Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How do you handle self-doubt?

A writer e-mailed me to ask, "How do you handle self-doubt and make yourself write?"

Some days I don't. Um, particularly in 2007 when it was rejection after rejection. Followed by more rejection. And then rejection that came completely out of the blue from another writer. Oh, and then some more rejection on top of that.

I've said this elsewhere, maybe on the post where I talk about how I got published, but there were days where I would just lay on my apartment floor and ask myself why I was doing this. What made me think I had anything unique to say?

And sadly, those insecurities don't vanish when you sign the book contract. Or when you see your book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. Insecurity is part of being human. But the joy of being a writer is you can put it to work for you and use it in character crafting. (Once you get over your insecurities long enough to actually put words on the page, that is.)

So while I, sadly, have no magical cure for self-doubt, I have found a few things that help me:

Because sometimes my doubts are from me over-thinking the situation. Sometimes it's as simple as telling myself, "You're going to sit yourself down in that chair, and you're not checking e-mail, stalking the Pioneer Woman, or even peeing until you write 500 words."

Writing in a Community
I didn't know how badly I needed writing friends until I actually made some. I love being able to send them stuff and say, "Does this suck as bad as I think it does?" In fact, I have a manuscript that I felt tremendously insecure about, that I cringed as I clicked the "Send" button, but my crit partner, Roseanna, says it's the best thing I've written.

And even when something does suck as bad as I think it does, my writing friends are often able to say, "Here's the problem."

Writing friends can give you much-needed perspective.

Having That Person
It might be your best friend or your dad or your aunt. It's that one person who's always willing to give you pep talks, and who knows how to make things right. I'm fortunate enough to have lots of people supporting me and my writing, but the one who gets to deal with all my junk is my husband. (Lucky him, right?) He's there to tell me how dumb a particular reviewer is, or to remind me that my agent didn't take me on out of pure pity (I still think maybe partial pity), and so on.

The self doubt will never completely go away. But I think the best advice is in the second part of the question - make yourself write. There's definite therapy in it.

Have a question? E-mail me.


  1. Yes, there are definite times when we just need a dose of encouragement to counteract the self-doubt. And while it's crucial to have people who will be brutally honest with you about where you need to improve, it's equally important to have cheerleaders who will pick you up when you sink into the gloom. It's okay to take time to regroup after a disappointment--but Stephanie's perseverance posts then come into play. Butt back in chair, and write.

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  3. This is also very true in real life, not just in writing. We need people in our lives who will help us realize what we're doing that's wrong and how can can improve in certain areas. But it's also important to have people (maybe the same ones) who will encourage you along the way, and show you all that you have accomplished already. (Sort of like parenting.)

    It is hard receiving negative feedback on your writing, and even worse being rejected - but it's necessary if you want your writing to reach it's full potential. If we only had people who praise our writing all the time, then we would become prideful and most likely too relaxed in our work. In this case, we would never strive for more.

    Great post. =)


  4. Tessa, you're absolutely right! Boy, do I love it when my parents read a manuscript of mine. Because they think it's the best thing out there and just can't believe that no publisher has had the sense to snap it up yet. They're support was critical early on, but I didn't really start improving until I found some who'd give me constructive criticism.