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Think You Can’t Write? 5 Ways to Stop Doubting Yourself

Here’s why we need to stop doubting ourselves as writers: Self-doubt brings fear of failure, decreased motivation, and increased anxiety.

Doubt also increases general mistrust, which feels real but has no reason. Self-doubt creates worry, nervous disorders, and even paranoia. If you doubt yourself as a writer, you’ll eventually stop writing. And then guess what? You are no longer a writer.

You know why you need to deal with your self-doubt and anxiety about writing. What you need are tips on how to stop doubting yourself as a writer or blogger, right? Good news! You have come to the right place. I’m using a vivid metaphor to help you deal with writing doubts and fears: the skin of a rhinoceros. What’s so great about the skin of a rhino, you ask? It’s tougher than Teflon! These tips on increasing your writing confidence will help you toughen up and keep writing no matter how doubtful you feel about yourself as a writer.

All great writers and published authors know the burden doubt brings. “The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.” ~ John Steinbeck.

Do you regard your writing as the most important thing in the world – whether it’s a blog post for your new website or your 10th article for the New Yorker? No matter. Regardless of what you think of yourself as a writer, these tips for dealing with self-doubt will grow you into a more confident, healthy, happy writer.

Why Writers Need the Skin of a Rhino

“Writing that novel was a slog,” says Lionel Shriver, about her best-selling We Need to Talk About Kevin. “I have more determination than the average bear, but anyone’s internal resources are finite. Having long resorted to journalism to make ends meet, I was already mentally preparing for a future as a full-time hack. But I finished my first draft because I wouldn’t be accused of not having tried.”

How Do You Deal With Writing Doubts?

Shriver didn’t just finish her first draft, she finished the final manuscript. After reading the manuscript for a month, her literary agent said, “I don’t see how I’m going to sell this….I just don’t think anyone is going to want to publish a book about a kid doing such maxed-out, over-the-top, evil things, especially when it’s written from such an unsympathetic point of view.”

New writers aren’t the only ones who need the skin of a rhino when they’re trying to get their work published! Shriver had written several books before Kevin. They sold like Mexican snowsuits (s-l-o-w-l-y), but she kept writing.

Over the next eight months, Shriver approached 20 other literary agencies; they all turned her down. “On the cusp of giving up…I realized I wasn’t powerless,” says Shriver. “I sent the novel directly to an editor. Submitting a manuscript without representation is one of those things that wised-up professional writers are never supposed to do.”

What happened when Shriver approached a publishing house editor directly? “She read it over the weekend and made an offer on Monday.”

Shriver had the skin of a rhino, and Kevin got published.

5 Ways to Stop Doubting Yourself as a Writer

Are you a woman? You may struggle more – and more often – with self-doubt about your writing. Here’s what Lisa Bloom writes in Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World:

“One of the best things about men is their confidence, their rightness, their ability to go with their gut and produce. I rarely overhear men in cafes talking about how differently they could have or should have done something. One of the most paralyzing things for a woman [writer] is her doubt. Do I have the right job? Did I pick the right partner? Are these the right shoes? Did I pick the right place to go on vacation? Doubt is like an anchor that keeps women rooted in murky waters of disapproval.

1. Control what you can about your writing

Writers can’t control how their work will be received or whether it’ll be loved, hated, ignored, or quickly forgotten. Writers can’t control whether an agent or publisher or editor will buy the manuscript or assign the feature article. Writers have no control over what readers say, feel, or think.

What can writers control? Their own work schedule. How often they write, how much they learn about writing, the things they tell themselves, and how they spend their time. Successful writers also learn how to handle their fears, doubts, feelings, disappointments, failures and regrets.

How you respond to writing critics and rejection can make or break your writing journey. How you respond to the critical, rejecting voice in your own head is even more powerful.

2. Take comfort in the rumor that Stephen King thinks Stephanie Meyer is a lousy writer

Rick Namey, who published three travel guides for Fodor’s and a book of political satire for St. Martin’s Press, says, “I read recently that Stephen King thinks that Stephanie Meyer is a lousy writer. Too bad the poor girl had to find out after selling millions of books!”

He cautions writers to be wary of well-meaning but ill-guided advice. Some people won’t like your voice and style, and others will; it’s all subjective. Second-guessing yourself because of negative feedback will destroy your productivity.

“Don’t look for approval,” says Namey. “If you encounter unwanted critiques of your writing, ignore it and keep going.” I also quoted him in 10 Simple Ways to Improve Your Magazine Writing Skills.

3. Tell the story that is burning inside you. If necessary, start a fire

If you write for yourself first – not for publication or money – then it matters less what other people think. Gregg Feistman, Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Temple University and author of The War Merchants, says, “True writers have an intrinsic, instinctive need to write – it’s what we do and we can’t conceive of not doing it.” He adds that nobody can read something you carry around in your head. 

“No one, not even Shakespeare, got their first versions right the first time,” he says. “Just get it down on paper (or onto the computer screen) first. Then, go back and fix it.” Simple, right? Yes! Keep it simple and you will deal with doubt in yourself as a writer. Get into the habit of writing and editing daily; you will increase your confidence to write more, again, longer, and creatively.

What are your writing goals? What would you do if you weren’t paralyzed by doubt? Do you want to get your book published, start a blog, make money as a writer, find a literary agent, write your first novel, pen your memoirs? The first step to shaking off your “doubt paralysis” is to figure out what you truly want to do and become as a writer. Here’s what I wrote in Freelance Writing Pay Rates for Magazines and Newspapers eight years ago: “I really want my Quips and Tips blogs to succeed! Which, to me, means I want to keep making money blogging. I earned almost $60,000 last year, and yet I doubt I can do it again next year.” Guess what? I’ve been making more than that as a writer.

4. Be specific and concrete about your self-identity as a writer

What exactly do you doubt about your writing abilities and skills? Write them down. Be specific, detailed, concrete. Don’t argue with yourself or try to be more confident. Don’t try to talk yourself out of being a writer who needs to deal with self-doubt. Then, put the document with all your doubtful words aside. You can pick it up again later if you need to torture yourself.

Now, create a plan. What do you need to do today to get one step closer to writing your book, starting your blog, selling an article to a magazine, or hiring a book doctor? Do it. What are you waiting for? You don’t need the skin of a rhino to write or get published! You only need to imagine yourself wrapped in the skin of a rhino, safe inside the tank, with your self-doubts, fears, insecurities and anxieties falling harmless on the outside of your page and mind.

I’ve been blogging for over 10 years. When I created my Quips and Tips blogs (now She Blossoms), I had a weekly blogging schedule. That was how I dealt with my doubt as a writer. I just made a schedule and wrote. Doubt yourself as a writer, but get to work. Maybe your confidence in your writing will increase with every word you write – in your books, blog posts, magazine articles, newspaper editorials – or maybe it won’t. No matter. Write, and let the doubts play amongst themselves.

5. Remember that all writers keep learning how to write better

A reader reminded me that to be a successful writer you should read books and articles from excellent authors. Learn how voice and style affects your writing, and how knowing who you are as a writer will increase your confidence and decrease your doubt. To learn more about writing itself, read 4 Examples of Good Writing From Professional Writers.

Let’s give Lionel Shriver the last word:

“I paid my dues…I was in commercial terms a flat-out failure as a novelist for nearly 20 years,” says Shriver. “My last novel sat wanly on my C drive, unpublished. The previous six had all lost money.” 

Writing Confidence Tips
How to Increase Writing Confidence

How do you think that would affect your confidence in yourself as a writer? I have a feeling I would’ve succumbed to self-doubt and insecurity long before 20 years had passed. Authors like Shriver inspire and motivate me to be more confident in myself as a writer and blogger. Sometimes I still feel doubtful about my ability to keep making a living writing, but then I just get to work. And the doubt fades.

What do you think, fellow scribe? How do you deal with your self-doubt as a writer or even a published author? Your big and little comments are welcome here. Never doubt that! 🙂


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18 thoughts on “Think You Can’t Write? 5 Ways to Stop Doubting Yourself”

  1. Hello Kyle,

    Congratulations on writing the first draft of your novel! Many would-be writers don’t get past the first chapter — so you’re well ahead of the game.

    I answered your question here:

    How Do I Stop Making Excuses and Start Writing?

    I hope it helps, and welcome your thoughts.

    All good things,

  2. I have recently written a first draft of my novel and than an unillustrated children’s book. I have tons of ideas for more than ten more novels. These characters and stories speak through me every day and my biggest thing is I make excuses and do not honor my gift and in a way that affects me more than anything else. I am not sure if it is fear of failing and not being successful or if it is just pure laziness. I know in my heart this is what I have been called to do yet I do nothing about it. How do I kill that nagging sense of fear and honor the voice of reason?

  3. My creative writing exploits so far have basically been responding to prompts from various writing prompt sites.
    I do have several blogs related to computer user groups, and edit a newsletter for one of them.

    That said, everything you say above is how I approach my writing.

    Typically, I just start writing on a sheet of paper, move it to a plain text editor (to keep formatting from distracting me), then move to a word processing program for finalizing, and finally post to my blog or the newsletter when proofread and satisfied.

  4. Hi Laurie, George here. We met at the bloggers in Vancouver MeetUp, hope you remember. Love Writing Blossoms!

    I stop doubted myself as a writer 25 years ago and I’m still not published! But I don’t care because I love to blog. I just wrote an ebook to help writers overcome self-doubt and self-criticism, in fact. Here is a sample chapter, in case your readers are interested:

    10 Tips From Published Authors to Increase Your Confidence as a Writer

    1. Write naturally – let your voice bubble to the surface. Write like you speak! Many writers – especially beginners – tend to overwrite. They may be trying to sound professional and poised, but they come across as forced and uptight. For instance, don’t say ‘egregious error.’ Say ‘stupid mistake.’

    2. Don’t worry about organization and grammar. Get your ideas onto the page – no matter how messy. Ask yourself questions: ‘What is my point?’ and ‘What’s the most important thing I want to get across to the reader?’ Then ramble it out. Once you’ve made your point, go back and edit your writing. This editing and revising will increase your confidence. Once you’re satisfied that your vital ideas are in place, organize the structure and tidy the grammar.

    3. Cut those adverbs. This writing advice is from Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer: “Don’t use adverbs as part of showing and not telling. Don’t tell us how he screamed. Show us.” Showing will help you deal with doubt in your writing because it’s more active and interesting way to write.

    4. Don’t get too excited when you’re writing a book! The best writing tip I ever received was from a former boss, who told me to avoid using exclamation points at all costs. He said the tone and content of the message should convey all the excitement. 

    5. Wear steel toe boots – send a practical message to family members. I’ve trained my two small children (ages 5 and 6) to notice when I am wearing my steel toe boots. They may not interrupt me if the boots are on my feet. I use this to get phone interviews done and articles written.

    6. Avoid clutter. Be clean, neat, and sharp. Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.'” – Mary Beth Kriskey, copywriter and public relations specialist (one of her favorite reference books is On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinser).

    7. Picture your reader, and write directly to him or her. My first job out of college was with an advertising agency where the owner taught me to write copy. His words were, ‘Write as if you are speaking directly to the other person.’ This draws the reader in and decreases your doubt as a writer. You feel like you’re writing to a real live person, which is encouraging.

    8. Use tangible, concrete, solid words. My readers resonate more deeply with copy that includes ‘real’ words. Since I am often describing a product or service, I draw a picture of the end result using picturesque nouns, pretty words, and tangible concepts.

    9. Know your audience. The confidence building writing tip I ever received, is to target your writing to your audience. Know who your audience is before you begin writing.

    10. Don’t stop to edit – keep writing your book ’til the end! This is probably the best way to stop doubting yourself as a writer: don’t stop to edit while you’re writing your first draft. It stops the flow. If you’ve got a concept, run with it. Write whatever comes to mind. When you’ve finished writing, you can go back and edit. This doesn’t give you time to doubt yourself.

    Hope this helps, and that you don’t mind me sharing my thoughts on dealing with self-doubt as a writer!

    George T.

  5. Hi I’m only 12 and I’m already writing my first book. It’s a book called The Dark Void. It’s a Pokemon story. It is about a kid named Akura and his friends Coru, Helen, and Druze traveling together and stopping a legendary Pokemon called Darkrai from doing something dangerous.
    I’m halfway through and I’m starting to doubt myself as a writer. Your skin of a rhino tips really help! Thank you. I feel like a warrior 🙂

  6. This post was pretty good. I think that gaining the skin of a rhino comes with an increased confidence in one’s skills. This can be from education or practice, or both, but I think that once you have the fundamentals down pat, the rest of the process becomes easier. You gain confidence, and you can handle criticism.

  7. Thanks for your thoughts, P J – and congratulations on sending your manuscript to your publisher! That’s very exciting.

    I’m learning not to edit as I write, and it’s getting easier. I’m the type of writer who agonizes over every sentence before going on to the next one, which really slows my writing down.

  8. P J Kielberg-McClenahan

    I just sent my final manuscript to my publisher for my first novel. I agonized over this manuscript in its embronic stages.

    At one point, I decided that I would abandon all attempts to edit as I went along, and just wrote, wrote, wrote. I found that as I no longer gave a damn about punctuation, I was concentrating on the content of my work and it went well after that.

    If you write, do not try to edit as you go along. Let an editor do that.

    Turn grandma’s picture to the wall, pull out all the stops, and tell your story like you hear it in your mind.