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.

A Gathering Of Souls

I went to a writing conference this weekend.

The Young Women’s Writing Workshop, if we’re going to be technical about it. I’m just going to call it a gathering of souls.

It was the best thing I’ve done for my writing and my soul all year.

I think. I’ve done a lot of things for my soul this year. But this one was particularly relaxing and inspiring, so we’re going to say it was the best thing.

Or one of the best.

I’m going to shut up now.

Seriously, though, this conference was the most invigorating, inspiring thing I’ve done for a long time. When writers gather together, especially in small, tightly knit groups, things happen, man. Things. Happen. Ideas flow, people cry, books are built, fears are overcome, and dreams are realized.

I am not exaggerating.

The conference is held every year in Glen Eyrie, Colorado. And every year, I tell myself that I can’t afford it this time. Then I book a last minute room because I can’t bear to be left out when all my friends are gathering together. Oh, and the venue is a castle.

Like, a real castle.

I think it’s the only castle in Colorado. Certainly, it’s the most beautiful castle in Colorado.

So who can resist that?

The conference lasted for three days, Friday to Sunday, and the weekend was a kaleidoscope of classes, conversations with some of the most interesting people you will ever meet, and ideas. Our mentor, Nancy Rue, is one of the most brilliant and beautiful women you’ll find out there, and her love for her craft and zest for life is catching. When she gets excited about something, it’s impossible not to get excited about it too. More than that, she is committed to speaking God’s heart and bringing his spirit into the room while she teaches. Which accounts for how powerful this weekend was for all of us.

So, Nancy, I thank you for being your own wonderful self. We all needed it this weekend.

If I had to detail out everything that happened this weekend, I could probably ramble on for a few hours and never get to the point of it all. Instead, let’s just say it was a weekend of good food, beautiful scenery, tears, ideas, play-dough, dreams, books, tea, and good people. So, the best kind of weekend.

I can’t wait to go back next year.

(And, yes, I did say play-dough. I’d explain, but . . . I think I’ll just let you wonder.)

Have you ever been to a writing conference? Would you like to? We’d love to see you next year and include you in our gathering!

 

 

For The Writer Who Needs A Break

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Vacations are wonderful things.

Can we all just agree on this one fact? Everyone loves a good vacation.

But not everyone has the time—or the money—to take that week off, or buy that plane ticket.

Been there? I have. Some months, rest is much easier to fantasize about than it is to actually accomplish.

Writer, I am there right now.

This last week has been a tough one. I spent a lot of time working, a lot of time stressing, and way too much time telling myself that I would get to the self-care things later when I ‘had more time’.

Except I never did end up having more time. And the week didn’t end with a weekend to myself and time to recenter. Instead, it went straight through the weekend and blasted into another week without a pause.

Not good.

With no time for vacations, very little for self-care, and schedules that refuse to pause, rest probably feels as impossible to you as it did to me on Monday morning. I knew I needed it, and I also knew that I definitely didn’t have time for it.

But I also knew if I tried to charge ahead without it, I was going to crumble. I know myself, I know my limits, and I know when I’ve reached them. I can drive myself into the floor and ignore my need to refuel for the sake of my pride, but if I do I will spend weeks picking up the pieces.

To me, it isn’t worth it.

So this week is about rest. In the midst of schedules.

Because I still have to go to work, I still have to write, I still have to tackle my to-do list, and I still have to be present. Writer, I am convinced that both are possible. Here are five ways that I intend to rest in the midst of my schedule this week.

1) Meditate.

I am a Christian, and for me, there is only one person who can offer the rest that I need so badly this week. So I will be spending time—while I am working, and during my free time—with the One who made me and knows best what I need.

Other alternatives might be meditation, yoga in the mornings before work, or a walk if you have an hour or so free. Anything to still your mind and your soul and give you a bit of breathing space.

2) Practice intentionality.

For me, that means less time on my phone, more time with a book in the evenings. It means a cup of tea and a workout in the mornings. It means candles instead of ceiling lights, and gentle music at my desk while I plow through projects.

Intentionality is being kind to yourself, kind enough to keep track of your water intake and have a few extra glasses if you’re short. Kind enough to wear your favorite socks to work, or put a little extra effort into your hair and makeup. Kind enough to allow yourself to be a priority, instead of making your to-do list king.

Believe me, your to-do list will feel a lot easier to conquer when you yourself are taken care of and feel loved.

3) Change my mindset.

I have a terrible habit. When I am stressed, I go into survival mode. Nothing really matters but getting through. Not my diet, not how much time I waste on my phone with social media and YouTube, not whether my laundry is done or my house is clean.

Nothing.

My plan is to ‘get to the end’, and until I do, I don’t really care.

The trouble is, sometimes there really isn’t an end. Life goes on, and I end up bumping along behind it, dragged because I couldn’t quite get myself together enough to run alongside.

Writer, there is no end coming. This is it. So it does matter that I haven’t done squats in 37 days. It does matter that my water consumption has dwindled to a cup of black tea and that sip I had this morning before I left the house. It does matter that I haven’t taken my vitamins this week, even though I know what that does to my sanity.

Writer, your life matters. Build the one you want, even amidst the mess and hurry.

4) Stop justifying myself.

I don’t need to explain why I’m tired. I don’t need a list of finished tasks and a certain number of written words to justify being allowed to read a book, or take a break.

I don’t need someone else to give me permission to rest.

I’m terrible at this. I spend way too much time comparing myself to others and working to justify why I’m so tired, why I need a break and a week of rest amid my schedule, and why my to-do list is long enough to prove that I’m an adult. In fact, I spend so much time trying to justify it that I forget that no one is actually questioning why I’m tired.

Except me. 

So this week, I’m going not going to come up with excuses, or reasons, or justifications. I’m going to rest, I’m going to have grace for myself, and I’m going to be okay with not always being at the top of my game.

5) Enjoy the moments.

Writer, there is no hurry. Life will go on, and if you are in a rush to get to tomorrow, you will miss today.

So pause.

Quit the rush.

Take the time to read for a few minutes during lunch break. Choose to enjoy your commute instead of grumbling about the traffic. Turn on some music while you finish that last project, or find an ambiance you like while you’re doing dishes. Play with the dog for a few minutes when you walk in the door, or boop your cat on the nose for me.

Life is going to move on, writer, and it will always feel like it is rushing past. It won’t get easier once you get married, or get that one job, or have a certain amount of money. But maybe—maybe it will get a little easier once we remember to stop and enjoy the moments.

That’s my task for this week. I challenge you to make it yours, as well!

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

For The Writer Who Is Having Doubts

I have a question for you.

If I was to meet you in a coffee shop, and we were to sit by the window to watch the rain or in the corner where it’s private and cozy, and I was to ask you to tell me about yourself, what would you say?

Would you start with your job, your education, your career? Would you talk about classes at the local college or the job you secretly hate but desperately need?

Or would you tell me about your passions? About the stories you keep hidden away on your computer and in your notebooks? About the dreams that keep you up at night and the characters that are constantly following you?

Why do we always start with job titles? A year ago, if I was asked about myself, I would tell people that I was a nanny. I picked up kids from school, I wiped snotty noses (or snotty noses were wiped on me), and I was the tyrant who declared no one was allowed to eat mac-n-cheese unless they were wearing pants. Never-mind that I had written five books and was currently working on a biography I had been commissioned for, never-mind that I had a blog that was growing in popularity or had written an article that would shortly be coming out in a magazine. I was a nanny. Most of the time, that was all I ever said.

Then, one day, I did my side-step pat answer in front of a family member. And not just any family member. My dad.

And he called me out on it.

Because I’m not a nanny. I work as a nanny to pay my bills and have the money to buy books. I am a writer and an author with years of experience and career goals and a heck of a lot of passion for what I do.

But I wouldn’t admit it.

Has anyone else done this? We spend hours and hours on our stories, put more work into a single project than most people put into their essays for an entire year of college, and then we just—downplay it. Laugh it off.

I’m not a real writer.

Except that wasn’t true. And I suspect that it isn’t true for you either, even if it is something that you’ve said about yourself. But, unfortunately, just as no one out there can tell you that you aren’t a ‘real’ writer, I can’t be the one to convince you that you are.

You have to settle that in your own mind.

But, although I can’t convince you of this myself, I can be the one to encourage you in that direction. So, here are my five truths for those of you have doubts about your authenticity as a writer.

1) If you write, you are a writer.

There is no test you have to take, no badge to earn. Whether you are starting now, clumsily, a little awkwardly, or you are a veteran with years behind you, you are a writer if you write. If you want proof of this, ask yourself if there is something else you would rather be doing. Can you come up with a list a mile long of all the things you would rather do than write?

Or, in your empty moments, in the time you have free and the stolen minutes that are your own, do you reach for your story first?

If so, you are a writer. Without a doubt.

2) Publishing is not the gate.

Publishing is important. For most of us, it is the endgame. We want a career, we want a readership, and we want a published book in our hands with our name printed across the front in shiny letters.

And you know what?

It’s going to be great.

But you do not have to have a published book to be a writer. Writing is a journey, a winding, everlasting journey full of pitfalls and unexpected heights, and publishing is only one peak among many. If you are not published yet, you can still be a writer.

3) There is no one kind of writing.

Articles. Blogging. Novels. Nonfiction. Poetry. Whatever else you can think of that I may have forgotten. If you love words, if you are drawn by the blank page and have more ideas than your poor brain can hold, you are a writer. You don’t need a 250-page novel to be a writer.

4) Writing is a journey.

I said this already. But it bears repeating. Writing is a journey, not a destination. You do not have to reach a certain level of competence to call yourself a writer. You do not need a certain number of comments, or blog posts, or awards to call yourself a writer.

We are all apprentices. Our craft does not lend itself to masters. (In fact, I am fairly certain that once you reach the level of a master, you disappear into your books and are never heard from again.) We are all learning, we are all developing our skills, and we all have work ahead of us.

Take a deep breath, writer. You have a long way to go, but you have a long road behind you as well. Enjoy your surroundings and love what you do, because writing is all about the journey.

5) You decide.

Writer, you decide how much effort you are going to put into your stories, or your poetry, or your articles. You decide whether you write once a day or once a month. You decide how much passion and energy and dedication you put into your work.

You decide whether or not you are a writer, and no one can take that decision away from you.

So embrace it. Be passionate. Give it your time and all the mental energy you can spare. Make goals for yourself and stick to them. Write when it’s hard, when you’d rather be doing something else. Write when the fire is hot within you and the ideas are flowing. Choose who you want to be, and then own it. Never, never be ashamed of who you are or what you love. Other people may not understand, they may not choose to acknowledge what you do, but they can’t take your passion from you.

You are a writer. And only you can choose whether to embrace it or not.

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

When Hope Is Painful

I ended up in Target this week.

I didn’t actually set out to go to Target. Nor, in fact, did I have anything I intended to buy. But it was early and I was in town and waiting for someone and nothing else was open.

So I ended up in Target, reminding myself on repeat that I was not to buy anything, because there was nothing that I needed and I didn’t have money to spend on impulse buying.

Spoiler: I totally bought something.

If you guessed it was a book, you get a prize.

Because it was a book.

In my own defense, I seriously tried. The book was called Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis, a beautifully honest book about the lies women believe. I saw it, flipped through the pages and thought, I should definitely read this. Then, like the good, responsible person I am, I pulled up the library app on my phone and reserved it, because I’d never read it before and I like to know a book is good before I spend money on it.

Then I checked my hold and found out I was four hundredth in line and most of my resolve went out the window.

Most of it. I actually left the store, reminding myself that I have a conference to go to next month that I have to save money for and jobs with spotty hours.

Then, halfway through the parking lot, I felt God say very quietly, go back and buy the book.

So I did. Because it doesn’t usually take a lot of convincing to get me to buy a book.

And guys.

Guys.

This book was exactly what I needed, especially after a week of anxiety and missed goals. I bought it and immediately read the entire thing.

No, I devoured the entire thing. Heart and soul. I started it in the car, read for about an hour in a bubble tea shop, and had it finished sometime that afternoon. By the time I’d finished the last page, I felt a little shell-shocked, a little convicted, and massively encouraged. The book went through twenty lies that the author had caught herself believing at one time or another, each given a chapter of their own, and nearly all of them hit and hit hard as I read them. They reminded me what my goals were, they showed me my fears, and—most of all—they gave me hope.

And, writer, hope is painful.

Honestly, I’d forgotten how painful. It’s much, much easier to laugh off your dreams, to keep them knotted up in a safe ‘someday’, and to wish but not hope. Hope is risky, hope opens our heart to disappointment, and hope means believing in something despite evidence to the contrary.

But without hope, dreams end up as nothing but a fanciful wish we had once.

So, writer, today my wish for you is that you would have the strength and courage to hope. Because as painful as hope is, life without it is far more difficult to navigate.

What are you hoping for this week? What are some dreams you’ve had that need you to rekindle the hope for?

For The Writer Who Needs A Jump-Start

Getting started is hard.

Whether we’re seasoned writers beginning a new project or new writers taking the plunge and learning to stretch our wings, getting started is an intimidating prospect. A whole, enormous story with complex themes, characters, and settings, all waiting to be inscribed on paper by you—the author. Without your brilliant ideas, your stunning imagination, and your mastery of words, none of it will see the light of day or come to more than a vague idea in the back of your mind.

Have you started hyperventilating yet?

I have.

What if you get it wrong? What if you give up halfway through the story? What if the story doesn’t come out the way you wanted it to, and the characters hate you forever and you can’t quite capture the incredible vision you have in your mind for this project?

Honestly, if I think of it in these terms, I’m shocked that I have ever, in my entire life, managed to get a word down on paper.

But I have. Eight books worth of words. And every single time I start a book, it’s as intimidating as it was the first time. More, actually, because I know from long experience what I am capable of, and the thought of not reaching that standard is an added burden.

So how, in the name of dictionaries everywhere, do we start a new project without first choking and sputtering out a few times?

Before I give you my tips for this, I want to emphasize one thing. Every writer is different. Every writer’s routine is different. Whether you are new to the craft or a seasoned warrior with dozens of manuscripts under your belt, you will have a unique approach to your books. That said, here are my five tips for getting started on a new project.

1) Let it simmer a while.

I firmly believe that an idea is not a story. One character is not a story. Sometimes ideas need to be set on a back burner for a little while and given time to simmer. Stories don’t come in ready-made packages, and they are not instant, just-add-water kind of things. They need time. They need devotion. And they need a chance to develop from one idea into a thousand.

I have at least five stories sitting on my back burners, bubbling away and preparing to be written. One of them is very, very close. A few others are only vague ideas, without compelling characters to drive them. They’ll all be written eventually. They just need time. 

2) Know when to start.

As badly as stories do need to simmer, there also comes a point when researching, dreaming, and brainstorming becomes simply—procrastinating.

It’s much easier to allow a story to stay in the planning stage rather than thrusting it into the rough and sometimes painful process of drafting. Drafting is messy, it’s incomplete, and it never quite ends up the way we expect.

And yet, a book you never start is a book that will never be written.

If you’ve got pages and pages of research, a thousand ideas in your head that you’ve run over too many times, and characters that are starting to grow bored with your lack of progress, it might be time to take a deep breath, open a blank document, and type in those fateful words—Chapter 1.

3) Embrace the mess.

First drafts are a mess. That’s a truth in writing that will continue on for all eternity. Your first draft will never, never reach the full potential that you had in mind for this story.

And that is okay.

Sometimes it’s hard for writers—especially those of us who have several fully fledged books in our past—to really embrace a messy draft. We want our sentences to shine, our work to move us to tears, and our characters to have personalities that don’t resemble cardboard.

That will come. But not with the first draft. Writing takes time, it takes dedication, and it definitely doesn’t glow with the first draft.

So enjoy the mess. Enjoy the freedom of the flow, and worry about edits later.

4) Remember that nothing is carved in stone.

Anything you write can be changed. You can drop characters, create new ones, change names, change countries. You can add a dragon into the second draft if you want to.

It’s your choice.

So many writers get roadblocked by the fear of how much work it will be to change things later. They want it perfect now because they should only have to write something once, right?

Unfortunately, writing doesn’t work like that. I have chapters I have literally rewritten 10+ times. Others have more drafts. My first book went through so many drafts that I lost track of how many there actually are.

And—once I got over the frustration of how much work it was—I discovered the wonderful freedom of allowing a book to change and grow in the process. There is an incredible depth to stories that have been allowed the room to grow and expand over time, without the restrictions of a ‘perfect’ first draft.

5) Be brave.

“Once upon a time,” he said out loud to the darkness. He said those words because they were the best, the most powerful words that he knew and just the saying of them comforted him.

~ Kate Dicamillo, The Tale Of Despereaux

Writing takes an incredible amount of courage. It takes grit and tears and perseverance and so, so much bravery. Writing past the first chapter when you know it isn’t quite right takes courage. Finishing a story takes courage.

Sharing a story takes courage.

So be brave, dearest writer. Lift your chin, gather your resolve, and face the unknown with a smile and a ‘once upon a time’ that is solely yours.

You can conquer this. You are a writer, and you have so much bravery already.

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

The Writer’s Guide To Mental Health

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“Writers, this cannot be right. Our mind is capable of so much—spinning tales that can make people cry or laugh, creating characters that become best friends to the people who read our stories, and building entire worlds with complex civilizations and landscapes far beyond anything in the natural world.

The potential is unlimited.

So why, in the name of every dictionary printed, do we allow a toxic stereotype to destroy something so intricate and precious?”

My new download, The Writer’s Guide To Mental Health, is available for FREE right now!  Sign up for my email list to gain access.