Combating self-doubt

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Everything I write sucks. My characters talk like robots. No one’s going to read this crap. I need more coffee, something to eat. I could be hanging out with friends, but, no, here I sit in this chair and stare at this stupid blank screen. I’m never going to be a writer. 

Sound familiar? If you’ve been writing as long as I have, I’m sure you’ve struggled with the same feelings. Self-doubt is a killer. It will eat you up and squash your creativity. Instead of feeling like a failure, I should be walking in the clouds. I should be dancing, laughing and singing. The book I’ve been working on forever is finished. I did it. An editor is looking at it now. But instead of celebrating, I’m second-guessing. What if my plot stinks? What if my characters lack depth? What if she hates it?

I’ve been writing for years. I’ve even had some of my work published, and yet, I still haven’t found a way to combat self-doubt. This week I discovered two things that help.


First, I finally made time to read Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. Carolyn’s book has been on my to read list for more than ten years. Over the weekend I picked up a copy and as I turn the pages, I find myself cursing. Why did I wait so long?

“Pretend to be a writer,” Carolyn urges. “Do Some Magic.” A writer and a teacher, Carolyn believes in practicing affirmations: I can. I am a good writer. This is going to be a great day. She got me thinking. What kind of magic could I create if just for once I believed I could instead of insisting that I can’t?

I have a picture on my desk a writing buddy gave me years ago. It says IMAGINE, and I have pasted a page from the New York Times Book Review of Best Sellers there, penciling my name in as number one. What a joke. I’m never going to hit the New York best sellers list.

No, I’m not. Not if I don’t try. Not if I believe I can’t. But what if I believed I could? Just today one of my friends hit #1 in free Kindle books. It can happen.

My other tool to combat self-doubt is Owen Egerton’s uplifting article in The Huffington Post, Type So Hard You Bruise The Screen”, which you can read here: He begins his article, Write. Now. Go. In Jack Kerouac style, he offers a list of points for prose. Several of them speak to me including No. 16, which says: Do not write from answers. Write from questions. Discover more questions. Our work is not to explain the mystery, but to expand it. His No. 28 made me laugh because several years ago I quit my “day job” believing I could make a living as a writer. Owen says: If you write because you believe the world needs you, you’ll soon discover we don’t. If you write because you are so naturally talented you must, you’ll soon discover you are not. If you write for money… I’m chuckling at you. None of these reasons will sustain you. Listen. Are you called to write? Then write.

I particularly like No. 30: Writing is both holy and meaningless. That’s all the pressure and freedom you need.

Writing is so much harder than it looks. It’s exhilarating to create new worlds and characters, but it’s also exhausting. Are the commas in the right place? Who or whom? Am I showing and not telling? So many rules to follow, so many mistakes to make. But at the end of the day, I can’t fall asleep until I’ve faced the blank screen and did my best, because, in my heart, I’m a writer.

I’ve pasted Owen’s article to my monitor, and my copy of Carolyn’s book rests between my dictionary and thesaurus. I have a fresh cup of coffee, my butt’s in the chair and I’m looking at the screen. I’m ready to Write. Now. Go. This is a bright new morning. I’ve looked in the mirror and recited: I am a writer. I will have a productive day. I say it again. I am a writer. I will have a productive day.



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