Writing, Editing, and Imposter Syndrome

editingLast fall I was struggling to submit an article I had been working on for over a year.  The paper had already undergone significant revision based on feedback including a complete overhaul of its central argument and structure.  The article was at the point where I had been tweaking it for months.  I kept reading more, adding in a few additional sources, and was spending hours antagonizing over word choice and grammar.  The paper was starting to be something I didn’t want to spend any additional time on and something I was causing me fair bit of anxiety mixed in with imposter syndrome.

While all of this was going on I was having a lot of self-doubt in my ability to self-edit, copyedit, and format a paper based on citation style I wasn’t all that familiar with. For a number of years I have edited other people’s work and provided constructive feedback to others on their academic and fiction work.  However I didn’t feel competent when addressing my own work.  After a lot of back and forth and internal arguing with myself I ended up seeking outside copyediting help.  I ultimately paid for copyediting services from a professional who specializes in academic writing.

The relief that came with making that decision was huge.  It helped take something off of my plate that I was struggling with and helped put things in perspective.  You can be a great writer and still suck a copyediting.  They are completely different practices and it is always harder to pick apart your own work.  I understand that not everyone is in the space where they can pay for this type of service, but I think as an option it is something that needs to be talked about.  Academics use professional editors for a whole host of different reasons.  And if your work ends up being accepted you’re going to be working with an editor and copyeditor eventually.  But it tends to be something we don’t talk about.  Personally, I started to question if using an editor devalued my work.  It doesn’t.  Copyediting doesn’t change your ideas or make your arguments for you – it’s about making your writing conform to accepted academic publishing norms, which can vary greatly from publication to publication.

I think imposter syndrome around the publication process is something we need to talk about.  We also need to talk about how we cope with moving past publication related anxiety and how to create an environment that supports new and mid-career professionals in the publication process. I firmly believe in the idea of a peer-nurturing environment where we help lift up each other and help support each other.  For me that means having that group of colleagues who you can talk to and mentors who you turn to for advice, even when things seem impossible to overcome. It also means sharing what knowledge I have with others and finding ways to amplify the voices of others while lifting them up.

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