The Help Desk: You are your own worst imposter

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I just came home from a conference that was inspirational and amazing, and filled with creative people. But when I look at my blank page, I'm feeling nothing but imposter syndrome. You'd think being at the damn conference would be enough to get me going, but apparently not. Can you help me get over myself?

Quenton, Queen Anne

Dear Quenton,

When I'm feeling insecure about my gifts as a writer, I like to hang out with my 11-year-old half-sister, Ana. We eat a snack, she tells me about school and then she plays me a violin piece she's been practicing or reads me some of her poetry. She's a smart kid but these interactions remind me that I'm smarter than her. My poetry is way better than hers and I don't even like poetry. Someday she'll likely be a very successful doctor like her mother and I'll be living in her basement on the cheap because she pities me but right now, I am her role model. It's a job I take seriously. Yet most of the time when she reads me a poem I think, "I can top that," which is why I've begun writing coming-of-age feminist poetry to share with her. For example, here's a limerick I wrote about sexual assault:

There was a young woman from Buhl
Who was assaulted one day after school
She bought a claw hammer
And without a stammer
Raped the man with her oversized tool.

"Police!" Screamed the man down the street
As blood waterfalled to his feet
“I don't mean to be crass
But I've been raped in the ass”
Said the girl, “vengeance truly is sweet.”

“This woman is batshit insane!”
He denied every ounce of self-blame
But police had no way
With no DNA
Of connecting his rape to her name.

Odds are this won't happen to you
But you know how to act if it do
A conceal'd weapon it's not
And if you get caught
Remember: Christ was a carpenter too.

My point is, sometimes it helps to go to an open mic night or hang out with a child and remind yourself (silently, don't be a dick) that you're a better writer than the company you keep. Until you're famous, which most of us will never ever be, you must be your own most devoted fan. Start acting like it.