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Self-Doubt in a Writer’s World

If This Applies to You, You’re Not Alone

Photo by Lukas Neasi on Unsplash

“In my experience, nothing is harder for the developing writer than overcoming his [or her] anxiety that he is fooling himself and cheating or embarrassing his family and friends.”

-John Gardner, novelist and literary critic

The Imposter Syndrome: It’s everywhere you look. The struggle or outright inability to quiet the inner critic that mocks us for daring to think we can actually do what we are trying to do. Chances are, anyone who has ever seriously contemplated making it as a writer has, at one time or another, known the feeling.

I know I have. Too many times.

Self-doubt is the ugly step-sister in the creative world. It’s the flip side, if you will, to success and inspiration. Yes, we all have our varying capacities to walk the walk, but no matter what the pursuit or profession, negative thoughts always seems to wiggle their way into any thought process, if only for a moment. At its worst, self-doubt can hold us back and prevent us from ever trying to climb a higher mountain. At the very least, it’s annoying as hell.

In my case, I’ve written articles, short stories, short biographies, even an unpublished novel manuscript, and still I find self-doubt creeping into my head every time someone asks what I do and I say, “Uh…I’m a writer.” Even when I am actually writing, more than once I’ve found myself shaking my head, muttering something along the lines of, “Me — a writer? Who the f*** am I kidding?”

Well, at least I’m in good company:

“I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.”

Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck in a journal entry in 1938

Perseverance is a virtue in any walk of life. Grabbing hold of a dream and seeing it through to the end is a daunting challenge, to say the least. Because if there is one thing life teaches us, it’s that guarantees of success don’t come with the package. You don’t have to be a writer to know that.

Be it personally or professionally, one of the greater ironies in life is that sometimes we actually think most clearly when we feel the most lost. Maybe that’s why I’m writing this now, and maybe somewhere in all this jumbled thinking is where the fight against self-doubt is ultimately won or lost.

Novelist James Michener once said that a good writer should only be published after he’s written a million words. Obviously, he said that before the arrival of social media and online publishing, but his point still rings true. One has to put considerable time and effort into the craft before calling oneself a writer. No argument there.

Then there is journalist Malcom Gladwell who came up with his 10,000 Hour Rule, which postulated that one must put in 10,000 hours of “Deliberate Practice” at any given pursuit before one can be considered an expert in that field. I don’t know who has the time to do all this kind of counting, but yeah, I get it. I’m not there yet and most likely never will be, not according to those measurements anyway.

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

Obviously it doesn’t require a gifted skill set to see one’s words in print these days. There’s easy opportunity like never before, and while most think they have something worthwhile to say, there’s not always a lot of thinking that goes with it.

So, am I a well-meaning imposter to the job title, or can I be satisfied with being someone who puts decent sentences together in order to get a point across, every now and then nailing it with a touch of clarity and color?

Since you’re still with me here, I think I’ll go with the latter. Like I said, I don’t have those million words or ten-thousand hours in my back pocket just now, but yes, I am a writer.

No doubt about it.

I suspect doubt is part of every writer’s journey at some time or another. Always has been and always will be. I’m afraid I don’t have any revelatory ‘hacks’ that you haven’t heard and read before.

When I get a case of the imposter syndrome, all I can do is remind myself that I’m not alone. And that’s about as real as it gets.



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Kent Stolt

Kent Stolt


Wisconsin-based writer, storyteller and history buff. Keep it simple. Make it real.