An engineer’s take on writing online
When I started writing back in January 2018, I never expected to still be writing today. As a software engineer, it was never a goal of mine to make a living writing about self-help, yet it accidentally happened.
Writing was just a skill I wanted to improve for the month. I had no clue what I’d write about, but I had one goal only:
Write and publish one story a day for 30 days, writing for 40–50 minutes every day.
When I received a message from The Startup, the top 7th publication on Medium at the time, I couldn’t believe it. They wanted to publish my article after 5 days of writing only!
I thought they were crazy. I wasn’t that good. I didn’t deserve it.
Yet people started writing nice comments, saying that I changed their lives. I was living mixed emotions at the time. I was happy but confused and definitely felt like I was an impostor.
Who was I to give advice to people?
I was, after all, just a software engineer working at a “regular” job.
After 23 days, I became a top writer in 7 categories. I was hooked. I started writing on a bunch of different topics and became a top writer in 18 categories (if I recall correctly).
My impostor syndrome kicked in big time:
How the heck did I reach there?
Why are people reading my stories?
Why are people following “advice” from me?
I’m writing on this subject because many people are having this issue. It manifests itself in two ways:
Those who feel like impostors and can’t publish anything; and
Those who feel like impostors and publish things reluctantly and don’t feel very confident about what they publish.
It took me a while to get over it. Probably over 3 months of writing every day. But it sometimes comes back when I find myself publishing too frequently.
But you know what, there’s an easy answer that works for me, for them, and for you as well.
How to not feel like an impostor
The truth is, everything you write has already been written by someone else, and probably better than you would write it.
Should that stop you from writing it?
Why do you read me over any of the people I mentioned above? Or anyone else, really?
The simple answer is: my story probably relates to you in one way or another.
While I like to think that my content has value, it really only does if you believe in my story.
If I write that you should wake up at 4am to be “successful” in life, I better have a great authentic reason why that’s the case, backed by my own experience and that of others.
If I wake up at 4am once, have a great day and write about it, that’s not “experience”. Even if I wake up at 4am every day for a month and it works great for me, it doesn’t mean it will work for everyone.
Does that mean you shouldn’t write about it?
No. You should write about it.
A key to not feel like an imposter is to tell your own story on how it worked for you and suggest that it might work for your reader as well, with no pretence that it will work for everyone.
To not feel like an impostor, it’s good practice to minimize the number of “absolute” answers you give, and back things with your own authentic experience. You can’t be an impostor if you talk from your own experience; no one can take that away from you.
You’ll notice that a lot of the writers you like also make themselves vulnerable and share their stories, whether it makes them look good or bad. An authentic writer is one who knows that their “weaknesses” are what makes them interesting for their reader.
How to write with confidence
Now, if to get rid of impostor syndrome, you have to write about yourself, how do you do that with confidence?
This is a tough one.
Outside of high school, I’ve always been pretty confident, but I’m not one to share my story without you asking. This may surprise some of my “long-time” readers since, in writing, I’m pretty much an open book. I’m my “regular” life, most people don’t know half the stuff I put in writing.
How can I be so confident in writing yet not so much in life?
I think my easy answer comes from the comments I get from readers. The more I share, the more they relate and the deeper our “bond”.
People who come to Medium, my website, or publications I write for come because they want to be empowered and gain new knowledge. I share what people want to read.
In day-to-day life, people are too “busy” to care for your story, that’s why it’s hard and awkward to share it randomly. In writing, it’s not awkward. People can read it when they want to, and if they do read it, you’ve made an impact on their lives, however small.
And that’s empowering to the writer. I’d even say it’s addicting. Most of the top writers I know on Medium are addicted to their stats, myself included (though I’ve been much better within the past 2 months).
When you write from authenticity, people will read your story. The more people read your story, the more confidence you’ll get.
My stories are far from perfect. You’ll find typos all over. My content isn’t always the most researched. I don’t use all the right words to please the majority.
But you know what? 90% of the readers don’t care. They want a good authentic story with a takeaway for them.
Occasionally you’ll find someone who’ll say your story is shit. You can’t please everyone. Changing a single person’s life is already a great achievement. Here’s an example:
I’m perfectly fine with someone finding the advice not suitable for them. Remember, we’re all different and it’s normal that it won’t please 100% of the people. Aiming for that is fruitless.
If you can get over the fear of vulnerability and imperfection, you should be better suited for writing with higher confidence.
Can everyone write with confidence and not feel like an impostor?
Sure. Not everyone will have it as easy, but it’s important to realize that like anything, it takes practice to get better at it. No practice, no improvements.
If you write and don’t publish, you won’t get more confident. You will keep your impostor syndrome. When procrastinating on publishing, think about this:
What’s the worst that can happen?
Realize that your list will be excuses mostly.
Remember, write with authenticity, be vulnerable, and forego your perfection complex.
You can do this!