A Writer’s Life: Doubt

Have you ever questioned whether you were a real writer or not?

I have.

I think every true writer has at one time or another. Poor reviews, harsh critiques, and even harsher rejections take their toll, but beyond these, I think there is an innate whisper is every writer’s mind that suggests—just suggests mind—that we have no right to the title that we claim. As if there were a warden at the door, waiting to turn us away, or a master craftsman somewhere who’s going to look at our work, shake his head, and send us off.

How ridiculous.

Doubt

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how ridiculous these fantasies are—we all struggle with them. I would venture to guess that even the most seasoned among us, the writers who have been working for years, still pause with these kinds of thoughts at one time or another.

Doubt will kill your story faster than anything else. If you let it.

The trouble is, these thoughts aren’t innocent, and they aren’t easy to ignore. I couldn’t begin to guess—nor do I want to—how many books doubt has killed over the years. It becomes an obsession and sucks the life out of even the most steadfast writer’s creativity.

Writers, it is time for this to stop.

How To Make It Happen

I have fallen into this pit too many times to count—enough that I’ve learned to be proactive in my battle against it. I don’t laugh or make disparaging comments about my writing, for instance. I’ve seen many writers do this, and who knows, maybe for them it’s harmless.

For me, it never is. I may not feel it at the moment, but it’ll sting me later. And I’m just not willing to take it anymore, especially not from myself.

Since doubt has been something I’ve struggled with so much, it’s now something that I know how to counter quickly and—most of the time—effectively.

I do it with two truths, three tricks, and one reckless bit of optimism.

Truth #1

No one is a master in this craft. No one.

Not Stephen King, not J.K. Rowling, not even Tolkien himself reached that fabled level of mastery. We are all apprentices with more to learn, more to explore and discover, and places in our craft where we’re weak.

Writer, that should be encouraging.

We’re all on our own journey, all learning, and all developing the skills necessary for this craft. Rejections, bad reviews, and failures are only steps on the way, and if you learn to see them like that, you’ll struggle so much less with self-doubt.

Truth #2

There is no test to pass. No interview. No doorkeeper.

I think that’s what I love about this job the most. No man in a suit and expensive tie gets to tell me that I’m ‘not good enough’ to keep going, and there’s no committee to tell me that I didn’t flesh out this character properly, so thus I am hopeless and won’t be allowed to come back.

I decide how proficient I am by how much I practice and strive to learn. And there is no mistake so awful that I can’t decide to pick myself back up and try again.

Three Tricks

  1. Practice telling people that you’re a writer—without adding a modifier at the end. No one needs an explanation about how you’ve never been published and the book you’re writing isn’t that good and you just started because you like it . . . No. You’re a writer. You don’t have to explain your journey to anyone or justify it to anyone. Especially yourself.
  2. Be too busy writing to question whether you’re actually a writer. Seriously. Who cares about whether you measure up to an imagined set of standards? Why waste the energy trying to decide if ‘you’re a writer’? Go write.
  3. Quit the comparison game. I’m going to be talking about this one a bit more extensively next week, but it bears talking about here too. Someone else’s success does not damage yours. Someone else’s finished manuscript does not threaten your growth or diminish it. Stay in your lane, celebrate with other writers and rejoice in their success, then go back to working toward your own.

One Reckless Bit Of Optimism

Can you imagine the things you could accomplish in your life if you had no doubts—none at all—that you would succeed?

You would make mistakes, you would make a mess, and you would fail so, so many times.

But you would be unstoppable. And for every failure, there would be a success. Never once would you have to tell someone, “I gave up.”

So take a deep breath and allow yourself one reckless bit of optimism. Allow yourself to believe that, no matter the obstacles, no matter the amount of work it will take, you will make it. And not only will you make it, but you’ll grow beyond what you ever thought possible. Allow yourself to dream, to be so confident that it’s almost ridiculous. Then hold onto that hope, cultivate it, and keep it close.

You’ll be glad to have it down the road, I promise.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

Have you struggled with doubt as a writer? Are there ways you’ve been fighting against it, or has it been getting you down lately? Tell me about it in the comments! And stay tuned for next week, when we will be going deeper into comparison and how quickly it can steal the joy out of writing.

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