Remove Self-Doubt from the Writing Process with Three Simple Tweaks
Impostor Syndrome is alive and well, whether we write one book or twenty
I’m currently in the throes of another NaNoWriMo book. But it doesn’t matter what I’m writing. As Steven Pressfield notes in The War of Art, I feel the resistance.
When I start a new project, it’s all fireworks and candy. Writing feels easy. I can bang-out a couple thousand words and feel goods about 1899 of them. But now I’m seven days in and Old Man Impostor Syndrome is sitting on my lap, like a dirty mall Santa.
Become a prolific writer and finish your novel — even when no one’s watchingmedium.com
But this time it’s different.
This time I was ready. I wanted to feel the resistance. I knew it would come, but couldn’t predict when. Sometimes she arrives two weeks into a project. Sometimes the first day — others, six months later I’ll have total paralysis.
I don’t think we get to pick when the resistance arrives.
The trouble comes in many forms — different for each writer. But if we’re doing our work that matters most, she’ll arrive — with a six-gun in each fist — looking to take down the sheriff of your one-person town.
Resistance arrives when we do our best work
If we cruise through a writing project there’s a good chance we’re not taking chances. Writing is funny that way. Like music, we’ve got to start over with every album.
What our readers loved last time may not be well-received this time.
We know these truths. We do our best work. We put every bit of our training into each sentence, but that does nothing to make us feel better. No matter how many books we’ve written, there’s always the dirty mall Santa, looking over your shoulder, waiting for you to give up.
No matter how long we write self-doubt will never leave, but we carry the tools to dampen its influence
First, let’s acknowledge: the resistance is a good thing.
Before you roll your eyes and stomp your feet, I’ll explain. As with anything worth doing well, writing, by its public nature, invites criticism as part of the process.
If we want to grow as creatives we’ve got to take risks. If we’re not growing we’re shrinking. There’s no stasis with art. So, if we want to become awesome in our craft, we simultaneously must suffer through the resistance.
If we don’t feel the resistance nagging us to stop immediately, we’re not pushing our work hard enough. We’ve got to take that right foot (in the US, at least) and push the gas pedal further to the floor — slowly at first — then we smash it until the resistance waves us to the side of the road, faking a flat tire or bad radiator.
How to work through the self-doubt when you write
There’s hope. Here’s a way to shoo the self-doubt when she arrives. There’s no way to prevent the resistance from showing-up, but there’s a way to shut it down fast.
Remember, the resistance is our barometer for good work. We both welcome our guest and want to chase her off the porch with a shotgun
Step One: First we’ve got to work our asses off, tie the raw meat to the hook, and toss it into the woods as bait — this is us doing our best creative effort. Instead of being acted-upon, we want the resistance to come to us. By mentally baiting our own self-doubt, it puts us in a position of dominance over it.
I know this might sound weird, but bear with me.
Step Two: Write every day. When we operate through permanent habit, instead of relying on willpower, it’s easier to glue our butts to the chair no matter how we feel about the work.
Step Three: Since we’re fighting our own mind from three different fronts, we can’t trust it to make the right decisions for us all the time. Some days your lizard brain will win the fight-or-flight response and your entire soul will tell you how terrible of a writer you are — and that you better quit now before you embarrass your family.
Since we’re fighting our mind we can’t trust our mind. It’s like the movie Inception where the guy spins a top to know whether or not he’s in reality or make-believe.
We’ve got to have a physical, writing ritual — outside of our minds. This way we can check-in. When we feel the resistance, we know we’re on the right track. The next step is to grab the shotgun and get her off the porch.
Your writing ritual is the final push.
No matter how we feel, if we’ve got a strong, physical writing ritual we can force ourselves to keep working. Whether or not we feel good about the work is irrelevant. It’s the reader’s job to judge our work. Our job is to do the best we can with what we’ve got.
Here’s a really popular post I wrote about my simple writing ritual. It works for me. I haven’t missed a day since I started it.
It’s time to work through the resistance
Without this unwelcome guest we’d have no quality barometer — no way to know if we’re pushing the work hard enough. Now we know she’ll knock at the door, whether its our first book or 100th.
When the resistance arrives it means you’re in the club.
Just don’t let her stay too long. Keep her on the porch. If you invite her in for coffee, just for a second, you’re screwed. The book will never be finished. I invited her in once. I’ve been fighting with the manuscript over a year beyond the book launch date… still no book.
We need you to finish your book. There aren’t enough of you out there. We want to read your work.
We’re waiting for you.