It appears to be self-doubt awareness month on my blog! 😀 Only yesterday I talked about self-doubt and writer’s block on Nadia L. King’s blog, and in two weeks time I’ve got a collaborative post where 14 authors tell you their secrets of dealing with self-doubt. Right now I’m thrilled to be welcoming back Dana Fraedrich! Dana’s here to talk about all things self-doubt, and gives a few pointers on dealing with it, too!
Dana is the author of the Broken Gears series. In case you missed it, a few weeks ago I did an interview with her where she revealed the title of her next book, so be sure to read it if you haven’t already! 🙂
Over to you, Dana <3
I once saw a meme online that said something to the effect of, “Creating art is constantly flipping between absolute narcissism and crippling self-doubt.” I don’t know about the absolute narcissism part—and not because I’m a writer, but because not a single one of the creatives I know think they’re the next Shakespeare or Van Gogh or Mozart—but I think we can all relate to the crippling self-doubt part. Let’s be painfully real for a second here: I’m not talking about just regular, slightly second-guessy self-doubt you get when you think the brown shoes would have been a better choice than the blue for your big event. The kind of self-doubt that crushes you under it and paralyzes you, makes you feel physically ill, and makes you wonder, what am I doing with my entire life? I cannot do this. I’m not even not good enough, I’m just plain not good. And it’s utterly insidious. It starts so small, slipping into your mind as no more than a little thought-seed at first, taking root and growing into a choking vine that wraps around your creative self and tries to kill it.
I ran into a really bad bout of this about two months ago. Can you guess how it started? I bet you can. A review.
“It” in this case was my latest book, Out of the Shadows. Two out of five stars hurts even now months later. It doesn’t matter that this two star review was flanked on both sides by lovely, four (more on four stars later) and five star reviews. Those two stars were blaring FAILURE at me from the screen. And do you know what made it even worse? It was well written, well thought out, and made both positive and negative points. If it had read like some of the reviews out there—“Wurst book eva! I hated this U shuld stop riting and go kill urself”—I could have easily brushed it off and moved on with my life immediately because I recognize a troll when I see one. This, though…it was a pretty good review even if it shredded a little piece of my heart. I was frozen for two whole days.
Of course, we can’t get anywhere standing still. I knew this. I’m not trying to brag when I say I’ve never been very good at inaction, that I’m usually a pretty resilient person. Whatever numinous blend of nature and nurture formed who I am today created a strong, positively minded person, so I was able to pick myself up pretty well. If this isn’t you, cool. I’m glad to meet you because we all have our individual strengths and weaknesses that make us unique and important players in this world. Please don’t hate me for being me and instead let me use this strength to try and encourage anyone who struggles with getting out of self-doubt’s soul-sucking grasp. Hopefully, in the future, we can cross paths again and you can encourage me in my weaknesses with your particular strengths.
Opinions Are Just Opinions
Technical details like spelling, grammar, and punctuation are all vitally important to a good book reading experience. That’s pretty inarguable. As far as the more subjective parts of creation, however—whether it’s music, writing, or fine art—let’s get one thing straight: some people are not going to like your art because they were never going to like it. Different people have different tastes. YA fantasy, my usual genre, simply won’t appeal to some readers. Some people really don’t like Stephen King, while loads more devour everything he writes. It’s just personal preference. Was that part of the issue with the two star review? Yes, I think so. Am I just saying that to make myself feel better? Maybe? I don’t know for sure. You can look at my Goodreads page for Out of the Shadows to find the review and judge for yourself if you’re really keen. What someone thinks of your creations, has no bearing on your worth as a human being. Let me say that again in a different way: you are important and priceless because you are you. I know that’s difficult for us creatives because so much of our heart and souls are wrapped up in our art, but it does not define us. If I’m honest, I have trouble writing that even in this moment. Even still, it’s true.
Now, I know I just said that opinions are only opinions, but you can also learn from those opinions. Something I’ve heard from several people/reviews about my book Out of the Shadows is that the pacing in the first half of the book is a little slow. Fair dues. I can take that and use it to make my writing better, and I plan to. Glean what helpful bits you can from criticism and use them to improve your craft. You can usually tell if a critique is well meaning if the person pointed out both good and bad things in your art and if they cited specific issues like pacing or characterization instead of simply saying, “I didn’t like it.”
Four Stars Is Perfectly Respectable
Or three stars if the rating system only goes as far as four, but I personally prefer a five star rating system. Some of my fellow authors might not like this, but don’t give out five star reviews very easily. I promise it’s not from a place of snootiness or anything like that. It’s just that, in my view, five star ratings are for near-perfect books. Even if I rate a book 4.5 stars (yes, sometimes I get that specific), I still only put four stars on the site because, again, I only mark five stars when I mean five stars.
I admit I used to give out perfect scores much more often before I started my own blog and writing career because it didn’t matter as much. I’ve also been warned by some fellow authors and bloggers that they “give very honest reviews” when I’ve requested reviews of my books from them, which informs me I am not alone in this mindset. And that’s okay. It’s also okay if you give out five star reviews like candy at Halloween (I bet all the authors love you the most, in fact). As before, different people will have different opinions on the best way to do reviews. Therefore, if someone gives your book a four star review instead of a five, don’t be discouraged. It’s a compliment!
IMHO, self-care is something we don’t practice enough. Taking time for just you is often seen as selfish or a special treat only to be had on rare occasions. The thing is, your brain and body are machines that need rest and care to keep them running at full (healthy) capacity. Self-doubt strips our minds of the oil that makes everything run smoothly, dries and damages the belts that keep the wheels in there turning. When you get battered by self-doubt, take some time and treat yourself to the things that make you blissfully happy. For you, it might be a walk or run outside, a cuddle with a furry friend, or a drive to nowhere in particular with your favorite tunes screaming out of the radio. Whatever that is for you, do it. Here’s what I did after that crushing two star blow:
Tea, biscuits, a candle that smells like my fantasies made real, a good book, and a fluffy buddy is my perfect recipe for happiness.
You know what else is a good exercise for kicking self-doubt’s butt? Sit down and write out as many good things about yourself as you can think of in ten minutes. Set a timer to keep yourself honest, and don’t worry about making it pretty. Just list positive things about you. Once your ten minutes is up, read the list back to yourself. Read it as often as you need to remind yourself how awesome you are. This last one is especially good for those that feel like you don’t have time for such luxuries as those pictured above. I’m looking at you, parents, entrepreneurs, and general life-livers. Just ten minutes. You can even record it on your phone using a voice memo app and play it back while you attend to other duties.
Remember, you cannot be the best version of you unless, cannot fully serve your art and family and friends, unless you take care of yourself. And if you need help (which there is no shame in asking for, by the way)…
Turn to Your Community
Human beings need each other. I could point you to countless scientific studies that have proved this over and again, but this entry is already pretty long. You know how else self-doubt (not to mention other difficult and painful things like grief and anxiety) knocks our feet out from under us? It makes us think we’re desperately alone in our struggle, that everyone else is sailing along with all their stuff sorted neatly together.
Do not believe this. It is a flat out lie!
Here’s something else to remember: the struggle of the creative isn’t some exceptional form of torment that’s unique only to us special snowflakes. Everyone deals with the desire to be good enough, much less the best. One of the biggest mistakes we make as human beings is excluding people from our communities because they’re not [enter qualifier here] like us. Don’t think you can only talk about your struggles with fellow artists. Whether it’s a good enough parent raising their kiddos, a good enough nurse providing life-saving care, a child getting good enough grades in school, we are all in this together. Find people who encourage you and lean on them. And then return the favor when (and it might happen within the same conversation) they express their own insecurities and struggles. This is how strong communities are built.
Please don’t think I don’t get it. Opening up to people can be really hard, especially if you’re like me and have trust issues—Can this be used against me? Will people see me as weak because of this admission? I sound so stupid saying this!—but I think people respond positively to transparency, especially when they hear their own thoughts about themselves echoed back to them. You hate apostrophes too?! Yeah, my characters aren’t playing nicely right now either, ugh! I know that critique hurt because I’ve been there too, see?
In my experience, the Bookstagram and general writing community on Instagram is amazingly supportive and kind. Some of my favorite fellow writers are people I met on that platform, but that’s just one place. You can also find support in local groups (I attend a writing group here in Nashville that’s run via a website called MeetUp.com) or even just amongst your family and friends. After reading that two star review, I called my older sister, who is one of my closest confidants but also one of the people in my life I trust to be honest with me even when it hurts, and pretty much emotionally word-vomited down the phone all over her. Gross visual image, I know, but accurate. All I’ll say about that conversation is that she helped. In the end, find people who lift you up instead of dragging you down, and then you can lift them up in turn.
Many thanks to you, dear reader, for spending this time here today, and a huge thank you to Sarina for allowing me to be a guest here today. Happy creating!
How do you defeat self-doubt? Let’s talk over some biscuits and tea! 🙂
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