How to Crush Self-Doubt and be a Self-Confident Writer

Questioning yourself is a normal process in taking on a big task in life, you’ve got be sure of yourself, right?

Sean P. Durham
Jun 15, 2019 · 7 min read

Well, starting out with a great idea to write, knowing that someplace deep inside sleeps a brilliant wordsmith who is willing to change her ways, tough it out to the end of a book, write brilliant mind-blowing articles, and burn midnight oil till the sun rises soon turns into vague feelings of having bitten off too much to chew.

Doubt ; Every great writer has been there, done that, felt that.

The difference is that they found a way to get through the doubts that filled their minds. Doubts can come along and destroy the beginning of a promising work day like a crazed samurai swordsman smashing through the doorways of your mind.

The best writers on the planet found the answer by doing this.

They said “yes”.

A really active, “yes” to being a writer is a powerful antidote to all the doubt questions. It’s that simple.

Overcoming doubts about writing is often a case of bashing up against feelings and thoughts of incompetence, future failure, fear of working on a crappy idea that might end up in the writer’s graveyard. The list goes on.

Where doubts are concerned it’s easy to write reams of them, you’d run out of paper after a while and still have ideas about why it could be a bad idea to go ahead and keep writing.

Getting to “yes” is always a tricky thing, but once we are there we know we should have said that word a long time ago. It kills doubt like the big tom cat staring down a ballsy dog on the street.

Dogs and doubts can run wild, scare us up a bit and make us turn and run, but face up to them and stand your ground, and they’ll high-tail it out of the neighbourhood pretty rapido.

“I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people” John Steinbeck, author of Cannery Row, 1945.

John Steinbeck wrote about The Great Depression, how it affected the ordinary people of America, and he was an acclaimed author in his own life time.

If you read his stories then you’d wonder, how could such a magnificent writer entertain such nonsense about his abilities.

Such thinking didn’t stop John Steinbeck from writing. He continued with his work and published many stories that we can read today. He didn’t allow his mind to overwhelm him with doubt.

His ability to get over himself was simply about saying yes to sitting down and following his own will, which was to write.

Fears about writing are often about the future — something we don’t control.

John Steinbeck continued to deal with doubts, he often worried that his work was mediocre. That’s a typical doubt of a person who sets out to accomplish a difficult task where the goal is to finish something that concerns such an important issue, such as The Great depression, poverty and anguish and the plight of people faced with real hardships. No small thing.

When we allow doubt to enter into our plans, wondering whether we are up to the job or not, we may as well admit that we are no longer thinking about our reality. We are thinking about a fictional future that could, or could not be true.

As writers we are taking on a task that requires skill sets, intuitive knowledge, guess work about the human condition, research that can be as exciting as it is daunting to the mind, what we do is new, nobody has done it before us.

Each story is unique in one way or another. Forget the five stories and all that, we write fresh stuff all of the time. That’s what keeps a writer going, take yesterday’s World news and find a new story for today.

I knew a writer who was really good at the work. She sat down each day and wrote, she put words onto paper and knew that she was slowly and surely creating a story. Story was her goal.

To finish the story would happen one day in the future, she was the type of person who knew that right now she had control over what she did, so long as she wrote something right now and each day.

Then her attitude changed.

It’s my guess that one day she realised how tiring the work was, she thought too much about the work ahead of her, the editing that she would inevitably have to do before she could shout from the mountain that it was all done and dusted.

Each time we spoke, she talked about the work and I could hear her enthusiasm for her story. The ideas were great, and I knew that she would write it to the end. But each conversation became less and less about ideas and more about doubts, more focused on the future than anything else.

“What if it doesn’t work out?”

“What if readers hate what I’ve written?”

She was getting herself into a real mess inside, and I was trying my hardest to gently coax her mind back into full force writer mode.

We would meet for a drink about once a week and talk about everything under the sun. It got to a point where I really did my best to avoid listening to her talk about her book. It was all nonsense as far as I was concerned, and it didn’t help her for me to listen and allow her to express these worries and doubts about something she could never control. The future.

If you’ve ever observed the face of a person who is living in a constant state of worry and doubt, then that was her face all of the time. She wore herself down.

I gave up on trying to stop the constant doubt speeches, and just sat and listened to her get it all out. What a shame, I thought, her book would’ve been great if she’d kept her head.

I didn’t feel like meeting her much at that time, it was bringing me and every other person down.

What’s nice is that she called me one day, about a month later. Her voice was filled we her old self, the happy chatty person we all knew.

So, we did meet up for an evening out on the town.

When I asked her why she was so happy in herself, she waved her hand at me, blushed a little and told me how stupid she felt about all this doubting business.

She hadn’t been writing anything at all for a month. This is a person who lives to write, but for a while she had forgotten about that person.

The whole month when we hadn’t been communicating, she told me she’d wandered about, over eaten, gone drinking with friends she hardly knew anymore, but loved the drinking sessions with them.

She woke up one morning and saw all the notebooks and scribbled ideas that lay around her apartment.

As she looked around, she saw a writer’s home.

A place full of wonderful ideas and the potential for something so new and exciting written on each of those pieces of paper, that she knew that she was a writer. That writing was her job in life, come hell or high water. Writer.

She said how stupid and wasteful it made her feel to have spent so much of her precious writing time on thoughts of doubting her abilities and her strengths to finish the task of a book.

That’s what life is like anyway, nothing worth having is easy, and she had chosen to go for something worth having.

Even at the lowest point where doubt was gnawing away at her soul, she had been jotting ideas down for future use.

She said that she felt it rise up in her, an emotion that overwhelmed all of her thoughts — even her hangover fizzled out, and she knew that she was simply saying yes to her chosen job of writer.

Her doubts were immediately gone, she didn’t want to even think about why she had been in doubt — that seemed like a waste of her thoughts.

The moment it happened it seemed so obvious. Her mind relaxed and she had an enormous urge to sit down and write again, all day.

She discovered that it was up to her to know herself and realise that she is by nature a creative person, that her answer would always be , “yes, I must write.”, and that any other life would be a torment without being able to write.

Her answer was about finding the intrinsic motivations in her life. Avoiding the voices of the outside world, and giving herself time and space to hear herself express her own ideas and motivations.

Doubt doesn’t allow those thoughts. They are so dominant, they blot everything else out, even the most important thoughts we have.

Doubt can cause us to become blind to our deepest motivations.

The intrinsic emotions that give us our values and self-knowledge are always present in us, to learn to look around in our own lives and see the reflections of our work can often be enough to remind us of what we stand for, and what’s important.

Allowing yourself this moment creates a powerful emotional charge of self-control, a lasting feeling of being at the centre of yourself. It’s a place where we can always and easily say Yes to yourself when sitting down to write once again.

Taking charge of your destiny, your path in life is a creative process too, when you look deeper and begin to see all the things you are, you no longer fear your own decisions, and your life begins to make sense in a very powerful, logical way that only you can understand.

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Sean P. Durham

Written by

Berlin Notes — Writing about the Creative Art of Living http://seandurham.eu

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +720K people. Follow to join our community.

Sean P. Durham

Written by

Berlin Notes — Writing about the Creative Art of Living http://seandurham.eu

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +720K people. Follow to join our community.

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