Using psychology to develop characters

It’s important to know your characters well, to understand what makes them tick and how they would behave in different situations. I like to develop rounded characters by using personality questionnaires to profile them. One tool I use is Myers Briggs which looks at ‘preferences’ on four different scales. Here is a brief explanation of the concepts behind it.

Click on each ‘concept’ in order to see a larger view that will open in a separate browser.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Photo by Igor Cancarevic on Unsplash

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Photo by MagicPattern on Unsplash

Photo by Kelly Neil on Unsplash

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Photo by De an Sun on Unsplash

Photo by Alex Alvarez on Unsplash

Using the four-letter codes you can create a profile. Cristina’s profile is ENFP. Davy’s is ESTJ. Cristina’s client, Leon, is INTP. 

If you are interested in reading more, full descriptions of the characteristics of people with these preferences can be found online. Just enter the four-letter codes in the search bar.

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