Note: This letter was inspired by a question I received after the High Peaks Pure Earth Tibetan women poets Instagram takeover series, where I talked about writing from my experiences and how impostor syndrome can silence us. I credit Food 4 Thot podcast for their “We Don’t Belong” episode featuring an in-depth discussion of impostor syndrome as queer writers, mostly of color. I credit Brainpickings for featuring an Anne Lamott essay in which she references impostor syndrome as a writer. I credit Gloria Anzaldúa for her letter to third world women writers for inspiring this format.
Thank you for your question. I have been mulling it over since last night. I went to sleep thinking about what I wanted to tell you, and marvelling at the fact that someone is asking me, of all people, about this topic. I suppose that is how impostor syndrome works: making you think that there is always someone more worthwhile, more qualified to speak on a topic.
I am all for humbleness. There is too much to learn in the world not to be humble. But I ask you this: what called you to write in the first place? Did you read someone else’s words and the world fell a little more into place? Finding words that made sense made me glow inside, embers of an internal flame being fed. I have been feeling that glow well before I could even imagine calling myself a writer.
I don’t know why we write, what calls us to do it, and in the long run I am not very concerned with that question at all because I cannot help myself. I have written habitually since I was thirteen years old. I have had an overflowing Notes app ever since my first smartphone. The words just come to me, and somewhere along the way I realized or decided that I could shape them.
It is a scary thing, to fear misrepresenting a community you care about. For this I just caution you to tell the truth. Be honest. Do not write what you think you should be writing, write what you wonder about. Write about how you feel, what you know, and what you wish you knew.* You do not have to have answers to write, you have to practice wondering articulately enough that others might want to read it. If we are lucky, we pass on the wonder to another, or provide solace to another who is wondering. If we are very lucky, we sometimes get an answer.
In a world where our communities are squeezed so tightly, breathe all the life you can into what you want to say. Do not pretend to be an expert when you are not. Seek to create or deepen relationships within your community and be able to recognize the gift of critique from a trusted and beloved person. There are often a host of interests in maintaining specific narratives about one’s community. Trust your work to tell the truth you need to tell, and do everything you can to ensure that it does. Also read Michelle Tea on writing people you know and Rebecca Solnit’s rules for writing, just in case.
Writing is just an extension of the responsibility we have as living beings in this world. We can either accept and vow to do our best with this responsibility, or we can attempt to hide from it. It is not easy. I do not always get it right. I have phases of intense depression that feel interminable and beyond my control. I add them to my writing- they are also part of my story.
To your stories,
*You also always have permission to preserve your silence. You do not owe the world anything you do not want to share, and not every story is for everyone.