Gumby and the Flying Saucer: Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

“What am I doing here?” I wonder as I slink into the University library just after noon.  It’s a Tuesday, and the designated quiet zone is sparsely populated by students.  I move past a girl’s laptop and catch a glimpse of her screen: a diagram of the respiratory system.


“At least she’s doing something productive with her time”, I chide myself as I sit down nearby and open up the TV script that I’ve been working on for the last six months.  “Other people have jobs. They do things that matter” I internally berate myself as I summon my focus.  You see, I’ve been trying to act like a writer.  A proper writer I mean – one who writes every day and sets achievable goals.  My theory is that by acting like one, I’ll one day actually be one.  If only it were that simple.  No matter how much I accomplish – self-doubt is never far away.


Imposter Syndrome is my constant companion.  If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s the psychological condition of thinking oneself a fraud.  It means I’m convinced that it’s only a matter of time before I (and the more talented writers I hang around with) realise I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m doing.  I’m just “winging it”, having lied my way into the company of people of good character and considerable ability.  Annoyingly, all this angst and self-doubt occurs in the face of objective evidence that I can (at the very least) string a few words together coherently.


I’ve never really aspired to any specific vocation – let alone writing, but strangely, I’ve always written.  Nervously.  Secretively and out of sight.  Ever since that day in second grade when my teacher tore up a story I had written, sending the pieces of shredded paper cascading over my seven-year old head.


Why would a primary school teacher do such a thing?  I had dared defy her, ignoring the mind-numbing brief of composing an account of ‘what I had done on the weekend’.  Instead, I elected to regale the class with a tale concerning a flying saucer I’d seen.  The craft landed in my back yard.  I watched, slack jawed, as a figure emerged from one side of its hull.  Tall and green with a lopsided head, the mysterious traveller bore a joyful countenance.  Upon closer inspection, I realised that the green man was someone I had seen before – on television.  It was Gumby – plasticine adventurer of choice for children (and adults) of a certain age!


“That wasn’t the assigned task” said Mrs. Merchant, after I read it aloud to the class (who, incidentally, responded with rapturous applause).  A dinosaur from a bygone era (and a stickler for the rules) Mrs. Merchant tore up my story to punish me for disobeying her, forever consigning it to one of the forgotten rooms in my mind.


I’ve always tried to ignore the opinions of people who try and chip away at my confidence, and so, even as a child, I was angry that she’d destroyed something precious.  Statistically speaking, she has to be long gone.  But Mrs. Merchant is still very much alive and well in my subconscious – always ready to cast a shadow over my modest accomplishments and extinguishing any glowing embers of self-belief I may still be nurturing.


It so happens I’m in good company.  Imposter Syndrome is the same condition that afflicted Maya Angelou – one of the pre-eminent writers of the last century.  An author whose distinctive voice was so celebrated that someday, humans living in space will read her most famous work  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Alas, apparently, no amount of adulation or professional success could ever quell the fire of her own self-doubt.


As I sip on my coffee – still trying to summon inspiration – I wonder the very same thing.  What level of achievement will finally enable me to believe in myself as a writer?  Will it ever happen?  What if my nascent screenplay comes to life one day – breathed into existence by actors and producers?  Will I finally be able to call myself a writer and believe it?


Probably not.


Be that as it may, I’ve come to recognise self-doubt as a barrier to inspiration and an enemy of imagination.  It comes to me in the form of a ghost of a teacher who simply didn’t care for Gumby.  Some days I’m able to overcome her spectre, other days not so much.  It’s a constant battle, and one that I imagine all sorts of creative types wrestle with daily.


Of course, to offer an amusing anecdote, I’ve focused on a teacher from my past who valued conformity over creativity.  Thankfully, they weren’t all like that.  One in particular, a man named Joe Herran.  In high school, he taught me the eloquence of the English language, he nurtured my talents by pushing me to be better and to reach for more creative, original ideas.


It takes bravery to extend a middle finger to your detractors and, dare I say it, write from the heart.  So, if you happen to see my name appear in the opening credits to a TV sitcom at some point over the next few years – know that it means I’ve conquered my self-doubt long enough to produce some half decent work.  And know that I wrote it because of – and in spite of – my teachers at school.



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About James Patrik

James Patrik is an aspiring screenwriter currently writing his first television pilot. A university student, he is currently studying Psychology and is passionate about mental health. In his free time he enjoys cycling, swimming and consuming vast quantities of coffee.


  1. Robert Johnston says

    Wow, such a great piece on how you’re feeling about your time writing!! Such an awesome first step in the write (get it?) direction.

    Not enough me though, but baby steps…

  2. Interesting James. I think people who doubt themselves (we probably all do at some points) believe that no one else does. I reckon you should write to please yourself, not others. That could be step one. Hopefully the rest follows.

  3. This is amazing Jim. Such a raw anecdote straight from the heart. Loved reading this piece. Trust me, you are no imposter.

  4. James Patrik says

    Robert – nice Dad joke. I knew you had one in you.

    Dip – thats a decent insight and probably true. If only we could perceive ourselves as others do.

    Amy – its a true story too! Glad you enjoyed reading it. I’m only as good as the writers I spend time with and you all (annoyingly and frequently) force me to raise my game!

  5. Ben The Artist says

    You’ve done a really good job here Jim of capturing the dauntingness of dream chasing. All of what you speak of I find intensely relatable in my own writing.
    And Dips, you have a good point too. We can only write from the heart and hope for the best. Much as we might self doubt, when other people have good stuff to say it’s always worth listening to.
    So yeah, do keep up the good effort Jim. Even if you sometimes doubt yourself know that there’s plenty of earned praise to be made for your work.

  6. Keep up the good work!

  7. James Patrik says

    Thanks for reading Ben. Your skilled editing has made me a stronger writer on numerous occasions recently, so as always, I’m endebted!

    Wanting to be creative and eventually making money from it are vastly different concepts. The dream looks impossible and so very far away. Best I can do is keep chipping away at it one piece at a time.

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