Dealing With the Self-Doubt Monster

“Can I really do this?”

“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 already close 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?


  1. I've experienced lots of self-doubt. Recently, it has helped me to dig deeper and find the direction I need to take:)
    So excited things are coming along on your second book!

  2. Self-doubt is part of the human nature. Am I a good parent, spouse, author, artist, friend... The list can go on an on. At the end of the day, the most important question to ask: Did I do the best I could do today?

  3. The Self Doubt Monster lives in my house. That's okay though, because the Failure to try Monster just moved out.

  4. Oh, yes, experience self-doubt on a daily basis, but I love when you say, "Perfection is unattainable. We need to guard against thinking we’re already close to perfect. And we need to guard against thinking we need to be perfect." That's near-perfect encouragement for all writers.

  5. My self doubt currently is soon I will begin a job that I have never done before--that I am not an expert at, yet. I want to do it, so that's good.

    Awesome post.

  6. Oh my word, Jody. That monster in the picture is the scariest, ugliest thing I've ever seen. Do not let that thing near you.

    Great post, though!:-)

    ~ Betsy

  7. Right now my big doubt is that my sample chapters end too soon and don't make my work stand out enough from the rest of the urban fantasy crowd.

    I'm soldering on, though.

  8. Wow, it's hard to narrow it down to one or two. I think right now my biggie is wondering if I'll ever build my platform to the enormous proportions "they" want it to be before they'll consider publishing my writing.

    For me, self-doubt means leaning more on the Lord and His guidance and less on my abilities.

    PB giveaway on my blog next week!

  9. This is encouraging, for I've been fighting a lot of self doubt lately. I agree, it is a motivator, and knowing how to effectively use it is key.
    Thanks and blessings,

  10. As for my novel, the self-doubt has blocked me. As for my drama, it's simmering. I do think I need the "ah-ha" moment, and I believe I've created an interesting story line with likable, real characters. Excellent post, especially from someone with a contract. We all need to assess those voices. I think I need to lock mine in the closet for a while.

  11. Hi Jody, I love this quote of yours regarding self-doubt:

    "find a medium ground between overconfidence and despair"


  12. I like that, let the self doubts give us motivation. I need to learn how to do that instead of making me want to give up.

  13. Your advice was so on point. It's good to have that self doubt to motivate you to push yourself further and thus make you a better writer.

    My biggest self doubt at this point (editing the first draft) is worrying if my writing is strong enough and if I can get to the point I want it to be. Can be very nerve wracking at times!

  14. For me self doubt became an almost all consuming 'thing' that quite literally stopped me from getting out of bed many a morning a few years ago. It took a lot of time and exploration to discover the root causes of this self doubt and though I haven't vanquished it entirely (I don't think I'm supposed to) I can function quite a lot better than before.

    It can be healthy sometimes as a motivator but one has to learn how to keep it in check.

    Where would we be without your brilliant posts Jody?

    Thank you so very much.

  15. I have to learn when to ignore what others say, and not just in my writing life. It seems that if I find self-confidence from the mist, some ghostly figure appears to beat it out of me. Learning whom to listen to is difficult. It's something I definitely struggle with. And people are so complex, too. Some of the biggest naysayers out there suffer from enormous lacks in confidence, themselves. But as for my writing life, I haven't stopped yet. I keep writing and revising, and those two activities help me to maintain the balance.

  16. As one who experiences almost daily bouts of doubts, I need to embrace your idea that self-doubt is best when used as motivation and not allowed to become debilitation.

  17. For those who haven't heard Jody's latest news, I'm delighted to share it.

    The Preacher's Bride hit #18 on the CBA fiction best seller's list today. Jody is right up there with Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, and Jan Karon.

    I'm thrilled for you, Jody!!!

  18. OK, somehow I muffed up the link to the best seller list that shows Jody's book. Here it is again.

  19. My biggest self-doubt has to do with starting a new book in a few months. It's been a looooong time and I'm afraid that the story will stink. *cringe*
    Great post!

  20. Hi, Jody!!

    I can't believe I've missed your debut. Nuts! I'm ticked with myself. So sorry. I'm going to check if we've got it on available yet right after typing this.

    Congrats on hitting #18!!! God must be using your book for great things, Jody!!!

    Self-doubt is way too often debilitating to me. Must fight that and use it for motivation instead. Thanks for the help with this!

  21. Jody, I would swear you could see into my heart right now. This is something I've been battling pretty seriously for the past few weeks. I needed this post!! Thanks. :-)

  22. Hi Jody! I definitely battle with self doubt from time to time. Recently, as I finished reading through my book for the final time, I started crying because I felt so much doubt. I worried that it wasn't good enough, funny enough, ANYTHING enough to publish. It's hard to wade through that. Thanks for your advice.

  23. I have self-doubts too, probably like most writers. However, I don't let them stop me from writing. I try to push past them, learn something new every day, and do my best. I love it when I open a draft, read, then think, "Wow, I wrote that?"

    Thanks for your encouraging words!

  24. I can assure you I have a healthy dose of self doubt! lol. I'm hoping it all balances out.

  25. My post today speaks of that in spades, lol! I'm just starting a blog, and although I'm a professional writer, this is brand new and I'm a leeeetle nervous, as you'll see :). Thanks for the validation, Jody.

  26. I've fought many battle with self-doubt. It's worse when I'm tired, when life is hard, when I've been working too much.

    In other words, my situation and relationships and personal condition (which have nothing to do with my writing) greatly affect how I feel about my writing. When I'm plagued with self-doubt, it helps me to first examine and eliminate those influences. Then I can look at what's left.

    Hey, this sounds like a blog post! LOL!

  27. Thanks for this posting. I'm in the first draft and boy is he knocking on the door trying to get out.
    I'll let him out when I start to edit, and use him as a tool. I liked that idea!

  28. I've come to understand that most writers have doubts at one time or another, but trying to "decide which of the doubts might have some validity" is a toughie for me.

    Sometimes I wonder if I should be writing fiction at all... if the stories that I've felt prodded to tell are really ones anyone else will care about... whether my fiction writing is good enough. I don't have a measuring stick to compare my stories against. I've hesitated to send out a query, and kept revising instead. I'm not sure if it's doubt or a general lack of confidence but it can be very undermining.

  29. It's always a pleasure to read your posts, Jody. I'm a writer, editor, and now a small business owner. Needless to say, self-doubt is a constant companion. But leaps of faith are necessary in a well-lived life. My one recommendation is to make a point of finding some objective feedback from another writer, or preferably an editor, once you've moved on from the first draft. Someone (or several people) unafraid of hurting your feelings. It's helped me considerably.

  30. The platform is a little scary. Will I be accepted just on my writing? Then the my writing good enough to stand out without a huge platform? I've taken a deep breath and realized that God will help me do what I can. And when my arm is too short, His just keeps on reaching. That brings me peace and motivates me to keep working!

  31. Hi Jody -

    I fight the, "Is my writing good enough," monster all the time. The cure: keep learning and writing. The Genesis Contest also gave me some valuable feedback.

    Susan :)

  32. I think the best thing I can do to handle the self-doubt is to just keep writing. It has to get better. (God knows it can't get worse:). Like anything else, the more I practice, the better I'll be.

    I need to stop worrying about what others will think of it until I have told the story I want to tell. If I accomplish that, then I should have something I can be proud of. Published or not.

    Good to know that you still are "real" after your super-duper best-selling list appearances and all! :)

  33. I love this post! It's so hard not to let the self-doubt discourage me sometimes. I'm glad to know that fabulous authors, such as yourself, still experience self-doubt. Thanks for the post!

  34. I think you're blog is amazing and I just got a Versatile Blogger Award... which means I pass it along to other great bloggers : ) you can pick up the graphic over at my site where I've named you as one of my nominations!

  35. I think my biggest doubt is that no one would want to read what I write. I am a non-fiction writer, and it makes it easy to convince myself that everything I write is utterly boring. I still have to get the balls to actually put my writing out there! This post was very motivating. Bookmarked! Thank you!

  36. I wasn’t alone, people were really responsive to these quotes today. Thank you for sharing.

  37. Did you know you can shorten your urls with Shortest and make $$$ from every visit to your short links.


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