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6 tactics for overcoming self-doubt in writing

Self-doubt is dangerous not just 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 impossible to ignore at times. Luckily, overcoming self-doubt in writing is possible through affirmations and a little self-awareness.

‘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 favorites ever since.

Sylvia Plath

Overcoming self-doubt in writing

Here are a few ways you can silence your inner critic and get some writing done.

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 publication. If you wrote when you were a kid, you probably never doubted yourself, because you didn’t care about traditional writing “success.” You just wrote for the sake of writing, for the love of storytelling.

Ask yourself some hard questions to figure out where your self-doubt about writing comes from. Do you think your writing skills aren’t good enough? That you’ll never be published? That you’ll never compare to other writers?

Once you’ve figured out the source of your self-doubt, brainstorm some implementation intentions. “When X arises, I will do Y.”

“When I compare myself to other writers, I will remind myself that my story matters and that only I can tell it.”

“When I doubt my writing skills, I will consider what exact skills need improving and make the effort to learn.”

“When I worry that I’ll never be published, I will remind myself that publishing isn’t the be-all-end-all of writing success and that everyone’s journey to publication is different.”

Create space to rant, or write a letter to the editor.

overcoming self-doubt in writing
Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Sometimes, you just have to get it all out before you can move forward. Because the berating voice of our inner critic is so amplified in our heads, we tend to take their criticism as absolute truth. But you can’t perfect something that doesn’t exist yet.

So create a space to rant about what’s holding you back — with full acceptance and without judgment — then return to the story. Revisit the page later to deal with that pesky inner critic. You just might find that their beliefs aren’t as true, intimidating, or seemingly unsolvable as you thought.

For me, this tactic is vital to overcoming self-doubt in writing. When my inner critic perches her haughty self on my shoulder, I write down what she says. And when I look back with a clear head, I realize just how silly she sounds. The only thing she’s good at is putting me down.

In a future post, I’ll share my letter to the editor, which I refer to when self-doubt about my writing kicks in.

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-deprecating 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 and giving myself grace when I make mistakes. 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 are writing the story, you are doing the work, so you get the credit.

Remember that getting published doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

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 to be published, not because you had a deadline, but because you wanted to, because you enjoyed it.

Now that you’re pursuing a career in writing, 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 experienced 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, publishing your work 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, consider changing your outlook.

If writing feels like a chore, or if it makes you feel more like a pencil-pusher than a creative, you might be overcomplicating things.

overcome self doubt

Now that you’ve done all that, brew some coffee, put on your favorite playlist, and get to work.

Do you struggle with self-doubt about your writing? What are your tactics for overcoming it? Let me know in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter!

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