Your stomach is sick, heart pounding, palms damp with sweat - you’re about to hit the publish button. But something is holding you back.
Last week I wrote an article about lost inspiration and how it can be a Creative’s greatest fear to stare at a blank screen and feel the wells of creativity dry up in that exact moment.
But there’s another fear, just as devastating that can grind our creative output to a halt. Self-doubt is that swirling vortex of voices we carry around inside our heads that whisper, or scream depending on the day, that our work isn’t good enough.
Part of the problem is that our work is tied up with our self-worth. As writers, it’s difficult for it NOT to be. Our work is an expression of the inner workings of our minds, our imaginations, sometimes the very fabrics of our souls — displayed for the world to either love and accept (fingers crossed) or revile and ridicule.
And with stakes this high it’s hard not to experience self-doubt every now and again. Sometimes you know you’ve got a winner and you can feel it in your synapses eagerly snapping away in anticipation of publishing but other times…well, other times you come up with precisely 4826 ways to procrastinate about hitting that damn button.
This article is about hitting the publish button anyway - despite your nauseated, heart-palpitating, sweaty-palmed self.
Once people start paying attention to your writing, it feels nice. The praise starts to flow. Then, suddenly, it dawns on you — oh shit people are paying attention — and you want them to…sort of. It’s just that now it feels like there are expectations.
Self-doubt can propel you to do your best work. As long as it doesn’t immobilize you - that’s where it can get dangerous. Self-doubt is that sinister “what if” tugging incessantly at your thoughts:
what if I’m not good enough?
what if everyone hates the next thing I do?
what if I’m really a fraud (and they all find out)?
what if trolls rear their ugly, hate-spewing heads? (this is the internet)
what if everyone decides to unfollow me?
what if I never get another client again?
what if I have more clients than I can handle? (sometimes it’s about doubting our ability to handle success)
The list could go on and on. And if you’re hoping for a cure you’re outta luck. I don’t think the goal should be to banish self-doubt. Not just because it’s unrealistic but because I think small amounts of self-doubt are actually good for us. It keeps us humble. It makes sure we put our best work out into the world and aren’t satisfied with offering something sub-par.
Self-doubt keeps us growing. If you’re doing something that scares you — even just a bit then you’re probably a little doubtful about how it will turn out. So it’s also probably a sign you’re on the right track. You’re pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone and challenging yourself professionally and personally.
As a personal example, I’m writing a book and hope to publish on Amazon in the next couple of months (fingers crossed). It scares the crap out of me for all the reasons you can imagine. What if it’s a horrible pile of —? What if instead of helping my business grow it does the opposite and kills it? What if instead of positioning myself as an expert everyone thinks I’m an idiot? Phew, sort of cathartic just to write those down.
I tell everyone about the book. Not as a point of pride (not yet at least) but as a way to keep me accountable. So it isn’t a secret and I can’t change my mind delete the file in a fit of uncontrolled self-doubt and pretend it never happened. Not without having a LOT of explaining to do.
So how do you tame self-doubt? How do you take it from screaming, raging beast that will immobilize you with fear? To a quiet but persistent companion that will keep you on your toes and shove you in the direction of your best work?
Step 1. Recognize self-doubt has a role in your life and that it’s there for a reason. Which you’re already doing, congrats. This is about you being in control not about getting rid of your beast. So get nice and comfy with him, hand him a glass of wine and tell him to shut it for a minute.
Step 2. Realize you were successful once therefore you’re capable of doing it again. Also, I suggest starting a “love file”. I got this idea from a friend of mine. Copy and paste all the praise for your work so when you’re feeling beaten down either by your own self-doubt (or those inevitable trolls and haters) you can re-read why people think you’re great. I’m always incredibly humbled by the idea that people have taken the time out of their day to read my words (mine out of everyone else they could have chosen on the internet) and not only did they take the 1 second to hit the little green heart but they actually cared enough to craft a response. Wow, it gets me every time.
Step 3. Realize everyone feels this way. If they tell you they never struggle with self-doubt one of 3 things is happening. a) they’re lying b) they’re overconfident arrogant bastards c) they’ve never learned to step out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves
Step 4. Believe you can improve. And take the steps to get there. Read a book. Take a course. Do what you need to in order to boost your self-confidence. And don’t forget to hit publish anyway while you’re improving because sometimes learning what doesn’t work can be just as valuable as learning what does. And you know that with all this self-improvement you’ll do better next time.
Step 5. Do it anyway. The only true failure is keeping your talents to yourself. The only time you know you’ve REALLY failed is when you’ve allowed your self-doubt to cripple you into believing you haven’t got anything to offer.
Because what does the alternative look like? What does it look like when you don’t at least tame your self-doubt? I imagine it looks like files uploaded to the cloud where they’ll drift around in a space that only sort of exists and no one really understands — just like your dreams of being a writer.