How to Deal With Self-Doubt as a Writer
Don’t let that voice that’s telling you you’re not good enough win
Ah, the art of writing. Being a writer. Having the gift of putting life’s most confusing feelings into words. My morning routine, as a writer, goes as follows: I wake up, read an inspirational quote from one of my favorite authors, then proceed to write a page or two about something truly amazing, something that just shifts everyone’s perspective who reads it.
I think a lot of people, even writers, assume this is how writers function. We wake up, go to a coffee shop, overhear an interesting conversation, and from that point forward we just make magic with our words. But you’d be surprised, there are a few tiny details that I’ve intentionally left out. The doubt, the worry, the perfectionism, the self-criticisms, these are important, and crucial, things that people fail to mention about the writing process. No one wants to hear about how insecurity eats away at Stephen King’s creativity. (I’m not sure if this is true, I am simply using King as an example of a successful writer.) No one wants to hear about the bad stuff. They want to hear about the magic. They don’t want the heartbreak, because quite frankly, most of us have already dealt with that, and still are. We want to hear the good stuff. The last thing we want is for the people that help us make sense of life, the writers, to suffer.
Being a writer means dealing with our inner demons every single time we write. Having to deal with that voice in your head that’s telling you how awful your writing is, making you feel like the one thing you’re good at isn’t enough, can be a lot at times. It has made me stop writing altogether for periods of time. But I don’t want that. I don’t want to be afraid to write because I am fearful of dealing with those self-criticisms. I don’t want to not write for months, making me feel incomplete in a way, because I’m not assertive enough to put those voices to rest. This all stops today. I’m not saying the voices will stop, because I don’t think they ever truly will, but what will stop is my fear.
Unlearn the fear
You can’t just unlearn a fear overnight. Now, that myth that you can start a new habit in 21 days, is apparently not true. Who would’ve thought? But according to healthline.com,
“it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit.”
So it is possible to form a new habit, it just may not be as quickly as you think. I want you to make a habit out of writing. Make a routine out of it, if you haven’t already. What I want you to do, is to write down a few sentences each day. Wherever you do your best writing, on your couch, alone in your bedroom, outside on your porch, it doesn’t matter. Write down what you dreamt about. This doesn’t have to be anything crazy, you don’t need to write pages and pages about a dream you can barely remember the contents of. But do this every day. Try to do it around the same time, but if not, that’s okay too.
Just try to get down a couple of words each day. Write about your sister you haven’t spoken to in months, that person you saw walking down the street in the city who you thought was cute but you never told, that rude substitute teacher who told you to turn down your music because she could hear it playing through your headphones. It can be anything. Don’t turn this into a daunting task, because it doesn’t have to be. You have to get yourself in a groove. Once you find this groove, it will make it harder to listen to that self-doubt in your head. That voice will still be there, nevertheless, but make that voice fight to be heard. Drown that voice out with your writing. I think that quote rings true right about now: “Write to express not to impress.”
Appreciate your self-criticism
When I first read Phillip Lopate’s poem We Who Are Your Closest Friends, I was amazed. I was stunned. I will include an excerpt from the poem, but I recommend you read it in its fullest:
“we who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting
as a group
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift”
This man just used the thing that stops people from writing and turned it into a poem. I think maybe these voices of criticism are good, in a way. If I thought I was perfect, I really wouldn’t have anything to write about. Anything and everything I would write about would be so…flat. It would be one-dimensional because there was no underlying message. There was no fight to get those words down on paper.
I think, in some bizarre way, we should appreciate those inner voices telling us that we aren’t good enough. If it weren’t for them, who would we have to prove wrong? There would be no fight, and therefore, there would be no victory. Every time I go to write, and I actually end up getting some words down, I’m going to feel thankful, but also proud. Look at me, I didn’t let those little monsters under the bed win. If it weren’t for those monsters under the bed, there would be no rewarding feeling that writing is supposed to give.
Write about it
Now, if you can’t find a way to drown the voices out, and you can’t find a way to appreciate them in a way, then what else is there left to do? Write about them. Let them tell their truth. Listen to them when they say your mother was right about how you’ll never be a successful writer. Sit with their words. Let their thoughts marinate for a bit in your mind. Now put pen to paper. Write down every single remark they make. Take notice of each breath they take. Catch them at their worst. Watch them slip up their words. Wait for it to happen. But maybe it doesn’t. Maybe they said their peace and that’s it. Document it. Flesh out every single insult they made towards you, towards your soul, towards your ability, or rather inability, of being a perfectly functioning human.
Once you’ve written every single criticism, every soul-sucking comment, open a new page. Take a deep breath. In through the nose…and out through the mouth. Write down why those voices, those nitpicky mother-in-law-like voices, are wrong. Defend yourself. Stand up for not only you, but also your work. Sure, who really cares if someone says something about how you look or what you’re wearing, but if someone comes for your work, your blood, tears, and soul, that’s where you draw a line. You did not suffer for nothing. You did not spend so many days feeling alone and out of place for YOU, of all people, to doubt your own voice. If anything, your parents should doubt you, your neighbor should doubt you, hell, even your editor should doubt you at times, but you must never lose faith in yourself. That is one thing that must remain true.
Sure, there’s no way to get rid of self-doubt, that feeling of not being good enough. But that doesn’t mean you have to let that voice of no rhyme and only reason occupy your thoughts so much to the point that you stop doing something you love.