Writer Envy, Imposter Syndrome, and the Dreaded Day Job

We all know writer envy and impostor syndrome are bad. Everyone’s journey is different, there will always be someone doing better and worse than you, writing is not a competition, etc. So true . . . And yet so easy to forget, especially when you’re in the clutches of the green-eyed monster. All the more so when you’re staring enviously across the divide separating writers with a day job and full-time writers.

It can happen in an instant. One minute you’re working productively at your desk, entering data into a spreadsheet for your supervisor, perhaps; the next minute you find yourself surreptitiously checking Twitter, and there it is: an ecstatic tweet from a fellow writer that sends you plummeting into a dark pit of envy and / or self-doubt. It could be something as simple as a full-time writer happily announcing at ten a.m. that they’ve met their daily word count goal and plan to spend the rest of the day curled up with a good book. You, meanwhile, have at least a good six hours of office drudgery left before you can drag your tired self home and try to squeeze out a few words before collapsing from pure exhaustion.

This particular brand of writer envy has bit me square on the behind more than once. But if I’m honest, it’s more than wishing myself in the shoes of the writer who is free to devote all day to her words. I envy her, yes, but the darker truth is that behind the envy, I fear that this full-time writer is the “real” writer, whereas I am merely a wannabe—someone who sometimes manages to squeeze in a bit of writing during her “free” time away from her “real” job.

The thinking goes something like this: real writers spend all day in cozy studies surrounded by books, their loyal dogs at their feet, as they type away on their masterpieces-in-progress. When they aren’t writing, they are happily reading books for pleasure. In short, the real writer’s world is a literary world, free from the demands of time cards, traffic jams, and unreasonable bosses. The real writer is above the rest of us, living an ideal life in a perfect world that I could never hope to access.

Don’t laugh, but this is what I truly believed the writing life was like until a few years ago, when I decided to try NaNoWriMo on a whim and discovered that I could actually draft a novel in thirty days without quitting my day job. Sure, that first draft of my first NaNo novel was total crap, but so what? I wrote it! Just as importantly, I did it as part of a community of people who, like me, made time for writing in spite of jobs and families and innumerable other commitments that come with being an adult in the real world. Over the couple of years, I revised that first novel, drafted a new one, and started revising my second novel, all while becoming more involved with an awesome community of writers through online groups (shout out to my #PitchWars and WFWA peeps!) and a local writer’s conference.

And you know what I found? Far from being literary gods and goddesses who lived perpetually at the altar of words, almost all of the writers I met (including the published ones) either had full-time jobs, were full-time students, or were the primary caretakers of small children. In short, these “real” writers have more going on in their lives than reading and writing. They were real people. People with goals and setbacks and problems and creativity and intelligence and incredible grit.

And that’s a good thing.

Because the truth is, no matter what your deepest, darkest writer envy or impostor syndrome may lead you to believe, the words that you force yourself to write at ten p.m., after a grueling 12+ hour workday, are no less legitimate than the words someone else pens from their cozy home office at ten a.m. It doesn’t matter what time of day you get the words down, or what other real-world commitments you’re juggling in between. It’s all writing. We’re all writers.

Day job or no day job.

Leah Collum

Leah Collum is a women’s fiction writer represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. When not writing, she stays busy advising and teaching a diverse group of college students from around the world. A native Texan, she loves traveling (especially to Europe!) and has earned degrees in English and French. Follow her on Twitter: @leahcollum.