Deep down…or maybe even right at the surface where everyone can see…you wish you were a writer. A real writer. But how do you overcome those feelings of not being good enough? Good news! I have three tips to help you overcome those “I’m not good enough to be a writer” demons.
First — before the tips — know that being a real writer isn’t about getting published or making money writing. I know, because I wrote a book for a traditional publisher (Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back, published by Bethany House and Baker Books). I’ve also been earning a full-time income as a blogger for ten years. Those seem like signs of a “real” writer because real writers get published and make money writing, right? But I realized that I’ve been a real writer since I was a pre-teen writing in my little blue diary that had a plastic lock and key.
Second, define for yourself what it means to be a real writer. Don’t look at authors like Anne Lamott or Martha Beck or Malcolm Gladwell. It’s crucial for you not to compare yourself to anyone — especially famous successful published authors! If you don’t define or yourself what it means to be a writer, you can’t write with your true personality, voice or style. And if you’re not showing up as yourself, then of course you don’t feel good enough to be a writer!
Think about this: when you don’t feel good enough to be a writer, then you won’t write. And then you’ll feel worse about yourself. You’ll spiral downwards into feeling bad about yourself as a person…and the dark forces win.
Don’t let the darkness win.
3 Ways to Feel Good About Yourself as a Writer
These three tips will help you start feeling like a real writer:
- Notice when you feel most bad about your writing
- Surprise yourself
- Look over your shoulder
My tips on how to stop feeling bad about your writing are general, so you can apply them to your specific situation. Maybe you feel like a failed writer because you keep getting rejection letters from publishers. Maybe you think you don’t have the right personality traits that make writers succeed. Maybe you don’t feel good about yourself because know the truth: your writing is poorly written.
Those are challenges all writers need to overcome. You are not alone! Some published authors have the same emotional fears and intellectual doubts they had before they got published. In fact, getting a book published can increase those feelings of not being good enough to be a writer. If the first or second or third book is a bestseller, the expectations for another literary masterpiece (or an excellent book marketing campaign) are daunting.
Also — remember that writing doesn’t come easily to most people. I learned this when I was teaching grade 8 Language Arts and high school journalism at a private American school in Nairobi, Kenya. My job was to teach students how to write better; I didn’t realize how hard writing was for the majority of the class. “I don’t know what to write, I’m not a good writer,” was a constant refrain. I suspect that those middle and high school students who felt bad about their writing are now adults who still struggle to write.
1. Notice when you feel most bad about your writing
Why don’t you feel good enough to be a writer? When I asked my students why they hated writing, they had a variety of reasons. No good ideas, writing is boring, I’m dumb, what’s the point, nobody will read my writing, who cares anyway. Those are middle schoolers’ reasons for not feeling like real writers. What are yours? Maybe they’re the same. It doesn’t matter what your reasons are. What matters is that you know why you feel bad about your writing.
Take it a step further: when you do feel most bad about your work? Maybe it’s when you listen to other writers read their work in a group setting. Maybe it’s when you read Hemingway or King. Maybe it’s when you hear a fellow writer just signed a three-book deal. Where are you when you feel bad about your writing? Who is with you? What is echoing in your head? Start noticing when those “I’m not good enough” feelings rise.
2. Surprise yourself
“As a species, humans have evolved to respond to novelty,” write Hugh Thompson and Bob Sullivan in The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success. “Once we’ve become accustomed to something, we may grow immune to its effects.”
People — writers especially! — need to be exposed to new and different things, or our attention wanders. Further, our bodies and minds adapt quickly to the environment. For example, the best way to lose weight is to keep surprising your body with different types of exercise: walking uphill backwards, swimming in the ocean, playing soccer instead of swimming. New situations surprise our bodies and minds, keeping us alert and focused. What might this mean for you — how might this help you feel good about yourself as a writer? Maybe it means reading different types of books, perhaps books about succeeding, persevering, overcoming feelings of failure. I’ll list a few at the end of this article.
3. Look over your shoulder
You have come a long way as a writer. You are not the same writer you were last year, or even last month. If you don’t feel good enough to be a writer, you’re forgetting how much you’ve learned. This is normal. We forget things — especially the good stuff. We tend to remember (and even dwell or ruminate on) our regrets, mistakes, failures and weaknesses…but our successes, joys, moments of peace, feelings of love and connection? How quickly we forget.
“We found that one of the most important ways successful people stave off slumps is by establishing markers,” says Sullivan in The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success. “Some form of data collection — tracking your salary, recording your waist circumference, or periodically rating how you feel about yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 can help you spot and reverse a negative progression before it picks up speed.”
If you pay attention to how much your writing skills have improved and how much you’ve learned, you will realize that you are good enough to be a writer. Maybe you’ll even start to see yourself as a “real” writer.
Books to help writers overcome obstacles:
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown — when we step back and examine our lives, we will find that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as standing on the outside of our lives looking in and wondering what it would be like if we had the courage to step into the arena—whether it’s a new relationship, an important meeting, the creative process, or a difficult family conversation.
How to Fight a Hydra: Face Your Fears, Pursue Your Ambitions, and Become the Hero You Are Destined to Be by Josh Kaufman — an essential handbook for artists, creative professionals, and entrepreneurs tired of ignoring their calling.
Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way by Steven Pressfield — taking you from the start to the finish of any long-form project—novel, screenplay, album, software piece. You’ll identify the predictable Resistance Points along the way and walk through each of them.
Over to you: what was most or least helpful about my tips for writers who don’t feel good enough? If you think you’re not good enough to call yourself a writer, read What Does it Mean to be a REAL Writer?
In peace and passion,