First Drafts and Self Doubt

Have you ever noticed that many writers are plagued by self-doubt and imposter syndrome? Is it something you’ve ever dealt with? I’ve been back at work on the draft of my next novel, but lately I’ve been wrestling with feelings of inadequacy.

When I was in high school, I don’t remember ever worrying about what other people thought of my writing or how it compared to real, published authors. I wrote my first novel, a 90,000 word project, during my junior year of high school simply because I wanted to see if it was possible for someone like me to write something long enough to be considered a novel. It took months of work, but I did it. And now, when I go back and look at that story more than 15 years later, I’m a little surprised by what I see there. Yes, there’s youthfulness and lack of experience. But, I also see a lot of good things that hint at the type of writer I strive to be today.

As a child, I wrote freely, without restraint and fear. I looked upon the books I read for inspiration and thought nothing about comparing my own writing to those writers, perhaps because I thought them on another level than myself. Today, I read novels of best-selling authors and mainstream published writers and sometimes feel that my own writing doesn’t match up. Why? What changed? Will I ever be good enough?

My dream has always been the same: to be a published author. And in some ways, I have achieved this dream. I publish myself and in today’s world, this is acceptable and even admirable. But, I’ve never submitted a manuscript to a literary agent, nor have I had a go at the slush pile at a publishing house.

In part, my reluctance to do so is a fear that a real-world professional would disparage my work so much that I would lose my love of writing. I have no other identity and would therefore be forever lost.

Is this fear realistic or rational? Absolutely not. I expect that people in these roles are kind – at least to a point, if not simply professional and matter-of-fact. I don’t imagine them to be like Simon Cowell on American Idol (I refused to watch that show BTW, not simply because it was “reality TV,” but also because I hated how they would crush people, no matter how badly they performed. I do not find humor in another’s shortcomings and I do not find joy in watching their dreams be crushed.)

I can’t say for sure where my lack of confidence as a fiction writer developed. But I think in part it has to do with my experiences in college. While having instruction and guidance in becoming a writer is never a bad thing, I think studying creative writing in college gave me a bit of a complex and now I write with fear and feelings of inadequacy.

Critique is hard to swallow for any writer. In my professional career, I’ve learned to detach myself from my writing in a way that allows me to care about my work, but be left unaffected when people in higher-ranking positions change my words or misunderstand my choices or turns of phrase. In my personal writing, I have learned that I need to step away for a while in order to come back to my work with fresh and objective eyes. Sometimes I go back and read things that make me feel good about the work I’m doing. And yet, that self-doubt lingers.

The question then becomes, how can I get past these feelings? Are they simply a product of first-draft woes? Or is there a deeper problem here for me? Sometime the writing is agonizing in both its slowness and its simplicity. I strive for complex phrases, intriguing sentences and depth of story. But I frequently achieve none of these. And yet, I keep writing, for hope – and the dream – remain.

Have you ever dealt with these feelings as you write? How do you overcome them?

6 thoughts on “First Drafts and Self Doubt

  1. “Is this fear realistic or rational? Absolutely not. I expect that people in these roles are kind – at least to a point, if not simply professional and matter-of-fact.”

    This really resonated with me. I’ve been through the agent slush pile and I can tell you this:
    1. Yes, most of them are polite, encouraging and professional. Even the form letters contain a small shred of encouragement
    2. Yes, sadly, your fear is realistic and rational. It sucks to get rejected. No matter how polite, a rejection is a rejection. I sunk into a pretty dark place after my first round of rejections. You dust yourself off and keep going, but make no mistake – it hurts.

    I wish I had an answer to the self-doubt. I wrestle with it too. You just have to power through and keep going. You can do it!

  2. I just overthink things till my Mind is confused. Is that similar do you think?

  3. I think that the fear you mention can actually be a great thing. If the fear stops you from writing or publishing, then it’s definitely a bad thing. I think it’s a great thing, however, if it makes you stop and ask, “How can I make this story better? How can I become a better writer?”

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