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.

How Writers Can Turn Envy Into Motivation

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Have you ever listened to someone read from their recently published debut novel and think, “Gosh, I wish I could have my novel published.” Or maybe you read someone else’s work in your writing class and thought, “I wish I could write like that!”

If so, you’ve just been attacked by a little green monster named Envy.

Envy shows up in your life when you perceive others having what you don’t have: talent, power, prestige, money, popularity.

Envy is usually tied to some other hidden emotion. It may be a sign of competitiveness or insecurity, for example. You want what others have because you fear you don’t have enough of it yourself. Or that you’re not a good enough writer to ever be published like your friends and colleagues. You subconsciously compare yourself to others and fall short. Envy steps in to fill the void.

Envy also shows up when you compare your sense of self with your ideal self, writes Mary Lamia, Ph.D., in Psychology Today. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to project that ideal on someone else. If your personal ideals are exaggerated and unreachable, you will always feel that you are never good enough.

David Ludden, Ph.D., also writes in Psychology Today that envy has a dark and light side. On the dark side, we may harbor ill will toward someone who appears to have more of what we want. Benign envy – the lighter side – can be converted to motivation to improve ourselves. We can use envy to learn from others and observe how or why they have become successful. For example, maybe they got published because they took the time to research the publication and figured out how to pitch their story to the editor. Maybe that other writers gladly accepts feedback from an editor while you are reluctant to accept their critique.

When envy shows up in your life, there are several ways to deal with it. For starters, you need to be aware of when it shows up. What prompted its entrance? Most important, what can you learn from it? Here are three ways writers can deal with envy.

1. Embrace the emotion. Accept the fact that it’s normal to feel envious of others sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just a signal that you might be feeling insecure in your own abilities. Accept the fact that it will show up on occasion. As author Elizabeth Sims suggests in The Writer, envy loses its power over us when we tell ourselves that it’s okay to be envious.

2. Keep a journal. Ask yourself probing questions, then write down the answers, says writer Amy Torres at The Writing Cooperative. For example, ask yourself “Whose talent do I wish I had?” “What does this person have that I don’t?” and “I wish I could write as well as [fill in the blank].” As you ponder the answers to these questions, note what emotions rise to the surface. Then embrace those emotions. Allow yourself to really feel them. Then write about what you feel in your journal.

3. Be the best writer you know how to be. Show a confident front, says Sims. Even if you don’t feel secure, put on a brave smile. Fake it until you make it, as they say. Then go out and be the best writer you know how to be. Don’t worry about what the other writers are doing with their work. Focus on your own craft. Smile and keep working.

Envy and its ugly cousin jealousy are bound to show up in your writing life. That’s normal. When they do, recognize them for what they are – signs that it’s time to refocus your energy on improving your own writing practice. Observe what the object of your envy is doing. Maybe you can learn from their example. Then use the benign energy of envy to motivate yourself to work differently.

Once you embrace envy as part of the writing process, those periods of envy will shrink so you don’t notice them anymore.