Writing is a journey of self-expression and creativity, but it’s not without its challenges. One of the most common roadblocks that writers encounter is the internal haunting by the relentless banshee of self-doubt.
As words flow onto the page, so too can the nagging questions: “Is this good enough? Will anyone want to read this? Am I a real writer?”
Many great writers have faced moments of low confidence in their careers. For instance, Ernest Hemingway, despite his iconic status in literature, struggled with self-doubt throughout his life. He once remarked, “All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.” Despite his undeniably immense talent, Hemingway’s self-doubt often led him to revise his work obsessively and seek validation from others.
Another example is Virginia Woolf, whose introspective and innovative writing style revolutionized the literary world. Yet, Woolf battled with self-doubt and mental health challenges, which she candidly expressed in her diaries and letters. Despite her accomplishments, she questioned her abilities and the value of her work, revealing the vulnerability that many writers face.
Writer Linda Carroll has a great article about Hemingway, including his struggles with self-doubt on Medium.
If you find yourself struggling with these thoughts, fear not. You’re not alone, millions of writers before you have gone through the same thing.
And! There are strategies to navigate through the storm of self-doubt.
Exploring the challenge of self-doubt
Understanding the Roots of Self-Doubt
Before we start talking about self-doubt head-on, it’s crucial to understand its roots. Often, it stems from a fear of judgement, perfectionism, or the comparison trap. Recognizing these factors is the first step toward overcoming them.
Perfectionism can be the writer’s worst enemy. Accept that first drafts are always going to be messy. The beauty of writing lies in the process of editing it. Let yourself make mistakes and grow from them. In Ann Lamott’s famous book about writing, ‘Bird by Bird’, she wrote about the importance of ‘shitty first drafts.’
Lamott writes, “Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow. One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to…”
In other words, write. Put those words down as they come. You can edit it all later.
Banish the Comparison Trap
Every writer has a unique voice in writing and journey. Comparing yourself to others is just making a way to fuel self-doubt. Instead, celebrate your progress and focus on your writing path. Remember, even the most celebrated authors faced rejection before finding success.
For example, the Queen of Mystery herself, Agatha Christie, faced rejection early in her career. Her first novel, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles,” was rejected by multiple publishers before finding a home. Despite these setbacks, Christie pushed herself to write and went on to become one of the best-selling authors of all time.
Her rejection story serves as a powerful reminder that rejection is often a part of the writing journey, but when you believe in your work, it can lead you to success.
Cultivating Confidence in Your Craft
Now that we’ve identified the sources of self-doubt, let’s explore how you can cultivate confidence in your writing.
Have a Strong Support System
Surround yourself with fellow writers who understand the highs and lows of the creative process. This can be a writing group in your town, an online writing community, or a Facebook group.
Share your insecurities, seek advice, and celebrate victories together. A supportive community can be a powerful tool to ease your self-doubt.
Celebrate Small Wins
Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements, no matter how big or small they are. Completing a challenging chapter, receiving positive feedback, or even sticking to a writing schedule are all victories. Recognizing these accomplishments can build a positive mind and can help boost your confidence over time.
Refer back to the point above about having a strong support team. It’s so much easier to celebrate with others who have witnessed your journey.
Learn from Rejections
Rejections are not failures but opportunities to learn and grow. Use feedback from editors or other writers as a tool for improvement. Always remember, even the most famous and celebrated authors faced rejection all throughout their writing journey.
One tactic that a few writers have said they find useful is to put those rejection slips away for a few days or weeks or however long it takes to get over the initial emotional sting – and then review them again. If there are notes that came with the slip, go over them and see if there is anything you can learn from them. Then move on. Don’t get stuck,
In 2016, Kim Lao wrote about aiming for 100 rejections each year. She said that she was inspired by a writer friend who always won so many writing competitions and places on residencies. The friend told her to ‘collect rejections.’ In other words, submit, submit, submit, There will be more rejections than acceptances, but the more places you submit your work, the better your rates of being accepted.
Be kind to yourself. Navigating self-doubt in writing is an ongoing process. Understand that writing is a continuous learning experience. Treat yourself with the same compassion you would offer a friend facing a challenge. You’re a work in progress, and that’s perfectly okay.
Your journey is unique, and your voice deserves to be heard. Trust in your capabilities, celebrate your victories, and remember that you’re doing okay. Trust the process.