A Writer’s Guide to Overcoming Self-Doubt

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“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win
by fearing to attempt.”

William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

Shakespeare said it best when he said that “our doubts are traitors.” They betray us by preventing us from engaging with our creativity in a healthful way. They betray us by instilling fear in us that our words will never matter. And they betray us by asserting their will over us. If we give in to those doubts and fears, we lose the chance at achieving greatness with our writing and making a difference in the world.

In my previous post, I wrote about how we can manage our own writing expectations. One of the factors I described is the inner critic, that internal voice that suggests you may never be good enough.

That inner critic is especially adept at creating an atmosphere of self-doubt. When that critic plants seeds of self-doubt in your mind, they are bound to sprout numerous buds that can grow into overgrown weeds.  When those overgrown weeks begin to choke your creativity, you know it’s time to take action. The last thing you want is self-doubt creeping into your writing practice.

Many writers have written about how they have dealt with feelings of self-doubt and insecurity all their writing lives. No one is immune from feeling that way, not even the most successful published authors like Stephen King, Clive Cussler and Sandra Brown, to name a few. I’m sure even Shakespeare had moments when he doubted himself. Self-doubt is as common as breathing.

Every writer who has experienced those feelings have found ways to deal with them, from journaling to staying focused on their craft to simply ignoring them. Borrowing from some of their ideas, here are a few ideas how you can deal with self-doubt when it makes its presence known in your writing practice.

1. Acknowledge its presence. Every writer who has ever written anything, published or not, has experienced occasional bouts of self-doubt in their careers, and the more successful ones are more prone to experiencing its ugly cousin, Imposter Syndrome. That’s the unshakable belief that you’re getting away with something and that you will soon be found out as a fraud. Realize that self-doubt happens to everybody. It’s a normal part of the writing process and it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with you. In fact, many writing experts say that if you don’t ever feel self-doubt, you’re probably doing something wrong.

2. Give self-doubt a persona. Whether you call it your internal critic, the fraud police or something else, it might help to give self-doubt a name, writes Jim Dempsey at Writer Unboxed. Or try drawing a picture of it. What does self-doubt look like to you? Then put the drawing on your wall and stare it down whenever it tries to speak to you. When it shows up in your practice, you can say, “Oh, no, here comes Negative Nellie again!” It might be easier to fight off its effects when you can bring it out in the open, rather than hide it away in your subconscious where it can do more damage.

3. Write about your feelings. If you keep a journal, as most writers do, take time to write about those dogged feelings of doubt so they don’t overwhelm you. It can be easy to allow self-doubt to consume you to the point where you cannot write or create anything. Don’t do that. Instead, write about those feelings. It’s another way of acknowledging their existence, and that’s healthier than brushing them aside in the hopes they will go away.

4. Realize the feeling is temporary. Feelings of self-doubt and insecurity will ebb and flow in your life like ocean waves. Recognize that those feelings will pass in a matter of hours or days. Don’t let them deter you from your writing. In fact, most writers say it’s important to keep writing during those blue periods. You’ll eventually come out of them.

5. Give yourself permission to write junk. During those periods of self-doubt, it’s important to keep writing, suggests Ruthanne Reid at The Write Practice. Your writing won’t be the best stuff, but at least you are still working on your craft. There’s no such thing as wasted words, she says. No matter how awful your writing may be during that phase, there’s bound to be nuggets of valuable content that you can build on. Have faith in the writing process. It won’t let you down.

Acknowledge that self-doubt is part of the writing process. Make friends with it. Know that it will come and go in your life like old friends do. The next time it shows up in your writing practice, welcome it. Remember that it’s there to help you overcome obstacles so you become a better writer.

Why Creative Ruts Happen and What You Can Do About Them

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Photo by Lukasz Dziegel on Pexels.com

Falling into a creative rut can feel like the end of the world, like you’re stuck in a dense forest with no sign of water, food or life. When they happen, you can do one of two things: fight them to the death, or embrace them.

Ruts are not a bad thing, says author and freelance journalist Kristin Wong. They serve a useful purpose, prompting you to question your life goals and career aspirations. Ruts, she says, reminds you that you are human after all, not a machine.

Other creative types see ruts differently. Author Jane Porter suggests that it’s not a rut you are experiencing at all, but impatience. You want to see results right away. You want to see progress quickly, just the way you sketched it out ahead of time. You want to see proof that your hard work is paying off. But, Porter says, efficiency is not the same as creativity.

Do a Google search and you’ll find hundreds of articles with suggestions for dealing with ruts. But not many of them address why they happen in the first place. Wong says when she falls into ruts, they usually happen for one of three reasons:

* Information overload. The Internet provides a lot of information. Some good, others not so good. It’s easy to get lost in the world of information, and it’s even more fun to learn new ideas from people. It’s also easy to get distracted with non-essential ideas that don’t fit in with your own aspirations. When you feel lost, it’s easy to seek guidance from other people and forget that you even have a voice. You need to block out the distractions so you can hear your own voice and follow your own path.

* Burnout. Creative professionals often work on the same project for months or even years. But after looking at the same pages all the time, you can become bored. You begin to feel stagnant, and run out of ideas of how to fix your writing or artwork. Burnout is natural when you stare at a project for too long, says Wong. To counter burn out, it’s important to take breaks – lots of them. Self-care is as much a part of the creative process as the work you do. During those breaks, learn to do nothing, even if it’s just staring out the window. Breaks give you stamina and energy so you can keep going toward your goals.

* Uncertainty about your path. Sometimes you can be so engulfed in the process of creating that you lose sight of your overall vision. It can translate as boredom on the job. When you continue to do a job out of routine, and you’re unclear what the overall vision is for that job, it can throw you into a rut.

So now that you have a better understanding why ruts happen, what can you do about them? Ask any creative person and they will tell you how they deal with them. But their ways of dealing with ruts are as different as they are. Check out this Huffington Post article about how 29 artists break out of ruts. It’s important to find what works best for you. Here are a few ideas:

1. Take a break. Most creative people will tell you that frequent breaks are necessary for clearing your head. Go for a walk, take a weekend getaway, play with your pet, or take a nap. When you return to your desk, you may notice a solution you hadn’t seen before.

2. Work with your hands. Try gardening, playing in the sand, mold clay, juggle, or anything that requires you to use your hands rather than your head. Playing with something tangible like dirt, water or clay can be therapeutic and gives your brain a rest.

3. Take a bath or shower. Ever have an eureka moment while showering? There’s something about immersing yourself in water that releases creative energy. In astrology, water is often associated with creativity and artistry, so any activity involving water may help “flush out” new innovative ideas.

4. Try something different. Do something you’ve never done before, says Christine Mason Miller, author of Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World in a recent Psyche Central article. Sign up for a cooking class, visit a nearby town you’ve never been to before, or go horseback riding if you’ve never done it. The key is to open your mind up to doing something different. If you experience something out of the ordinary, that new experience can spawn new creative ideas.

5. Make small changes. Sometimes making small changes to your environment can help you look at the world differently. Miller says whenever she falls into a creative rut, she will repaint a room, rearrange the furniture, or buy new pillows. Bringing something new into your environment can spark creative ideas.

6. Allow yourself to be bored. Author Jane Porter says our brains are too occupied with information, data, news and other stuff. Our brains are too busy, and all that busyness can kill creativity. It’s okay to be bored every so often. Think of it as part of the creative process.

7. Surround yourself with beautiful things. Visit a museum, listen to classical music or read poetry. Enjoy the sources of beauty and creativity that surround you. Seeing it in nature or seeing it in the works of other creative types can inspire you.

8. Embrace your creative rut. Realize that feeling stuck is part of the creative process. Once you understand this, you can embrace it for what it truly is – a reason to keep creating.

Creative ruts are inevitable. They’re a natural part of the creative process. They’re red flags alerting you that something is out of sync. When you fall into one, don’t fret. Recognize it for what it is – a chance to recharge your creative spirit so you can produce your best work.

How Your Work Space Can Inspire Better Creative Work

What does your work space say about you? If someone were to walk into your office, cubicle or other area where you work, what would they see? Would they see stacks of papers and books littered around the room? Would the room appear dark and dreary? Does it drain your energy and make you feel sad?

More important, how do you feel when you work there? Does the space inspire you to do your best work? Do you feel creative and energized, or do you feel bored and depressed?

If your work area doesn’t inspire you to be productive, or doesn’t energize you to do your best work, it’s time to mix things up. Here are a few typical problem areas and how to fix them.

  • Cluttered space. Obviously, cluttered space isn’t conducive to productivity. If you have stacks of papers, books, magazines, folders and other junk lying around, how can you possibly think clearly? Take an hour or two to sort through your papers and file them away or toss, put the books back on their shelves and clear your desk of unnecessary items.
  • Dark, depressing environment. There’s nothing more discouraging that working in a dark, depressing environment. Lighten things up. Add a cool, modern lamp to your desk for better task lighting while you read or write. Paint the walls a bright, cheerful color, and keep the shades up during the day to let in natural sunlight.
  • Too many distractions. If you prefer a quiet place to work or study, the local coffee shop may not be your best bet. With music playing overhead and a steady rush of people coming in and out of the shop, it can prove too distracting. To create your own quiet space, preferably with a door that you can shut out interruptions. If you live with others, make it clear to them that you do not want to be disturbed. Set regular office hours too, and stick with them.
  • Much like the cluttered space, disorganization can also be distracting, causing you to feel unfocused and miss deadlines. You may have tossed out a lot of junk, but you still need to find a place for what’s left. I like to set up file folders and label them for each project I’m working on. I may have a file for magazine articles I want to read, another for receipts for my tax returns, and another for story ideas for my blog. Make sure you store the files where you can find them easily; in other words, don’t leave them on your desk or lying around your living room floor.
  • Mood-killer. If your work space is dark, depressing and doesn’t inspire you, make you feel comfortable or kills your spirit, it’s time for a change. A few changes to your décor can lift your spirits. Put a few (two or three at the most) photos of loved ones on your desk, a vase of fresh flowers or other colorful mementos from your travels to spice up your space. Open the windows and let in fresh air, pushing old, stagnant air out. Bring your pet to work with you, if it’s allowed. There’s something about having your favorite furry friend near you while you work that is soothing and comforting, inspiring you to focus on your project.
  • Too uncomfortable. Consider your seating. Where do you sit when you work? At a desk? Or do you lounge on your couch with a laptop in your lap? How and where you sit can impact your ability to concentrate and produce quality work. For example, if you sit at a desk, make sure your computer is at a comfortable eye level and you can type without pain or discomfort. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor as you work, and the chair is at a comfortable height without hurting your back. Experts suggest getting up once an hour and walk around so your legs do not stiffen up from sitting for so long.

These are just a few ideas to help you create a more inviting work space that lifts your spirit and encourages you to produce your best creative work.

 

Is Lack of Sleep Hurting Your Creativity?

Girl at laptop
Photo courtesy of Hubspot Marketing

How many hours of sleep do you typically get in one night? How much do you think you need to be at your best creatively?

Medical experts say most adults require at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night to function properly. Getting only five or six hours of quality sleep can affect us adversely.  You may be short-tempered and impatient which can put a strain on relationships, for example, and mentally you may not be as sharp, which can lead to potential mistakes. Physically, lack of sleep can affect your mood, cause weight gain, high blood pressure and other ailments.

We all lead busy lives, and as we take on more responsibilities, unfortunately, sleep becomes less of a priority.  How can you possibly think clearly, make critical decisions, remain calm under pressure and perform at your best without adequate sleep? The truth is, you don’t realize how valuable sleep is until you begin to lose it.

If your performance on the job can improve with better quality sleep, it makes sense that it can also sharpen your creativity.  If a lack of sleep is preventing you from producing your best creative work, here are a few tips to help you when sleep eludes you:

1. Keep a notebook by your bed. If your brain is racing with ideas or overthinking a problem, grab a notebook and pen and start writing them all down. Getting these ideas down on paper before sleep helps declutter your brain so you can sleep better.

2. Turn off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed time. The lighting from your smart phone, TV and laptop can interfere with the chemicals in the brain that regulate sleep. Avoid watching TV or listening to music before bed time. (I find that this actually works.) It’s important to quiet the mind before sleep.

3. Give yourself 20 minutes to fall asleep. If after 20 minutes you can’t fall asleep, get up and read until you feel sleepy. Then try again.

4. Read before hitting the sack. This may seem counterintuitive if you’re reading an engrossing page-turner, but reading for a few minutes each night before bedtime can also help you relax. Try reading something dull and boring, like a science textbook.

5. Take a warm shower or bath. The warm water eases muscle tension and makes you sleepy.

6. Drink a glass of warm milk before heading off to bed. If you drink cow’s milk, try warming a mug of almond or cashew milk. You can also try chamomile tea, but it might make you go to the bathroom more often during the night, which only disrupts your sleep more. Wine and other alcoholic beverages might help you get to sleep, but you may have difficulty staying asleep.

7. Avoid sleeping pills. Some can be addictive, while others are ineffective. Other products on the market, like melatonin and Nyquil Zzzzs have had mixed results.

Whether you are an artist, writer or business owner, if you want to maximize your creativity and be more productive in your work, sleep is the most valuable commodity you’ll ever need.

Find Creative Inspiration in These Soulful Spaces

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I sat inside a local coffee shop recently, where I wrote in my journal and sketched out a story for my blog. I don’t go to coffee shops very often since I have a home office, but on occasion, I feel the need to hunker down somewhere in the neighborhood. While sipping my coffee, I’m not only brainstorming story ideas, but I find myself half-listening to other peoples’ conversations at nearby tables or watching people or simply staring out the window. By the time I left the coffee shop some four hours later, I hadn’t crossed off all my tasks on my to-do list, but what I did have were pages of ideas and emotions that I could tap into for stories later.

There have been other places I’ve visited that has inspired me to write, to dream, and to create. If you’re feeling stuck and looking for inspiration, get out of the house and get around your neighborhood.

1. Coffee shops. Coffee isn’t the only thing that flows at these neighborhood java shops. Whether people watching, surreptitiously listening in on conversations or mindfully enjoying a cup of your favorite beverage, the local coffee shop is the obvious choice for finding inspiration. Even the tap-tapping of nearby computer keyboards signals that creative juices are flowing.

2. Libraries and bookstores. Next to coffee shops, libraries and bookstores are my favorite place to find inspiration. When you browse the book shelves, note the topics, the story lines, the biographies. Hundreds of thousands of books have been published, yet there is still plenty to write about. Somewhere in our world, there is a story that has yet to be written, and you and I have the opportunity to write it.

3. Places of worship. There is something powerfully serene and reverent when I walk into a church or other place of worship. Sit in the silence (preferably not when there is a service taking place) and observe your surroundings. Or better yet, close your eyes. Whether you pray or not is up to you. In fact, prayer isn’t necessary. Just your mindful awareness and your willingness to be present.

4. Cemeteries. As creepy as it may seem, cemeteries are great places to find creative inspiration. Think of those who have died and are buried there. They all have a story. Read their tombstones. When were they born? When did they perish? Imagine what their lives must have been like. How did they live? Who did they marry? How did they die? Keeping these questions in mind can help you create their life story, whether they are true or not.

5. Museums. Have you ever seen a painting, sculpture or other artistic endeavor that moved you? What is its story?  Each antique relic, painting and sculpture you see in a museum has a story.  Even after you’ve read the caption next to it, you can still write your own story about that particular piece. How did it move you? What did it look like? What did you experience when viewed it for the first time?

6. Nature. Feeling stuck indoors? Take a walk, whether in a park, along a lake or in the woods. Nature calls for us to be quiet so we can hear the still voice within us. That is our creative muse, and sometimes in the hectic pace of life, we lose its sound. Spending time in nature is one of the best ways to reconnect with our soul, which can help get those creative juices flowing again.

7. Music. They say music calms the savage beast, and they may be right. Though not a specific place, music does provide a meaningful backdrop to any creative endeavor. When I sit down to write or read, I prefer to listen to softer music, like contemporary folk or classical. Listening to a piece of music that is unfamiliar to you may be especially enlightening, providing a new experience to draw on for your next inspired story.

Mix and match and of these places, or choose whatever you are in the mood for. When you need a change of scenery, a change of pace or even a change of heart, visiting a quiet place can help you reconnect with yourself and find the creative inspiration you seek to write your next great story.

Revising Our Lives

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“In writing and in life, you can always revise.” — Unknown

A colleague shared this provocative quote with a group of publishing professionals nearly 20 years ago, and it has stayed with me ever since. I don’t know if she came up with this pithy concept herself, or if she repeated it from another source. In any case, it resonated with me then, and still does today.

Life is like writing. When I write, if I don’t like what I’ve written, I can delete it, change it, or add to it to fit my constantly evolving perspective of life. Our lives are in a constant state of revision – from friendships, family, jobs, residences, bank accounts and hobbies. Sometimes that change comes naturally, like graduating from high school or moving into our first apartment. Other times, our lives are suddenly uprooted by life circumstances that we have no power over – a cancer diagnosis, a spouse’s death, a job loss.

As humans, most of us are creatures of habit. We prefer things to stay the same, especially when it suits our purposes. Many of us prefer to create our own life revisions rather than have it forced upon us. That is understandable. We all want to feel we are in control of our circumstances. Most of the time we are, even if we don’t realize it at the time.

It’s one thing to proactively seek out ways to revise our lives for the better, but how do we respond when these changes are forced upon us? It is accepting the change forced on us — by life, Mother Nature, even our own families — that is difficult, because it prompt us to adapt to situations that were not of our own making. Yet, that is the challenge of living this life.

Life calls for us to be adaptable to change. We must go with the flow of life. No matter in what form that change occurs, no matter how difficult ensuing transition occurs, in the long run our lives are revised for the better because of it. We must be willing to accept life’s revisions on its terms, so we can learn and grow from the experience and become better human beings.