Five Rules To Overcome Self-doubt

Neera Mahajan
Apr 21 · 6 min read
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

I have often bemoaned over the writer’s self-doubt.

Why, of all the other vocations in the world, writers suffer from self-doubt the most?

It is not because we toil at our craft any less than other artists. Why is it then we feel so inadequate, frivolous, phony, and unaccomplished? Why do we feel our ideas are insignificant, our vocabulary limited, our expression plain?

No writer, it doesn’t matter how many books he has written, has ever reported fully getting rid of it.

Stephen King wrote in On Writing:

I have spent a good many years — too many, I think — being ashamed about what I write. I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my talent, why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk. I think I was forty before I realised that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.

Neil Gaiman talked about it in Commencement Speech at the University of the Arts Class of 2012

In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don’t know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn’t consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don’t get to make things up anymore.

Steven Pressfield wrote about it in his excellent book The War of Art:

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

Self-doubt is the worst enemy of writers, a familiar state for all those who put pieces of their inner lives into the outside world.

We writers need to learn to live with self-doubt rather than to play hide and seek with it. We ought to embrace it and find ways to work with it.

I have developed five rules to write with confidence and joy even when self-doubt is holding me back.

1. Concentrate On The Verb Rule

The word ‘writer‘ is tricky. It is both a noun and a verb. Most of the time, we get stuck with the noun and forget the verb. The fact is that it is the verb that matters the most. If you can concentrate on the verb, the noun will materialize by itself.

Also, don’t mix up the word ‘writer’ with the words ‘author.’ A writer is someone who writes; an author is someone who has published something. Think of yourself as a ‘writer,’ not as an ‘author.’ It is the former that will make you the latter.

Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it.

— William Goldman

2. Retire The Judge rule

The judge is the inner critic that resides in you. He comes uninvited to critique your work and always finds faults in it. Even if others are raving about how good your work is, he will negate them and pinpoint the faults. He has been working all his life, tirelessly giving judgments. It is time he retires. The way to retire him is to buy him a gold watch for his services and send him home to play with his grandchildren.

In the meantime, you double and triple your writing efforts. If you are writing once a month, write once a week; if you are writing once a week, write once a day. The more often you write, the less daunting it becomes. The prolific writing is the only way to outperform the overworking inner critic.

Bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt.

- Charles Bukowski

3. Get it done rule

Elizabeth Gilbert gave the famous words in her book The Big Magic, “done is better than good.”

If you keep on waiting for it to be perfect, it will never be done. If it is 80% there, it is good enough.

No book or story, or article is ever finished. You stop working on it.

So give it your best for the day and let it go to the universe. If it is good, it will survive. If not, it will meet its fate. Meanwhile, you are free to write another one.

4. The Pimple Rule

This one is borrowed from Jon Bard of Write it Done. She named it after the best advice she received as a spotty teenager — “No one cares about your pimples because they’re too busy worrying about their own.”

She writes:

It’s so true in every aspect of life. We think that people are out there ready to pounce when, in reality, they’re more terrified of being pounced upon.

We’ve met some big-time writers who tell us that even as they prepare to publish their fiftieth book or collect another prize, they still have a voice inside that wonders when everyone will catch on to the fact that they’re frauds. Yep, that little nagging “you don’t deserve it” voice never goes away, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

If you view the outside world as a place filled with vultures ready to swoop down and pick at your bones, it’s time to rethink things. The truth is this — all those scary would-be haters are too busy scanning the skies for vultures of their own to bother with you.

5. Nothing is original Rule

One thing that self-doubt instills in us that our work is not original. That we are copying and imitating what we are reading from others.

Tell your self-doubt that there is nothing original. Everything that has been created so far in this universe is from some inspiration from something else that existed before it. Imitation and copying are part of the learning process.

Take the pressure off you by not trying to be original and learn from your idols. Even they learned by imitating and copying their idols. Neil Gaiman, an English author of fiction and nonfiction, said in his commencement speech at the University of the Arts in 2012.

When you are at it, making your art, doing the stuff that only you can do, the urge to copy will start to emerge. That is not a bad thing.

Most of us find our voices only after we have sounded a lot like other people.

But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you.

Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision.

So write and draw, and build and play, and dance and live like only you can.

The moment when you feel, that just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists inside you, showing too much of yourself, that is the moment you start to get it right.

You can listen to his full talk in the video below.

In summary

Don’t let doubt ruin your passion.

Have faith in yourself and your abilities.

All writers struggle with self-doubt, even the established ones. But they all learn to mange it.

Follow the five rules overcome your self-doubt.

  1. Concentrate on the verb not the noun of writing.
  2. Retire the inner critic.
  3. Done is better than good.
  4. No one cares about your pimples because they’re too busy worrying about their own.
  5. Nothing is original.

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We curate outstanding articles from diverse domains and…

Neera Mahajan

Written by

A Whimsical Writer, Editor-in-chief of Authorpreneur


We curate and disseminate outstanding articles from diverse domains and disciplines to create fusion and synergy.

Neera Mahajan

Written by

A Whimsical Writer, Editor-in-chief of Authorpreneur


We curate and disseminate outstanding articles from diverse domains and disciplines to create fusion and synergy.

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