Self-doubt. Psh. As a self-described Jane-of-all-trades, I can do a lot of things. Operate heavy machinery. Sew clothes and quilts. Name a home improvement project, and chances are I’ve got experience. You know, that whole Yankee ingenuity thing. If it needs to get done, I do it — admittedly with varying results. There’s been some whopping Pinterest fails on my resume, most notably my adventures with hair dye, and the broccoli rabe incident. Over a decade later, and my husband still brings that one up.
Whatever. It’s a given that when you’re figuring things out, you’re gonna screw up, and I do, often. Heck, I expect to. Self-doubt has never been on my resume, but out of everything I’ve turned my hand to, writing sits on a pedestal. It’s never been something I just wanted to do to get done. I’ve always wanted to do it well, which is what makes it hurt so bad when I take a header. Never mind the frequency in which that happens.
And cue the self-doubt. Yeah, this writing thing’s easier said than done.
I was that kid that spent their summer vacation typing. I always had a story in my head. In my twenties, I took a bunch of classes, earned a mentorship, was referred to an editor at TOR — and froze. Never submitted.
Yep, I blew it, and I’m still kicking myself about it, but that wasn’t self-doubt. I was six months pregnant, my husband had just been laid off, and I had about a zillion other excuses. I didn’t feel ready, you know, that whole time-not-being-right fairytale.
Spoiler: just like having kids, there’s never a perfect time, and no matter how ready you think you are, the universe will have other plans. It sure did for me. A decade passed, and I didn’t write at all.
Then I had a dream.
Not like a society revolutionizing dream. More like a crazy, beamed-in-from-another-reality, can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head dream. Muses were screaming at me, and I had to get it down to make them shut up. So I wrote. Like a lot. Six hundred thousand words in change. Yeah, I kid you not, and as you can imagine, it was crap.
But that didn’t stop me from trying to find an agent for the next several months. Yep. Crickets. Envision Homer Simpson d’oh!-ing here. Still, I believed in my story. There was something there, I just needed to learn how to bring it out.
The education of AK Nevermore begins.
My schooling up until this point can be considered minimal, at best. I almost didn’t graduate high school, took a semester and a half of community college, then got my culinary degree so I’d have something to fall back on if I couldn’t land a rich husband.
Hah. I kid about the husband thing. Mostly.
In all honesty, I had no plans at all, which was an issue, right? Authors had MFAs, with fancy acronyms after their names, and read crap by James Joyce. Obviously, my next step was to try and emulate them. How hard could it be?
Pig in a tutu hard, and no matter how well that swine can dance, it still looks ridiculous.
Let me tell you, I was super psyched to get into a prestigious writing program based on a sample of my work. To this day, I have no idea what they were thinking, but the amount of cash I was laying out probably had something to do with it. I landed smack dab in the middle of literary hell, my tutu in flames.
Talk about self-doubt. How the heck could I compete? They had themes, a three-act structure, and all this symbolism… I mean, they used words like whom and whilst. I had a hot guy with a bad attitude. Oh, and swearing. Lots of swearing.
To say that year was painful would be putting it lightly. All of my not-good-enoughs were splayed out on stage and plucked through by Shakespeare’s witches. My confidence tanked, and the final nail was an editorial critique, summed up by the comment: “You write very well, but should really focus on writing something worth reading.”
Did I mention something about self-doubt? Try devastation. Where did I go wrong? I’d always devoured books, and couldn’t understand how mine had missed the mark so badly. I couldn’t look at my computer for months. All those comments ate at me until nothing was left but a horrible burning rage. I had to do something with it.
So I wrote.
I poured that angst into my next manuscript, taking all the comments about what I should be writing, and twisting them. Yeah, it was a big middle finger. Instead of following all of the rules I had been trying to impose on my work, I let loose, and blasted the page with what I do best—sarcasm.
Forget about the epic sci-fi I’d slit my wrists and bled onto the page. A tale was born about an acerbic, quasi-alcoholic’s mission to lose her virginity. It made me laugh, was ridiculous and stupid, and totally freeing.
It also gave me some perspective. On a whim, I sent my first novel to an editor specializing in sci-fi. He’d worked on some of my most beloved books, and I figured if he said it was crap, then ok, it was crap. I expected it to be sent back looking like it had been redacted in red. But a funny thing happened.
He loved it. Sent back a list of agents I should be querying, with his personal recommendation to go with it. I can’t tell you how long I looked at that developmental edit, the biggest criticism my use of commas, thinking there was some mistake.
And I was right, there was.
But it wasn’t his, it was mine. It sounds stupid, but if you want to learn how to cook Sichuan, you’re not gonna go to bratwurst college. This was a difficult concept for me to accept. I mean, good food is good food, and a good book is a good book, right? Yeah, tell that to my son who once refused to eat bananas because they were spicy.
People have their opinions, like what they like, and taste is subjective, period. Lesson learned.
With that epiphany under my belt, I set out to find my tribe. Spoiler, they don’t sit around swirling cognac and discussing Ulysses. Which, by the way, blows, unless you’re into streams of consciousness based in an outhouse. But I digress. Having people around you who support your work, battling beside you in the trenches, makes all the difference. Their support fills the echo chamber all that self-doubt rattles around in. With that camaraderie comes confidence, and it shines through in your work. That middle finger piece I wrote? Mmm. Let’s just say crickets aren’t what I’m hearing.
So what’s the moral to this story?
If I’ve learned anything on my journey so far, it’s that you have to surround yourself with the right people. Now, I’m not talking about a bunch of yes-men, but writing is hard. It’s lonely, and the self-doubt is real. Educating yourself definitely plays a part in it, but a support network of like-minded people is crucial.
I might not be at the starting line anymore, but I’m miles from the finish, and there’s no way I would have gotten as far as I have without the friends I’ve made along the way. They cheer me on, give me perspective, and, most importantly, remind me to be true to myself. To my vision, not to what someone thinks my vision should be.
In retrospect, that’s why my current manuscript has turned some heads. The jig is up, and I’ve no desire to be a Stepford writer anymore. As an author, your voice is what sets you apart, and your tribe amplifies it.
Seriously, don’t be afraid to shout, scream, hum, whatever feels right when you’re putting you onto the page. I might keep taking headers, but I’m gonna keep going, and write about the journey. I can always improve my craft, but doing me? Yeah, that I’ve zero doubts I can totally do well.
AK Nevermore is an emerging author of science fiction and urban fantasy. Her books explore dark worlds, perversely irreverent and profound, and always entertaining. She enjoys operating heavy machinery, freebases coffee, and gives up sarcasm for Lent every year.
A Jane-of-all-trades, she’s a certified chef, restores antiques, and dabbles in beekeeping when she’s not reading voraciously or running down the dream in her beat-up camo Chucks. Unable to ignore the voices in her head, and unwilling to become medicated, she writes full-time. Her literary aspirations have led her to complete several writing courses, a smattering of mentorships, and has been long-listed by the Australian Writer’s Centre. She also belongs to the Author’s Guild, is a chapter treasurer for the RWA, teaches creative writing, and on the rare occasion, sleeps.