Today is an exciting days, friends. Today is the day we kick self-doubt where it hurts because today, 14 wonderful authors have come together to talk about how to go to war with it!
If you’ve written for any length of time – or if you’ve put it off because of self-doubt, perhaps? – you’ll know exactly what I mean. Self-doubt is the reason you haven’t hit that ‘publish’ button on KDP yet. Self-doubt is the reason you can’t continue writing your draft because you’re scared no one will like what you do, or worse yet – what if everyone who reads it leaves soul-destroying reviews? It may even be the reason you haven’t started Chapter 1 despite wanting to.
I’m hoping we can convince you to keep writing anyway, and glare right back when self-doubt is glaring at you and shove it back into its dark corner.
Crippling self-doubt is a horrible feeling, but you’re far from alone, friends. Every creative in the existence of ever has had to deal with this, and we’re here today to tell you why you can’t let it defeat you, and how to tackle it to the ground and tie it to a tree so it can’t escape.
Are you ready? TO WAR! *battle cry*
I’m not going to lie and tell you that you won’t receive any negative reviews, because you will. Your book won’t work for everyone; the sooner you come to terms with this, the better. You haven’t enjoyed every book you’ve ever read, either, but the ones you didn’t like still have five-star reviews! You might get reviews so angry you’ll wonder why people have to use Goodreads and Amazon as an outlet for their aggression (and I’ve seen these, friends, they absolutely exist and defy logic), but they don’t cancel out your shining reviews! Ten one-star reviews don’t negate your fifty five-star reviews! The people buying your book don’t have any obligation to like what they paid for, they are allowed to be disappointed. So they didn’t like it; at least they tried it. Other people loved it, and it’s those people you write for (on the days when you feel you can’t write for yourself, anyway – always write for yourself first).
Don’t be discouraged when your first draft is rubbish. That’s what first drafts are there for; the magic happens when you rewrite and edit and overdose on tea. Don’t be discouraged when one person tells you your book didn’t work for them. As we’ve just discussed, your book won’t be right for everyone but this doesn’t make your positive reviews less valid. You still earned those.
And above all, don’t let self-doubt convince you that you’re no good and that everyone will hate your book and that it’d be better if you just gave up now. You’re not alone, we’ve all been there, and if you reach out I promise we’ll convince you otherwise (tea and biscuits will be involved if you come to me).
Eden Sharp, Author of The Breaks
Every year I tell the fledgling first year undergraduates I teach the same thing. Sometimes it takes three years to sink in but it’s really very simple yet crucial advice. You have to give yourself permission to write rubbish initially. All work begins this way. Writing is rewriting. Unfortunately, many beginning writers become so critical of their work in the early stages they either block themselves from writing or give up entirely. All early work is bad no matter who wrote it. Think of it this way. When other artists create stunning work they have to invest in the materials first. A sculptor needs to first purchase a leaden lump of clay which must then be worked hard in order for the beautiful finished piece to emerge. Our tools as writers are words. We need to mine lots of them to begin with. Quantity before quality. They’ll be misshapen and ugly and that’s okay because the more we work the mud the hidden gems within will start to appear and it is these which we will work on until they shine. So you have to give yourself permission to write rubbish without judgement. Don’t be afraid of mining mud to begin with. You’re just gathering your materials. As Stephen King said about the pain that goes with the first draft, just write the damn thing. Polishing comes later. Have faith. With enough work your words will eventually shine I promise.
Nadia L. King, Author of Jenna’s Truth
The magic of writing is contained on the page—it’s when you forget about who you are and everything becomes about the story. That magic is why most writers write.
Prolific American author, Richard Russo once said that self-consciousness is the enemy of art. Self-consciousness is where self-doubt and fear reside—it’s the voices in your head which threaten to sabotage your stories. I’m not sure if the voices ever fall silent but I do know self-discipline can help quieten them. Showing up, sitting in front of your desk, pounding out the words, crossing your fingers that the magic will turn up—that’s what moves you forward and overthrows the voices.
Every writer it seems suffers from crushing darkness of self-doubt. Charles Bukowski once bemoaned that bad writers seem to have self-confidence while the good ones suffer self-doubt.
Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear talks about the need to be brave. Gilberts says artists need to get to that place in creative life where curiosity becomes larger than fear.
As writing becomes more habitual hopefully ignoring the voices will become second nature and as a writer you will experience excitement about what the muse will provide. Don’t let fear stop you from connecting with the magic of writing.
Rhianne Stephanie, Author of The Collective
The scariest thing to do is share your work, but it can be one of the best things to do as a writer who might be a discouraged. Speaking from personal experience, having a writer friend who you can bounce ideas off and share your writing with is worth it’s weight in gold. When I get stuck I share a few lines of what I’ve just written and a bit of background to one or two friends and they will help me bounce ideas on where to go next, and to think in depth about what my characters are going through. They remind me to think about how they would react and feel instead of focusing on the action.
Another piece of advice I would give to writers is to take a break. Work on something else, watch TV and films, read books. Find a way to re ignite your spark for creativity. It doesn’t have to be long, and you don’t even have to work on something else. I found that on breaks where I focused on self-care that ideas and lines of dialogue just came to me when I was in the shower, or watching a movie in bed with my boyfriend.
Take breaks and ask for help. No writer will turn you away, especially when we have all been in the same boat! But don’t expect results instantly, we have our own work to do too. Best to ask in Facebook groups and get people to let you know when they’re free.
As an artist, discouragement can come in a wide range of flavors. We can get discouraged that our books aren’t getting any attention by publishers or agents. We can get discouraged that our books are selling as fast as we hoped they would. Or we can get discouraged that our muse had taken a vacation, leaving us hauntingly unable to write even a simple birthday card greeting. I’ve even found myself getting discouraged after re-reading my work-in-progress and finding it to be very flat – after completing over 40,000 words! (And yes, I deleted almost 90% of that WIP)
Therefore, I believe the first thing to do is to identify what type of discouragement you are having. When you understand what it is that’s bringing you down, you can more easily identify the solution. I find that reminding myself why I chose to be an author in the first place helps me to identify where my frustrations are. For example, since I became an author for the simple fact that I could no longer quiet the urge to write, if I’m feeling discouraged that I haven’t sold a book in a while, I simply remind myself of why I write. To me, I would rather have a handful of readers who love what I do, then thousands of readers who are ambivalent.
Defining your ‘why’ gives you the understanding and strength to endure any ‘how’. It’s when we don’t know why we do what we do that frustration and disappointment come. Trust me, regardless your goal, if you don’t know why you pursue it, it will always be elusive. Define who you are first, and everything else will fall into place.
Ellen Read, Author of The Dragon Sleeps
Whether you’re starting out on your writing career or have several books published you will feel discouraged at least some of the time and plain scared at others. The first time you let other people read your words is terrifying. The moments before then you’ll be certain what you’ve written is rubbish.
The main thing is to believe in yourself and your dream. Think of where you want to go, what you want to do, then understand that in any job we have to take little steps in the beginning. We’ll probably make mistakes but use these to help you grow. Ask for and take advice, talk to other writers, but don’t let criticism cripple you. Remember you don’t have to accept all the advice.
No matter how much you love writing, I think we can all agree that there are a lot of aspects about the publishing world that can get very disheartening. And that’s okay. It’s okay to have a moment of wanting to rip your hair out and quit. What matters is that you take some time to breathe, recover from your moment, and keep on working at it. Remember that we all get discouraged. Even the most successful authors out there feel exactly like you’re feeling right now. I promise.
There are lots of reasons why a writer might get discouraged, but I’d like to focus on one: feeling as though your market is either oversaturated or too obscure. Let’s use romance as an example. You worry there are too many romance novels out there—so why bother writing yours? Or, on the other side of things, you fear your rather niche subgenre won’t garner interest, so let’s throw in the towel and pump out some silly romance books. That’ll solve everything, right?
Wrong. Write what makes you happy and your readers will see it. Write what makes you passionate. Write what thrills you. Readers know when your enthusiasm for a genre matches theirs, and they gravitate toward it. So don’t panic. Write your novel, even if there are literally millions out there already. Write your obscure, niche genre 10-book series. There is a reader for every writer. Never forget that.
I doubt there is an author alive who doesn’t get discouraged from time to time, whether it be a bad review, or just that nagging voice in the back of your head saying you’re not good enough. My ultimate advice for tackling this discouragement is to ask yourself, ‘Why do I write?’ I’m guessing the answer is because you love it, you enjoy it, you just have to. That’s all you need to remember. You are doing something that you love, and no, you’re work may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s yours. Keep striving to do what makes you happy. Write what you want to read. That’s what comes across in the writing.
I promise you, it’s never been said, that being a writer is easy. We plunge knives through our hearts and bleed through our fingers. We do it because we are tethered to the written word. However, we can all suffer from doubt, those thoughts of ‘why bother?’
It’s at times like these, you should take a step back, evaluate and come up for air. Immersing yourself in those thoughts will only bring you down further. There’s no end of contributing factors, we lead busy lives, maybe it’s shortage of time or the lack of progress on your current writing. A clear idea, a structure, put to paper can be a real lift to your state of mind, to see tangible progression is a great motivator. Allow yourself the luxury of time, even if it’s an hour a day, or a couple of evenings a week, whichever fits your life. But always give yourself goals – aim, achieve, and plot your growth.
To fall back in love with writing is half the battle. Read, soak in the written word, the more you read the easier you will write, and the more focused you will feel.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt is not to compare. The success of fellow writers, can, if you permit it, hinder your own motivation, it’s never a healthy thought set for your craft. Instead, allow it to drive you forward, aspire, let their success boost you. If in your heart you can’t imagine life without writing, then why stop?
Beverley Lee, Author of the Gabriel Davenport Trilogy
Don’t think that everything has to be perfect the first time around. I fell into this trap for the longest time, and kept wondering why everything just felt clogged up and stilted. The most important thing is getting your ideas on the paper/screen in that first draft. Everything can be edited. There’s a reason that fledgling draft is called the vomit one! Also, don’t compare yourself to other writers. Just because someone writes for seven hours a day in perfect silence, drinking green tea smoothies, doesn’t mean that you have to copy them. Any word count or planning is making progress on your story. It will unfold in its own time. You need to find your own rhythm and what works for *you*. Try mixing things up a little if you feel stalled – writing by hand works for a lot of people, and you have the added advantage that you can do it anywhere.
Write from the heart. Write what moves you and gives you All The Feels. Don’t be afraid to go where your characters lead you, even if it gets ugly. In truth, trust them, and trust your story.
It’s funny that I’m writing about advice for discouraged writers – and that’s not funny in a ha ha way, it’s funny in an woo-woo way because that’s exactly how I’ve felt the last month or so – discouraged.
So, how did I pull myself up by my bootstraps and carry on? By remembering that everyone gets discouraged with their writing at some point in time. AND by reading articles and listening to podcasts about encouragement for discouraged writers.
Here are a few gems I gleaned from my own readings and recent experience:
- Give yourself a break. I’m lucky enough to be self-published, so the only deadline I have breathing down my neck is my very own self-imposed deadline. Sure, you may have readers expecting your next novel (and that in of itself is a huge boost of encouragement) but in all reality, if readers are eagerly awaiting your next masterpiece, take the pressure off yourself and make it the masterpiece they are wanting. An extra month or so won’t deter the most devoted fan.
- Remember, it’s only a first draft. Especially coming off the back of finishing a fully polished and highly edited novel, the first draft of your next book can seem very clunky and imperfect.
- Keep at it. Don’t give up. Only by putting one word after another will that book be finally written.
- Read! I have found by using my break time (see point one) to read for pleasure, I am inspired by my favourite authors and can’t wait to get back to my laptop to get my own words down.
Melinda Devine, Author of Gina’s Diaries
What advice do I have for discouraged writers? Make sure you always have a supply of wine, chocolate, coffee and ice cream. Oh, and subscribe to Netflix so you can binge watch series during your ‘I can’t do this’ phase.
I become discouraged for a number of reasons. Self-doubt is a huge one. Another is comparing myself to other writers and their methods. There’s also the crappy writing I can do, and the writing I can’t do when the words refuse to flow. I don’t have a University degree stating I’m a professional writer, so that plays havoc with my mind and don’t forget the dreaded one star review.
To overcome all that and continue on your path as a writer, you need to remember one thing; it’s your journey.
It doesn’t matter what anyone says, negative or positive, bottom line is, it’s all up to you. You’re in control of your actions and emotions. You can sit with pen in hand or in front of your computer and do nothing. Or you can choose to get those words down and finish what you started.
So if writing is what you want to do, sure, entertain those discouraging thoughts for a small amount of time. Drink that wine or eat the tub of ice cream while binge watching a season of The Originals but when it’s finished, get back on your chosen path, believe in yourself and write.
Faith Rivens, Author of Eléonore
I’ll be honest, friends. Ten years into the writing game and I still suffer self-doubt on a daily basis. Some days it’s only a niggling qualm and some days it looms like a supermassive black hole. I fell into a particularly bad rut three years ago and almost walked away from writing for good.
I learned a lot from that experience.
Passion. If you love something deeply enough, it is worth the stumbles and falls. This applies to life in general, not just writing.
One of your greatest allies in this game is realizing that perfection doesn’t exist and so you shouldn’t aim for it. Your focus needs to be writing YOUR best story.
First drafts are supposed to be wonky. Your story will come out in your revisions and edits. Perseverance is key here. Writing YOUR best story requires discipline, but it’s worth it.
Recognize your own strengths. Humility is an important quality to possess, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give yourself credit where credit is due. And never let anyone convince you that your passion is a waste of time. Believe in your abilities. Believe in yourself. Trust yourself too.
Writing might be a personal thing, but it doesn’t have to be a solitary one. Engaging on social media platforms led me to discover a supportive writing community. We encourage each other on our journeys. It’s a good reminder that the struggles we face are not unique to us. We all suffer self-doubt. We all suffer fear. We don’t have to be overwhelmed by it.
Life’s too short to hide away in fear.
Anna B. Madrise, Author of The Hatter’s Wife
The best advice I have to give to discouraged writers is to remember this one point: “this career choice is a marathon not a sprint.” The decision to go from being a writer to being an author is one that should showcase your passion for the written word through your stories. This is not a way to “get rich quick” but rather a way to see your art come alive and touch others. I have a full-time job on top of writing as much “full-time” as I can. Yes, my goal is to live off of the income that my books bring in but my driving force behind what I do is because I get excited about the worlds I create and the characters I bring to live for my readers. Write because it is your passion and eventually the rest will all fall into place.
As writers, we are all SUCH control freaks, and SUCH perfectionists, that no matter how many times you draft and redraft, revise, cut and edit, rearrange and review, you are NEVER (no…really…NEVER) going to reach a point where you genuinely, with your whole heart can say to yourself: ‘There. It’s done. It’s perfect. There is no way I could possibly improve this. It can go out to Agents now. Now, finally, I am happy to send it to the publisher.’ We’re good at procrastinating.
Have faith in your work. It should be good enough that you are super-proud of it…of course…but it will NEVER be so good you think it’s perfect. Holding on to that fear and obsessive doubt that either you or your writing is not quite top-grade is one of the first main obstacles to taking the publishing plunge.
The worry ‘everyone won’t love your book’, is also a crippling doubt. The fact is, not everyone will. Some people will love it, some people will cast it aside with a ‘meh’, and others, no matter how much you wish it wasn’t the case, will hate it.
Deal with it.
You cannot write to please everyone, and the important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t TRY to. If you try to, it’s obvious, and it shows, and it stinks of phoney.
I don’t write for other people. I don’t write with a target audience in mind that I’m hoping to ensnare (If you’re writing in any genre, that happens naturally and organically as you pen the story) but even the most loved books in the world will have fanatic fans and sneering detractors in equal measure.
If only a handful of people love your work, that’s NOT a bad thing… that handful of people LOVE YOUR WORK. That’s an amazing compliment. To achieve that kind of connection of minds and ideas through a shared story. That, to me, is the magic of writing, and why we need to confront, rather than ignore, our ‘doubts’.
Doubt shouldn’t ever stop you believing you can make that connection, and you can make it on your own terms, and for all the right reasons.
So stop worrying your writing isn’t perfect. It isn’t. no-ones is. Still write anyway. Singing off key is still music. And stop trying to ‘maximise’ the number of people you can reach and please. You only need to reach one, and your job is done. Any more than that, is just icing on the author cake.
How do you tackle self-doubt? If you need more words of encouragement, you can either grab some cookies and a tea and leave a comment below, or you can check out the two previous posts on self-doubt I published here this month. Author Dana Fraedrich talks about it here, and I talk about self-doubt as well as writer’s block on Nadia’s blogsite here.
Or you can do both 🙂
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