How to Flip Your Self-Doubts as a Writer

by Suzannah Windsor Freeman

Woman thinking

Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.  ~Franz Kafka

I’m incredibly passionate about writing. It’s something I feel I’m meant to do, whether I get published or not.

In spite of that, there are still a good number of mental hurdles in this journey.

If I’d known ahead of time the thoughts that would take over my mind, perhaps I would have turned back. I’m glad I started writing without knowing that:

  • I would have moments when I’d look over my writing and discover it’s terrible–not just that I think it’s terrible, but that it really, truly is.
  • There would be times I’d read writing advice that would tell me to not do something, and I’d say, “Ack! I’ve been doing that!”
  • I would want to second guess every word I put down on the page, and that I’d be tempted to reword, rework, revise as I go, no matter how counterproductive it is.
  • Most days I would want to give up because it’s all so difficult.
  • The small triumphs would never seem like enough.
  • There would never be enough hours in the day to accomplish all I need to do.
  • I would never be fully sure of myself or my writing ability, no matter what.
  • A little voice in my head would always be saying, “You are not a writer. You are a person who says you’re a writer.”

That said, there are two ways to look at every situation. Here are the flip-sides of all those nasty thoughts that plague me:

  • Sometimes, I find one–just one–amazing sentence out of an entire paragraph, a page, a chapter. It is that one sentence that keeps me going.
  • There are rules, and it often behooves us to follow the rules. But rules can be broken, and sometimes it’s all for the best.
  • Second guessing oneself is healthy and natural in the first draft. All I have to do is learn to wait until it’s the appropriate time to revise.
  • It’s okay to want to give up. Just so long as I don’t really do it.
  • If small triumphs aren’t good enough, I’ll have to work hard on bigger triumphs.
  • I don’t need more hours in the day, I just need to spend less time doing the things that don’t matter so much.
  • Being too sure of oneself isn’t really good for personal development, anyway.
  • Writers are people who write. That’s all.

What particular negative thoughts prey on you when you’re feeling low? How can you turn your writing doubts upside down, and make them work to your advantage?

{ 32 comments }

Glen. March 11, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Encouraging post. Thank you. It shows that you must be a boon to those writers you coach.
.-= Read Glen. ´s last article ..Does the name of your blog matter? =-.

suzannah March 12, 2010 at 5:39 am

Thanks, Glen! Glad you found this encouraging.
.-= Read suzannah´s last article ..How to Flip Your Self-Doubts as a Writer =-.

Conor March 11, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Hey Suzannah,

Yesterday was filled with doubts. My words look brighter today and thanks to this post, my mind is a lot more tranquil.

Cheers :)

Conor

suzannah March 12, 2010 at 5:42 am

I think doubts are the biggest barriers we writers face. Brighter outlook equals more confident writing!
.-= Read suzannah´s last article ..How to Flip Your Self-Doubts as a Writer =-.

Kristie Cook March 12, 2010 at 12:23 am

You’ve nailed my self-doubts right on the head! I don’t think a day goes by when I wonder, “Am I only kidding myself with this?” But, like you said, you find that really good passage – whether a sentence or a paragraph – and know you can do this.

Love the line “Being too sure of yourself isn’t good for personal development.” So true! When the moment comes that we think we’re the greatest and can get no better, our writing careers are over.

Thanks for the encouraging post.
.-= Read Kristie Cook´s last article ..Head-Injury Ramblings =-.

suzannah March 12, 2010 at 5:44 am

“Am I only kidding myself with this?” Yup. I say that every day. Especially when people hear I’m trying to get published. I mean, you’d think I’m saying I’d like to live on the moon, or something!
.-= Read suzannah´s last article ..How to Flip Your Self-Doubts as a Writer =-.

Lydia Sharp March 12, 2010 at 1:14 am

This post couldn’t have come at a better time. It seems like everything I’ve written this past week is total crap. Apparently it was all in my head, though. I offered up some of my new writing for critique and received positive and enthusiastic comments.
Thanks for showing me the flip side. :) Very encouraging.
.-= Read Lydia Sharp´s last article ..52 Qualities of the Prosperous Writer: Number Ten, Accountability =-.

suzannah March 12, 2010 at 5:47 am

You know, it’s always the posts that I think are crappy and written too quickly that get the most enthusiastic feedback from readers. I think we just over-think our own writing a little too much at times. Thanks!
.-= Read suzannah´s last article ..How to Flip Your Self-Doubts as a Writer =-.

Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist March 12, 2010 at 1:32 am

I love this: It’s okay to want to give up. Just so long as I don’t really do it

So true. This post is just what I needed today. I have been plagued with the self-soubt lately. I am coming to see that, like it or not, it is part of the process for me – but man, I hate it!
.-= Read Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist´s last article ..The mixed-up, convoluted reasons why I want to call myself a writer =-.

suzannah March 12, 2010 at 5:53 am

Plague away, but just don’t really give up, Rebecca :)
.-= Read suzannah´s last article ..How to Flip Your Self-Doubts as a Writer =-.

Kelly March 12, 2010 at 1:50 am

Thank you! I needed this. Like Kristie said, every day I sit down to write I feel like I’m kidding myself. But I also know that this is the biggest challenge I’ve ever taken on, and that motivates me to keep at it.

suzannah March 12, 2010 at 5:56 am

You’ve made an excellent point in that writing a novel is a huge challenge. Sometimes I think we just expect ourselves to sit down and write a novel, and for there to be no problems along the way, Ridiculous expectation, isn’t it? :)
.-= Read suzannah´s last article ..How to Flip Your Self-Doubts as a Writer =-.

Southpaw March 12, 2010 at 3:34 am

“All I have to do is learn to wait until it’s the appropriate time to revise. ”

Best advise ever!
.-= Read Southpaw´s last article ..The Pond (Follower Participation Post) =-.

Southpaw March 12, 2010 at 3:35 am

Crude, I meant “advice.” That always happens when I don’t proof and revise before I post!
.-= Read Southpaw´s last article ..The Pond (Follower Participation Post) =-.

suzannah March 12, 2010 at 5:57 am

Hey, stop beating yourself up, Southpaw. Look at the flip-side ;) Ha ha…
.-= Read suzannah´s last article ..How to Flip Your Self-Doubts as a Writer =-.

Icy Sedgwick March 12, 2010 at 3:57 am

I often feel ALL of those doubts and it’s very hard to force them aside. Still, it’s always a boost to know I’m not the only one, and I’ll be trying really hard to consider your flip side points the next time they strike!
.-= Read Icy Sedgwick´s last article ..Location, location, location. =-.

suzannah March 12, 2010 at 5:59 am

Oh, you’re definitely not the only one, Icy. I like to think that it’s all those overly self-confident schmucks who are really kidding themselves!
.-= Read suzannah´s last article ..How to Flip Your Self-Doubts as a Writer =-.

Echo March 12, 2010 at 6:46 pm

The trouble is, even after you have been published you will probably still have moments where you feel like a total impostor and believe that other authors are far more deserving of publication than you are, and that one day everyone will see through the guise that you’re a bona fide card-carrying full-time writer. It’s really never ending.

I write full-time for a living, but still tell people I have only just met that I am an editor (which is what I used to do for ten years before graduating to writing) because it just seems easier that way. The other day a telemarketer rang to offer me some kind of something I didn’t need or want (I think it was income protection insurance, funnily enough), apparently I’d been pre-approved and the guy on the end of the line was going to give me a “free” quote on how much it would be. Sadly, when I revealed my profession was a writer I was suddenly ineligible, which was kind of good as it got me out of a conversation I didn’t want to be in anyway, but it just made me release how many people think either that I am making it up or that I live on the breadline. :-)

But you’re right, we all need to flip those self-doubts on occasion and realise that writer are just everyday people like you and me, with all their foibles, faults, abilities, moments of genius and moments of grief.

suzannah March 12, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Echo,

I’m sure you’re right. I’ve heard published authors say they feel like impostors, especially when they’ve had one successful book and then they have a great deal of difficulty writing their second. One writer says that for a long time she felt like she’d used up all her ideas and creativity on the first book!

serenemusings March 13, 2010 at 4:36 am

Loved this post. Several of these thoughts run through my head often. Sometimes confidence, sometimes self-doubts, sometimes wondering if pursuing dreams are what it is all about. It’s nice to know so many out there feel the same way but charge ahead no matter what.
Thanks & cheers
.-= Read serenemusings´s last article ..Immortality (Book Review) =-.

Carol Silvis March 14, 2010 at 12:36 am

I enjoyed your post. In this up and down writing life, it’s good to hear some encouraging words. We all need to remind ourselves that we can do this–we are writers.

suzannah March 14, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Sometimes it’s those little reminders that keep us going, Carol. Thank you :)

Martina Boone March 14, 2010 at 10:51 am

I love this post! As a writer I spend so much time focusing on what not to do, on what I’ve done wrong, or what I need to do better. It’s so refreshing to have someone turn that on its head and help us all look for the positive in the work we love.

Thanks so much for the reminder!
.-= Read Martina Boone´s last article ..Pre-Submission Checklist =-.

suzannah March 14, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Thanks, Martina. There are so many better reasons to look at our accomplishments instead of failures!

JW Gustin March 15, 2010 at 2:32 am

That’s it, you’re my new Official Writing Guru. ‘Nuff said.

suzannah March 20, 2010 at 7:27 am

Ha ha, thanks for that. I don’t think I’ve ever been someone’s guru before ;)
.-= Read suzannah´s last article ..Cut Your Words: 5 Articles on Concise Writing =-.

Greg Gutierrez March 15, 2010 at 3:15 am

You just wake up and put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I regret the day I ever started writing. Then I realize that without writing, I would be lost.

Greg Gutierrez
Zen and the Art of Surfing

suzannah March 20, 2010 at 7:28 am

You know, some days I regret I ever started too. Life could be so much easier if I didn’t feel the urge. Although, life would be boring, too!
.-= Read suzannah´s last article ..Cut Your Words: 5 Articles on Concise Writing =-.

Matt Roberts March 17, 2010 at 12:20 am

I have each of these thoughts on a regular basis. Mostly though, I feel guilty for not spending enough time on my writing. It’s so easy to get bogged down by these thoughts and just give up. How many would-be writers are out there right now that have given up because of these thoughts? Millions I’ll bet. So this is my encouraging thought:

The fact that you feel like this, and carry on anyway puts you ahead of millions of people who had writing aspirations. In fact, you’ve likely just left the majority of unpublished writers eating your dust.

And every time you sit down to write in spite of these negative thoughts, you leave more people behind, and get that one step further to a publishing deal, to becoming a better writer, to being happier.

Who could ask for more?

suzannah March 20, 2010 at 7:31 am

Good thoughts. It’s easy to spend time beating yourself up for not writing, but it certainly doesn’t help. If you can’t find a lot of time to write, why not aim for a short time each day? Even half an hour in the morning or at night. If you stick to it fairly regularly, you won’t be able to beat yourself up. Good luck!
.-= Read suzannah´s last article ..Cut Your Words: 5 Articles on Concise Writing =-.

Anonymous March 23, 2010 at 3:44 pm

I love writing and reading books. I love the notion that people can make things up in their mind and then make them real on a page, for the pleasure or utility of someone else. One of my favorite mentor on learning how to write a book is Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Eva Porter May 20, 2010 at 4:14 am

I think you pretty much covered every doubt I have. You make the flip side sound so reasonable…

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