Writing and Self-Doubt


This is another post in my “Writing and _________” series in which I discuss issues that come with writing or stereotypes that come to mind when people think about writers. Today I’d like to talk about self-doubt.

I can remember writing stories as a child, and even as a high-school student, and doing nothing more than putting pen to paper and letting it flow. But, as I got older, that crippling self-doubt began to creep into my psyche and affected how I viewed myself and my writing. Why do writers and other creatives become consumed with doubt? What happens to our innate and natural ability to create with the purity of childhood or creation itself? Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to these questions. But here’s what I’ve faced and how I’m going to try to handle it.

I have a confession to make. I’ve never submitted any of my work for publication. Not to a journal. Not to a publishing house accepting direct author submissions. Not to a literary agent. Why? Because I’m afraid of what they will say. I’m afraid that they will rip into my writing so much that it will leave me devastated simply through confirmation of my own fears and that I will lose my writing altogether and never be able–or want–to create again.

Dramatic? Yes. Unreasonable? Yes. And yet the fear persists in the back of my head.

So where did this doubt come from for me? I think it started when I took some university-level creative writing classes. The critiques I often received (in one of these experiences) left me feeling deflated. It wasn’t the critiques themselves. More than this, it was the fact that there was only critique and no positive feedback. I can take critique as long as I’m reminded that I am doing something right or good. But, without that buoy, I was left looking at my writing through a lens of disgust.

Learning to accept critique of my writing in general, so outside the realm of fiction and poetry, was a hard lesson. For me, it was more that I put so much of myself into everything that I did or do, that I felt insulted when people would critique my work. This doesn’t make a lot of sense because I received a ton of critique on my essay writing in high school and was really taught how to approach this type of writing. It never bothered me then. I suppose it was all in the delivery.

Once I entered the working world, I learned how to write something and keep myself at a distance from it because, no matter what I did, someone would find something that they wanted to alter or change or rewrite, no matter whether they were writers or not. I’m to the point now in my career where I write something and I walk away from it very easily because I’ve grown so accustomed to people changing things—both writers and people who really shouldn’t be allowed to draft communications alike. I’ve learned to pick my battles. If there’s something I feel strongly about or if some change is grammatically incorrect, I’ll question the reasoning behind the change and talk it out with the reviewer.

So why does this self-doubt in my fiction writing persist?

My fiction writing is purely for me, though I dream of being published by a big house some day. I genre hop and write whatever I want, despite this being exactly the opposite of what I’ve been told publishing houses want from their writers. My favorite thing to do is to write beautiful sentences because in my fiction, my roots as a poet come through. I’m enamored with word structures and sentence structures and creating unique imagery that goes deeper than the meaning of the phrases expressed. Words have a feeling that you can find within the letters that are their skeleton. This doesn’t come through in every sentence, of course. That would be incredibly tedious for the reader. But when I reach this level in my writing, I am jubilant.

I suppose that the fears and self-doubt come through because in this realm, the realm of fiction that is, I am writing purely for me and though I’ve learned to separate my professional writing from myself, my fiction writing is directly connected to me and a rejection of it ends up being a rejection of me, too.

Knowing this, how do I plan to combat it?

Self-doubt is a common issue among writers and creatives alike. Here are a couple of ways that I am trying to overcome this issue.

  1. Find some beta readers who aren’t close friends. So, one thing I find myself doing is taking the positive feedback from my friends who serve as beta readers and worrying that they are just being nice when they say they like something. Irrational, I know. But, I’ve decided to reach out to some people who are more like acquaintances to supplement my already fabulous group of beta readers. This is more for my own personal peace of mind.
  2. Accept the compliments I get and believe them. I think a part of accepting the positive feedback I get from friends is important and not to be discredited based on my fears expressed in the above. So, I really want to take the time to appreciate the positive feedback I get and work on taking it to heart.
  3. Step away from my work and come back to it with fresh eyes. This is such an important part of the creation process for me. Coming back to a project after a couple of weeks or even a month’s hiatus is incredibly helpful. I start to forget the details of what I’ve been writing and then as I start to edit, I am sometimes surprised by what I read. Sometime’s I’ll read a passage and think ‘Did I write that?!’ But, at other times, I’ll think, ‘Oh wow. That is really nice. I can’t believe I wrote that!’
  4. Submit something for publication. So, NightWind is not my chosen work to submit to a publishing house or an agent. But, I’m writing my next project (Into the Sweetbitter Sea) with the intention of sending it out to agents or publishers.

How do you handle those bouts of self-doubt when it comes to writing or your chosen form of artistic expression? Please share in the comments!

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3 thoughts on “Writing and Self-Doubt

  1. The world of the unknown can be intimidating. You don’t know if the agent or editor will like your work as much you like what you have created through it.
    There’s a saying in the fitness world for those who want to work out, but are afraid their fitness won’t improve: Don’t fear failure.

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