“How can I gain confidence as a writer?” – Wendy L.
Your parents have been lying to you.
There is a monster under the bed.
And its name is Self-Doubt.
Self-Doubt is sneaky. It starts out like a small, niggling sticky note with a week-old due date: I really should submit to that writing contest. And the longer that sticky note goes untended, the hungrier Self-Doubt gets: I’m not a real writer. A real writer would have done that contest, which, when the results go up, slips into All of these authors are so much better than me! What’s the point of ever writing anything again?
I’ve decided to tackle this sometimes brushed-over topic of a writer’s life because, for the past week, I’ve received some pretty important rejections and been struggling to keep writing through the mire of Self-Doubt’s matted fur and sharp claws and bloody teeth.
So, without further ado, here are a few little tricks I’ve found useful in my own writing life.
3 Deadly Symptoms of Self-Doubt:
1. Impostor Syndrome.
I’ve always known I was a writer, but am I a real writer? Real writers, as everyone knows, get paid with lavish advances, book deals, and movie rights. Real writers win contests and awards and speak at conferences. Real writers never question whether or not they should have gotten a steady job in astrophysics instead. Right?
A lot of friends have the words “aspiring writer” on their Twitter bio. I hate “aspiring.” Why? It encourages this train of thought: “Someday, I will be a real writer. But right now, I’m just not there yet.”
Stop aspiring. Start doing. Delete “aspiring writer.” Replace with “author.” It really is that simple, and that difficult. You’re never going to feel like you’re a “real author” unless you start treating yourself like one.
Halfway through writing this blog, I discovered this Writer’s Digest article about a certain monster that clings under your writing desk. The thoughts immediately came: “I’m no Chuck Sambuchino or C.C. Hunter! What am I thinking, trying to write an article that I have no qualifications to write?”
I wallowed for a little while. And then I wrote. Maybe it’s not as good as anything you’ll find on Writer’s Digest, but it’s something that only I could have written, and more importantly: It’s done! And published! I’m not an imposter after all!
2. Writer’s Paralysis.
This beast rears several ugly heads, and every time you cut one off, another grows back in its place.
It takes many forms. It can creep in while you endlessly edit, convinced it will never be ready to send out. Or it can be there at the beginning of a story, with a blank page staring in front of you, and this thought in your head: Whatever I write down, it will never be good enough. It won’t win any awards. It won’t get on the New York Times Bestseller List. I’m not even sure I’ll like it.
Indecision can be deadly.
Remember our little agreement? That you’re going to treat yourself like a “real author” (whatever the heck that is)?
Real authors sometimes get Writer’s Paralysis. And then they write.
Real authors don’t keep their creative flame under a bushel. They don’t stuff their half-finished manuscripts in desk drawers, consumed with crippling terror that they’ll never be the next J.K. Rowling or Shakespeare or Emily Dickinson. News flash: You won’t! You’ll be the one-and-only YOU, with your own unique authorial stamp. But first you have to do the work. That means shipping that sh!t.
3. Rejection Depression
Seriously. It’s going to happen, no matter how good you are. Here are two steps to train yourself to deal with it.
- Do something every single day that terrifies you. Something you might receive rejection from, be it a polite, “There are many factors that go into choosing pieces. Unfortunately…” or a less formal quip from a friend: “Yeah. This sucks.” That might mean submitting stuff after only 50 revisions, or accepting a writing assignment you don’t feel qualified for. This will help normalize the process of sending your brain children flapping from the nest.
Amass an army of rabid supporters—before the rejections start rolling in. When things don’t go well, you’re going to need this list of people to call on:
- The Mommy. Sometimes all you need is a shoulder to cry on. This doesn’t have to be your actual Mommy (although mine is), but anyone who hugs you and pats your back and goes all “Oh honey, you’re so talented, they just can’t see it.” B’awwwww.
- The Distraction. Get your mind off your own troubles with this one-man party: “Quit your bellyaching! Life is good! Let’s go get drunk!”
- The Voice of Reason. After being coddled and partying and waking up with a hangover so severe you’re not sure if you’ll ever write another word, this is the person you want to call up for some sound advice: “Drink coffee. Get your butt in that chair. Keep writing.”
That’s the most important writing advice I have ever heard:
“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” ― Vincent van Gogh
Rejections? Keep writing. Self-doubt? Keep writing. Impatiently waiting? Keep writing. The monster of Self-Doubt haunts every artist. Imposters give up. Authors don’t. Starting today, you’re an author. (Yes, self, that means you, too!)
Got a question? Tweet me @beccaquibbles with the hashtag #askbecca, email me at becca [at] DIYMFA [dot] com, or just leave a comment below! You could see your question answered right here at Ask Becca!
Rebecca Ann Jordan is a speculative fiction author in San Diego. She recently won Reader’s Choice Best of 2013 for her short story “Promised Land” at Fiction Vortex and has published poetry and fiction in Flapperhouse, Yemassee Magazine, Bravura Literary Journal and more. Becca regularly columns for DIYMFA.com. Quibble with her @beccaquibbles.