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.”
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.”
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! 🙂