“Is my writing good enough?” or “What about my story? Is it strong enough?”
“What if I go to all this work and never get an agent?” or “What if I never get published?”
“What if no one likes my book?” or “Will everyone like the next one?”
“What if I don’t earn back my advance?”
“Do I have what it takes to keep going—to do all that’s required of a modern writer?”
On and on the doubts go. Most of us have had them. In fact, I’ve asked every single one of the above questions more than once, and on many occasions.
I had a recent attack by the self-doubt monster. This past weekend, I finished my second rewrites on The Doctor’s Lady (whoo-hoo!), and as I closed the Word Document, here are some of the questions that tore at me, “What if this story isn’t good enough? What if my heroine isn’t likeable? What if used too many clichés? What if I didn’t make my characters distinct enough?”
After spending the past ten and a half months writing, rewriting, and re-rewriting this second contracted book, you’d think I’d be exuding confidence. But instead, I was attacked with doubts.
All that to say, it’s normal for writers to have self-doubts. I think those without any self-doubt risk overconfidence. Those with too much risk debilitation. But if we’re careful, we can use our self-doubt as a motivational tool.
Without any self-doubt we risk becoming overconfident.
If we never stop to question ourselves and our abilities, if we don’t take the time to test our writing, if we brush off feedback (or never seek it), then we will likely develop a higher view ourselves and our writing ability than we truly have.
With too many self-doubts we risk becoming debilitated.
If we constantly question everything we write, second guess every change, and never move beyond a chapter or scene until its “perfect,” we chance stifling our creativity and shutting down the side of our brain that needs the freedom to dream and imagine and go wild.
With carefulness we can turn our self-doubts into a motivating tool.
I lock self-doubt away in the closet when I'm writing the first draft, during the months of free creativity. And I don’t let the monster out. Not at all. Of course, I’m a big planner for my first drafts. I spend an enormous amount of time researching, developing my characters, and plotting before I start the writing. And while not everyone needs to plan, I’ve found that having some direction keeps me from unlocking the closet on my self-doubts.
Once we begin editing, however, we need to be able to find a medium ground between overconfidence and despair. I’m slowly learning to give self-doubts their due place—an evident but restrained place.
I don’t shove them back into the closet and try to ignore them. I let them linger. I sift through the questions. I try to decide which of the doubts might have some validity. Then I get to work addressing the most pressing ones.
In other words, we need to let the valid self-doubts motivate us to become better writers and story-tellers. Let the questions push us to seek answers, to find others who can help us, to objectively re-evaluate where we’re at and where we hope to go.
Perfection is unattainable. We need to guard against thinking we’re alreadyclose to perfect. And we need to guard against thinking we need to be perfect. Instead, we can begin to develop a quiet confidence in our writing abilities—seeing how far we’ve come, but knowing we still have room to grow.
What about you? What’s your biggest self-doubt right now? Are you letting it debilitate you? Or are you turning it into a motivational tool?