“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”
– Oscar Wilde
Wilde’s words echo throughout time, reverberating through our chests, filling and emptying us all at once. Mingling with a seemingly perpetual state of loneliness, there burns a sense of hope. It is his words, and sometimes, his words alone, that have been a guide to me in my journey as both a writer, and as someone who lives with depressive and anxiety disorders.
I’m no stranger to Impostor Syndrome. We’re very well acquainted, in fact. Not a day goes by without its nagging voice in the back of my head, a voice which has a habit of consuming my mind altogether. I’ve tried every tip, every trick, every piece of advice there is. Avoid social media, for it only encourages comparison. Challenge your thoughts, counter every negative with a positive. Distract. Speak about it with someone. All of these have helped, in their way. But on occasion, it isn’t enough. Even with all of these tools, which I do highly recommend, there are many times when I am still plagued with doubts, fears that I mistake for facts.
It’s made all the more difficult for those of us whose creativity is a coping mechanism. What are we to do when Impostor Syndrome halts our creative process entirely? For years now, I’ve been without an answer. I’ve spent many a sleepless night researching, gathering every piece of information I could, to no avail. Eventually, I started to come to terms with the idea that maybe there wasn’t a way to conquer this, after all.
I still haven’t found a method for conquering Impostor Syndrome, not exactly. What I’ve found instead is a way of twisting it. Turning it on its head, manipulating it and using it to my benefit. I’ve learned how it can actually help my writing rather than hinder it, and the answer is surprisingly simple.
Step into the mind of one of your characters, bringing all of your thoughts and fears with you. When you are settled, viewing the world through their eyes, let your doubts consume you.
Choosing the right character is crucial for this process. They must be someone who shares in at least one of your base fears or feelings. For example, let us say your fear is that you’ll never be a good writer. Strip that down. Your fear is that you’ll never be good enough. Which of your characters also struggles with this fear, not necessarily with writing, but in another aspect of their life? If you’re feeling an intense surge of jealousy, you should choose the character that’s prone to the same.
This method is particularly useful if you choose to step into the mind of your antagonist. It allows you to not only sympathize, but truly empathize on such a personal level. It allows you to take these destructive emotions and thoughts and channel them into this character. I can’t begin to describe how much progress I’ve made, how many things I’ve discovered about my antagonists by using this method. Not to mention the depth that it gives them, ensuring they have a proper motive for every choice they make. If you’re trying to write a good villain, or someone who is morally grey, this method can help in creating a character the audience can relate to.
How do you step into the character, you might ask? I’ve always found music to be incredibly helpful in understanding a character. If there are any songs you associate with this person, play them. Let yourself get lost in the rhythm and the lyrics. Focus on your feelings and fears. Ask yourself what your character would do. Would they lash out? Would they internalize? Where in their house would they go? Who would they speak to, if anyone? What happens if their feelings of sadness, anger, jealousy, etc. consumes them? What would they do? These should give you a starting point. From there, let it evolve naturally. You might be surprised, as I was. Only yesterday, in fact, I was shocked to discover that I had written over 2,000 words of my antagonist’s early childhood in a short time, and all of my feelings of inadequacy were gone.
This technique isn’t necessarily for everyone, and I do truly recommend avoiding social media, challenging your thoughts, and speaking to someone if you can. But in the event that none of those methods are working and you find your creativity is still hindered, use the Impostor to better understand your characters. When all else fails, remember that sometimes, the most beautiful ideas can come from the loneliest places. “Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”