Imposter Syndrome and Writing Contests

Late last night I submitted an entry to a writing competition for the first time in my life. Okay, one time in 5th grade I entered a school writing competition. Our class had a writing assignment – we had to choose a picture from a magazine and write a story about it. I wrote a story about a glass horse. My teacher liked it so much she strongly encouraged me to enter it in the school’s essay contest.

I won. But I was 10 years old, and there wasn’t any pressure. I wrote the story without the pressure of competition, and I only entered because the teacher and my mom said I should.

This is different. I was emailed the details of a contest in a routine newsletter for Medium, a writing platform I follow, but have never submitted writing to before. I wasn’t going to do the contest, and I was about to delete the email, but Aaron said I should. So I looked at the email again. There were four prompts, and I read each one carefully, trying to decide if I even had anything worth saying related to those topics.

I don’t like to write when I don’t have anything to say, because I feel my words come out stilted, forced from my brain like the papers I had to write in college. Back then, I didn’t even write the draft for any of those papers earlier than the night before they were due. One night, I even researched, wrote, edited, and turned in a 25 page research paper I’d procrastinated for three months because I hated the topic so much. (Spoiler, I actually got an A- on that paper!)

I didn’t have anything to say, so I deleted the email.

Photo by Lisa on

But they sent another email a week ago and as I scrolled through, one of the prompts caught my eye this time. A topic I want to write more in-depth about immediately bubbled to the surface of my thoughts; I stopped to reread the prompt more carefully. Okay I said to myself I will do this. I can write for this contest.

In true Lizzie style, I actually marked the deadline down wrong, and realized on Sunday that the deadline was this Tuesday, 8/24. I had one day to write, edit, have my essay peer-reviewed, edit some more, and submitted.

I wrote it anyway.

You can find my essay here, on Medium. It’s called “Between Space”.

I spent as much time on the essay as I could, throwing my preciously time-blocked schedule for Monday to the wind in favor of cultivating the essay. I have never published writing with something at stake before. I have never entered a writing contest of any kind, because I struggle with imposter syndrome.

Despite having two short stories published, and a few poems along the years, I never got the courage to submit more than a blog post to any website let alone an essay for a contest. I write my fiction under a pen name, and I post my non-fiction here. But my blog feels safe. I have complete control of the content, editing, and publishing here. I’m the only person who takes a red pen to the words here, figuratively speaking. I might get feedback, but at the end of the day I write about my life, and no one can change my past, no matter how much red ink they throw at it.

Last night, I took an important step toward shaking off my imposter syndrome and moving toward the career in writing I deserve. I submitted an essay to Medium’s Writing Challenge, and now I cross my fingers and hope the people reading my essay like it as much as the peers I asked to review it for me. And while I feel like my heart might pound out of my chest, for better or worse, I’ve taken the next step.

“The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a step.” – Lao Tzu

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