This afternoon will be a blog post by Mariah Wilson on facing self-doubt as a writer. You can find her blog here.
If you’re a writer then you know what the biggest obstacle to being a writer is. It’s not writer’s block, it’s not the critics, it’s not even the people who tell you that your dream isn’t worth dreaming. It’s the little voice inside your head that comes alive to fan all of your insecurities. It’s the little voice known as self-doubt.
Self doubt kills careers before they start. Self doubt stops novels and poems halfway through and they sit in the pile labeled “I’m not good enough” and as that pile grows, so does self doubt. See, he’s a greedy little voice and he likes to feed himself, and he’ll devour you if you’re not careful. Here’s what I do when my own self doubt gets out of control.
1) Remind yourself that you are still a student of the craft. No matter how many years you’ve been writing, you still have more to learn, if not about the craft, then about yourself. Nothing is a wasted effort as long as there was effort made. Learning is grand, let yourself learn.
2) Savour your successes. Remember that character description that you nailed the first try the other day? Print it off and pin it on your wall to remind yourself that you are capable of great things. Do the same thing with anything you wrote that you think is awesome. The pride you will feel reading those gems months later will surely light your darkest hour. Remind yourself that you can, and do, get it right. Probably more often than you give yourself credit for.
3) Be specific. When you’re looking at something you’ve written and you’re getting those dark doubty feelings, ask yourself why. Often, it’s not the entire piece we are doubting, but a specific element. If you can pinpoint it, you can fix it, whether it be weak description, poor characterization etc. etc. etc. Let your doubt guide you to the places that need fixing and know that you can fix them.
4) Remember, writing is a process, it’s not a once and done kind of deal. Characters need to be shaped, worlds need to be brought to life, catastrophe has to happen and beautiful disasters aren’t solved overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your novel won’t be either. Give it time, give it patience, give it confidence. Only you can write your story, so go write it.
5) Self doubt only grows if you feed it. So don’t feed it. A small amount of doubt is healthy, it keeps our egos in check and saves us from turning into narcissistic maniacs, but do not feed the doubt. Keep it the size of a kitten, not a cougar. Don’t feed your doubt. Tell yourself nice things about yourself and your writing. Find positive things to say and refrain from thinking or saying negative things about your writing. Be kind to yourself.
6) Find people who lift you up and inspire you. Sometimes, regardless of the methods we’ve tried, our doubt gets away on us. This is when you should find someone who inspires you and let yourself be inspired by them. Let their life and their determination help you to realize that you are capable of the same greatness they possess that inspires you.
7) When in doubt, get a second opinion. Take your piece and show it to a friend. This friend must be honest and you have to trust that they are giving you a real opinion and not a white washed, sugar coated version of the truth. Show your piece to this friend. If they like it, then stop doubting yourself, you are doing it right. If they don’t like it, stop doubting yourself and ask them where it went wrong. Once you know what the problem is, it can be fixed.
8) I do not recommend drowning your doubt in alcohol or trying to drug him out of your system. Both ways have been proven highly ineffective in the battle of self doubt and actually only turn doubt into a raging monster. Try going for a walk to clear your head instead. Go to the gym and sweat him out. Put your work away and go play, have fun and live life, enjoy life. Sometimes a good clear head is all we need.
9) We writers think we’re pretty special, like we’re the only people who are crippled from time to time by self doubt, but the truth is, doubt is not choosy. Doubt will consume anything, attack anyone. No one is immune. If you realize that everyone doubts, you won’t feel so alone when you’re stuck doubting yourself, again.
The next time you are faced with doubt just take a deep breath and think happy thoughts. Doubt hates positivity and confidence, he can’t survive through those two things. If that fails, give doubt a name and kill him in your next book.