Overcoming Self-Doubt as a Writer

Whether you like it or not, self-doubt is inevitable. But in order to become a better writer, you have to overcome self-doubt and trust your creative abilities.

No matter what you do or how good you get, you will always doubt yourself from time to time. As writers, our minds will, at some point or another, wander into destructive territory, where we start to overthink all of our choices. If left unaddressed, our doubt will cause us to gradually we will lose faith in our work.

We ask ourselves questions like: Is it good enough? Is it professional? Is it interesting? Will anyone want to read it? Does it attract the right audience?

The thing is that no one is born doubting themselves; it’s an established fear that makes us question our ability to do our job. More often than not, we will be the only one who recognizes and understands the imperfections in our work. This feeling often stems from our experience and previous mistakes we’ve made, but we can overcome it so that it doesn’t hinder us from doing what we love.

No one likes to talk about their insecurities, but you must address them to prevent them from becoming all-consuming and stopping you from doing what you love.

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” — Suzie Kassem

When you question yourself and your competence as a writer, you create a fear that makes you question if you are capable of attaining the results you expect and demand from yourself.

We all know what doubt feels like, but few of us know how to break free from the restraints of our minds and find the courage necessary to challenge our limiting beliefs and trust in our ability to create something that will resonate with our audience.

Where does self-doubt come from, and why do we experience it?

First of all, it’s essential to understand the difference between self-doubt and self-criticism. Doubt is rarely a good thing. It makes you question if you are capable of success. Whereas criticism on the other hand, is a great driving force that puts you on the right path and helps you improve. It allows you to improve your writing by noticing and correcting your mistakes and misjudgments.

Here are a few quotes from well-known authors that I feel are pertinent to the subject and that accurately reflect how common self-doubt is for writers, regardless of our levels of success.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” — Terry Pratchett

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”– Shannon Hale

“Every writer I know has trouble writing” — Joseph Heller

It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.” — Robert Benchley

By the time I was fourteen, the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” — Stephen King

In most cases, self-doubt begins with a lack of self-esteem. If you’ve previously experienced rejection, putting yourself, or your work, out there can be something that you dread. In this case, your fear of failure and rejection is stronger than your desire to share your stories with the world.

Accept the fact that some level of self-doubt is inevitable

Everyone experiences the occasional oh-so-dreadful feeling of doubt. Every writer is familiar with the anxious thoughts that occupy their mind when doubt arises.

Don’t feel shameful or angry over the fact that you feel the occasional wave of doubt or insecurity; it’s completely normal. If you try to push it away or refuse to acknowledge the fact that insecurity will inevitably emerge at some point, it will only set you back further, and it can potentially cause you to back away from valuable opportunities.

The best thing you can do when you feel overwhelmed by hesitancy is to continue writing. You must not let it stop you from getting better and developing your skills. Follow through with your initial idea or draft, even if it seems unpromising at first. You never know what it might turn into if you run with it, and at the very least, you will be one experience richer.

Take a break, change perspectives

As a writer, you will often get caught up in small details and minor mistakes in the name of perfectionism; it happens to the best of us. When this happens, rather than getting sucked into the need to correct every last mistake and craft the most perfect sentence, take a step away from your work, take a break, and come back with a fresh pair of eyes.

Something you see as an unnecessary part of your story now might be what brings it all together in the end. It’s amazing how differently you view your work once you have taken a step back and approached it from a different light.

Stop comparing yourself to others

The biggest mistake you can make is to begin analysing other people’s works and comparing your finished work to someone else’s. This post-completion investigation and comparison will inevitably result in that ball or doubt growing until you reach the point where you feel that whatever you wrote could have been better, so don’t overthink it.

Unless you’re prepared to continue improving and perfecting your work, don’t compare yourself to others.

No, it’s not a very good story — its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside. — Stephen King

Write down all of your ideas

In the same way that every writer experiences self-doubt, there isn’t a single writer who hasn’t had at least one bad idea. Without the bad ideas, you wouldn’t realize how valuable the good ones are. So, you must not get discouraged when you realise that most of your ideas lead to dead ends.

You will probably have more bad days than good ones; that is just the reality of being a writer.

The best way to make sure that you don’t leave any stone unturned and that you follow through with your best ideas is to write them all down. Even if it seems like the worst idea you’ve ever had, it might later lead to a better idea in the future.

If you don’t roll with all of your ideas, you risk missing out on a great opportunity and wondering if it could have been the one.

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