Conquering Self-Doubt as a Writer

 

Self-doubt.

You know the feeling. There’s a tightness in your chest, your muscles tense up, and it’s hard to breathe. Self-doubt can creep up on you or it can overwhelm like a tidal wave. It can be paralyzing or motivating.

Writers and self-doubt

Self-doubt is a lack of confidence in one’s abilities. It is particularly crippling to writers who have not yet been validated by readers. Self-doubt can be an even more crushing weight when you compare yourself to other writers (especially NYT bestsellers, like I do).

Every writer experiences self-doubt at some point. Sometimes it’s just a small thing, and you can move past it easily. Other times you might sit down to write and experience crippling self doubt (often then called writer’s block). Or the self doubt could come after you’ve written something perfectly decent, but you walk away thinking this:

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What if the agent rejects me because I DIDN’T use the Oxford comma???

Dealing with self-doubt

I can’t tell you how to deal with your own self-doubt, everyone has something different that works for them. I can tell you how I deal with it, which is mostly by believing my own hype.

I am an insecure person, but I’m a confident writer. Much of that confidence comes from treating the writing of a  book as a team sport. When I bring an excerpt to The Wandering Penguins, I have written and edited it as best I can but I know it needs work. I bring it to my group specifically to have it torn down so I can build it up to something better. I tend to do two rounds of feedback on my work–the initial impressions and comments from my critique partners and then the questions I ask to get at specific weaknesses that I am already aware of.

My confidence (instilled by years of ego inflation from English teachers I pestered into reading my work) and viewing writing as a group effort helps me shed my self-doubt. When you go into a critique session wanting to know every single little thing wrong or disliked, hearing those critiques doesn’t bother you.

Add a dash of arrogance (see the ego inflation) and some humility learned from actually taking writing courses and being taught how to write, and I also know when feedback is something I should take seriously or politely, graciously ignore.

When you have the skills, the confidence, and the openness to criticism, self-doubt doesn’t stand a chance.

Which is not to say I never doubt myself or my writing. I usually feel the insidious hand of self-doubt when I try to venture outside my writing comfort zone of YA fantasy. And, because I’m soooooo comfortable in YA fantasy, I rarely branch out.

Turns out writing this blog post has shed some light on the dark corners of my imagination. I hadn’t really thought about how much I box myself in to my comfort zone…

MORAL OF THE STORY: Find your comfort zone and be AMAZING but also branch out and trust yourself. The great thing about being a writer is you can apply the base skills to any genre. You just have to have faith in yourself and be open to those critiques.

Writing is a group effort.

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I’m not saying my writing group consists of space-faring criminal-heroes, but a certain raccoon and I are similar in our cockiness, wittiness, and general “need” for oddball, “essential” items. 

 

Author: JA Goodsell

I write YA fantasy, blog about it, and then take my dog out for therapy. My current manuscript is INNATE, a story of two sisters caught up in a war between the gods. Find me on Twitter at @JAGoodsell or Instagram at books_and_dogs

6 thoughts

  1. Great point about needing to be open to criticism! Several years ago I realized that the only way I could tell that I was seriously invested in honing a skill was that I could accept being bad at it in order to become good at it. It was one of those major epiphany-style insights and I still think of my understanding (of human nature or just of me, I’m not sure) in terms of before and after that clicked. The next step after that is the actual minute-to-minute mucking through the “bad at it parts”. But there’s such freedin in being able to say “I haven’t figure out _______ yet, and today I’m gonna work to make that happen”. Anyhow, have a lovely day!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Self-doubt is perhaps my greatest struggle. Like you, I always want to compare myself to other writers. And I haven’t even written a draft of a novel. Because of my self-doubt, I wouldn’t submit anything to readers and fellow writers. I would keep them in a notebook, never to be shared with anyone. I’ve wanted to give up on writing.

    The only way I’ve been able to push through self-doubt is to tell myself that I don’t have to be like anyone else. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t. But as I write, I find myself gaining confidence in myself and my ability. Just recently, I’ve mustered the courage to type up drafts and send them to writers for critique.

    Overcoming self-doubt is never easy, but I am not going to let it cripple me any longer.

    Like

    1. Exactly! You don’t have to be like anyone else and the fact that you’re writing at all means you’ve already gone above and beyond others. Some give up forever or never start. You’re writing, so you’re a writer!

      I have a competitive streak that I usually suppress because I’m also a sore loser. But I find that tapping into that sense of competition, in moderation, can be a useful tool.

      Keep up the good work, G.R!

      Like

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