Sylvia Plath once said, ‘And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.’ I found that quote when I was 16, and it’s been one of my favourites ever since.
Self-doubt isn’t just dangerous for writers, but for everyone. Giving in to self-doubt is a surefire way to stop us from reaching our goals. Yet that inner voice telling us we can’t, that we’re not good enough, seems almost impossible to overcome at times. Luckily, there are some ways you can shut down your self-doubt once and for all.
What to Do about Self-Doubt
Ready to kick your inner critic in the teeth? Here’s how.
Identify where your self-doubt comes from.
Most writers think this nagging sense of self-doubt is innate, that we’re just born with it. I think it’s something we develop over time, as we write more and work toward getting published. If you wrote when you were a kid, you probably never doubted yourself, because you didn’t care about traditional ‘success.’
Ask yourself some hard questions. Do you think your writing skills aren’t good enough? That you’ll never be published? That you’ll never compare to other writers? There’s a simple solution to all those problems: work your ass off. There really is no other way.
Create a ‘rant’ page.
Dedicate a space for ranting about what’s bothering you. Sometimes, you just have to get it all out before you can move forward. I did this for my novel and it worked wonders. Write down what’s holding you back, and then go back to the story. Revisit the page later to deal with those problems. You might find that they’re not as intimidating or seemingly unsolvable as you thought.
Break the wall.
When I was in band – yes, I was a marching band geek; poke fun all you want – I had a rather wacky band instructor. One day, after an exhausting 2 hours of band practice, he encouraged us to finish strong on our last run-through, and screamed, ‘Break the wall!’
He meant this in terms of sound – he wanted the band to play so loud the whole school could hear us from the band field. But I took it to mean something different: break the barrier that’s holding you back by giving it your all, by infusing action with passion. It’s a philosophy that’s stuck with me for a long time.
Put a new spin on your self-doubt.
Here’s a typical, self-depreciating train of thought:
‘I’ll never be good enough. Why can’t I write as well as so-and-so? I should just give up. No one will want to read this story anyway.’
Try swapping out those tired, harmful beliefs for these:
‘It’s not about being ‘good enough.’ It’s about sticking with my goals, no matter what. My style is unique. No one else can tell a story the same way I can. If I give up now, I’ll fail the people who need to read this story.’
In the wise words of Alphonse Karr, ‘We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.’ It all boils down to perspective.
Give yourself credit.
Many writers who struggle with self-doubt often feel like impostors, like they’re not real writers. Like I said in another post, if you write, you’re a writer. It really is as simple as that. So give yourself credit where it’s due. You wrote the story, you did the work, so you get the credit.
Recognise that getting published doesn’t matter.
If you were anything like me as a kid, you’d stay up well past your bedtime scribbling stories in a spiral notebook. Not because you wanted them to be published, not because you had a deadline, but because you wanted to, because you enjoyed it.
Now that you’re an adult, you have to deal with things like writing synopses, meeting deadlines, entering competitions, sending query letters. While those things test the patience and perseverance of even the most seasoned writers, never forget why you’re doing it all in the first place: because this is your dream, your passion.
Of course, to some degree, getting published does matter to you. It’s the traditional indicator of success for writers. But it’s not the be-all-end-all. And if it is, you need to change your outlook. If writing feels like a chore, or if it makes you feel more like a pencil-pusher than a creative, you’re not doing it right.
Now that you’ve done all that, brew some coffee, put on your favourite playlist, and get to work.
Do you struggle with self-doubt? What are your tactics for overcoming it? Let me know in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter!