Overcoming Self-Doubt as a Writer
Oh boy! Have I picked a difficult topic to tackle!
What the devil is self-doubt? In basic terms it’s ‘a lack of confidence in yourself and your own abilities.’ When you read that single sentence, it doesn’t sound so bad. However, if you’ve ever ‘felt’ the physical and emotional reactions of self-doubt then I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s nothing basic about it.
It’s worth noting that a smidge of self-doubt is acceptable, after all, we need to learn that we’re not always going to be right – yes, I’m talking to my kids here! If you ever want to relate to other people (aka: play nice) then you must develop the skills to reflect on your thoughts and actions.
If those thoughts and actions prevent you from leaving your home or picking up a pen to write then you’ve stepped into dangerous self-doubt territory. Chronic self-doubt is when you look at a piece of work you’ve written and believe it to be a pile of crap, this then spirals into feelings of failure, a lack of motivation, unworthiness, no direction…and on and on.
We’ve all had days where a chapter, poem, short story, or even a blog post has felt wrong. It doesn’t flow, your grammar sucks, and the idea you have in your head has in no way transferred to the page. The fabulous #WritingCommunity on Twitter thrive on lifting fellow scribes up when they’ve had a dire writing day, but how can you do this for yourself?
First, you need to recognise the triggers that show you’re slipping into a dangerous self-doubt zone. Once you know them it’s easier to turn your mindset from negative to positive. Have you heard yourself saying any of the following?
- I can’t…
- I should…
- I’m useless.
In my latest non-fiction book, Self-Help for the Helpless (which is with my publisher awaiting a release date) I’ve dedicated an entire chapter to taking the word ‘should’ out of your vocabulary. It’s incredible how one tiny word can leave you so powerless.
- I should be writing 4000 words a day.
- I should be blogging every week.
- I should have an agent by now.
- I should be successful.
STOP! I don’t know about you, but my energy levels have just dropped after reading those four sentences.
Our virtual life doesn’t help with any self-doubt issues. When we see the happy publication day pictures on social media of fellow authors surrounded by crowds of well-wishers, bottles of champagne, and a stack of books to sign, it’s natural to feel a flutter of resentment/jealousy/pain. That doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate a publication day! I’m a nightmare at remembering to celebrate – on my last publication day I did a big shop at Tesco and treated myself to a bacon roll! If I was organised enough then I might arrange a party and invite my family and friends, splash out on own brand bubbles, and order some stock books just in case anyone wants to buy a copy – because that’s what the perfect social media image photo usually is – staged.
90% of our online life is staged. We share the best of ourselves and our life. Scrolling through a never ending feed of joy, success, new baby, new love, weddings, holidays, promotions, etc, should lift us up as we celebrate the amazing achievements of our family and friends. However, when self-doubt is lurking in the peripheral then that news feed will only make you feel more disconnected.
If you’ve written a book then shout about it from the rooftop! There’s a difference between bragging and acknowledging hard work. When we doubt our abilities, we will automatically see it as coming from an ego state. Remind yourself that it’s good to be proud of what you’ve done.
In my writing world, I’ve begun to appreciate that isolation is my arch nemesis. Left alone with my thoughts for too long and I’ll quickly slide into the self-doubt swamp. By taking myself off to write in a coffee shop I can substantially change my mindset. That was the main factor behind launching my Accountability Club. I wanted to give fellow writers of all abilities and publication stage a safe space to work on their book projects, or their blog content surrounded by like-minded people willing to offer constructive feedback if needed. There’s the bonus of copious amounts of coffee and biscuits too!
If isolation is a factor in your self-doubt as a writer then find a creative writing group, a writing buddy, or a bustling coffee shop where you can channel your inner JK. Just knowing there are other people around you can lift you out of that spiral.
Asking for feedback from genuinely helpful people can also help bring you out of the darkness of self-doubt. Don’t ask your mum, unless she can be brutally honest. My mum is my biggest fan and would never tell me what I’ve written is a load of tripe, which is why I’ll only show her the finished product AFTER my brutal beta readers and editor have ripped it apart. With that brutality comes honesty and any good feedback will tell you where you’ve gone wrong, but also where you’re spot on – that’s the bit you need to hook into. Make your amendments correct your work from the feedback, but when you’re feeling like the world’s worst writer, reread the positive comments.
How do you tackle self-doubt? Do you let it beat you, or do you fight against it? What could you do to pull yourself out of a self-deprecating spiral?