Why Are So Many Writers Plagued With Insecurities?

I have a secret to share: I’m plagued with self-doubts.

Yes, even though I’m very close to having my second book  (The Doctor's Lady) out on shelves, I still battle self-doubts on a daily basis. And even though The Preacher’s Bride has won first place in two writer’s contests (Award of Excellence and Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award) and finaled in the prestigious Carol Awards, I still have a difficult time believing in my ability as a writer.

In a recent post,
The Barking-Dog Days of the Writer’s Life, I asked commentors to share some of the things that annoyed them most about the writing life. A number of writers expressed battles with self-doubt too, similar to my feelings.

Michelle DeRusha said, "I have lots of barking-dog moments: self-doubt, insecurity about my writing, frustration with how slowly the whole process moves, fear that I won't have any more ideas. I could go on!"

V.V. Denman said, "What annoys me most about the writing life is my inconsistent self confidence/doubt. One day I believe myself to be a great writer, the next I'm terrible. Neither of those produces memorable writing. I much prefer the days when I'm somewhere in between."

The various comments got me thinking about how self-doubts plague us at every stage of the journey, whether new writer, seasoned, agented, contracted, or multi-published. I always naively imagined that when I was published, made the bestseller list, and won some awards, I’d finally feel more confident, that my own writerly insecurities would fade away. You’d think with a couple of trophies on my desk, I’d be flying high.

But the doubts steadfastly remain.


Why are so many of us plagued with insecurities about our writing? Why do we believe our story to be a bestseller one day and the next day think it’s unworthy to line the cat litter box?

I’m not really sure that we as writers will ever be able to shake off the insecurity and doubts. They seem to be inherently woven into the job description of being a writer.

I think there are several reasons why writers are plagued with insecurities:

  • The industry is volatile. With Borders recently closing all its stores and fading into oblivion, with ebooks outselling paperbacks on Amazon, and with the rise and fall of authors imitating sunrise and sunset, most of us are on edge. We know new changes are around the corner, but we don’t know whether they’ll effect our careers for the good or bad.
  • Sales drive a career. The days of artists  having patrons who support them is long gone. As much as we’d like to ignore the business reality of the writing industry, we can’t. If we want to make it for the long haul, then we’ll need to have steady or increasing sales. And in a modern economy that fluctuates like a flushing toilet, steady is difficult to maintain.

  • Art is subjective. When certain books rise to the top of the charts we can only scratch our heads wondering what things about the book made it a commercial success? Perhaps the book breaks fiction-writing rules. Perhaps it lacks an engaging story. We can’t always understand why "less than stellar" books make it, when we’ve worked so hard on ours and it isn’t going anywhere.

  • Our own view of our work is clouded. Eileen Astels Watson described the phenomena well: "What's in our head at the time of writing often provides a cloud over what is actually written on the page. We just don't SEE the issues in print, because the story is so romantized in our heads at the time." The fact is, we won’t be able to see our work the way others do, and therefore we can’t help but wonder how we’re really doing, if we’re on track, and it’s all coming together the way we want.

Altogether, the insecurities surround us and bombard us on a daily basis from within and outside ourselves—no matter where we’re at in the journey. It’s precisely because of the insecurities that we need to be writing for a reason that transcends publication, fortune, and fame.

When we’re writing for a bigger purpose, deeper motives, and out of love of the creative process, then we’re able to toss those insecurities aside and say, "Who cares. I’m gonna keep on doing what I love no matter what happens around me."

What about you? What are some other things about the writing industry that cause you to have insecurities?

*Photo Credit: Flickr


  1. Definitely all these crazy changes make me a bit nervous. And talk of the "new recession"....all the factors that I can't control make me nervous. Which is just downright silly. Why would I expend energy worrying about things outside of my control? What a great reminder to focus on WHY we're doing this, Jody.

  2. I have to imagine that most writers have doubts except maybe John Locke. :)

  3. Great blog Jody.

    Only 26 days until your new novel is released: how exciting!

    I can't wait to be in a similar position...


  4. I think the hardest part for me are the periods of time when I feel like NOTHING is happening. I'm not moving forward in any way. I've sent out letters or emails, but nothing comes back. Days when I set out to edit a huge chunk of manuscript and only make it a third of the way through my goal. It's times when I have to take a step back and truly examine what in the world I have accomplished. And of course I fear a big fat nothing. Like I'm just spinning my wheels in mud.

    Then there are other days when the writing goes smoothly, I put up a somewhat successful blog post, and I receive an encouraging phone call or email from another writer.

    It's a crazy goal to be a published writer. But I love it.

  5. Like Heather said, the hardest times for me are when I'm not writing. I fall into lazy lulls, or am busy with other pressing things in my life. As long as I'm writing, I'm happy and content. What happens in the long run isn't what matters. It really is all about the journey.

    Once again, Jody, your posts are brilliant, thoughtful, modest, and insightful. I'm happy to be on this crazy writing journey with you.

  6. God has taught me so much on this journey. Raking out the ugly, blessing with His gifts.

    First, Congratulations on those awards!

    Second, I'm in love with your last paragraph.

    Third, I'm far more likely to hang around someone who openly admits to having insecure moments than I am someone who constantly acts like they have their act all together. Honest and humble people rock!

    ~ Wendy

  7. When someone compliments my writing, I sometimes think (okay, maybe often think) that they are just being nice, encouraging. Because deep down I think it's really not worthy to line the litter box. :)

    I wonder when (if) my first book is ready to show, how will it ever rise above the bazillions already in piles and then I wonder if I'm truly just wasting my time (and my husband's money) and maybe I should just respond to that need-a-nurse ad.

    But then, yes, it's all about a bigger purpose. The point of it all--for me--is to point to Him.

  8. It's not necessarily the writing industry that causes me unease. I think self-doubt in inherent in any creative endeavor where the writer or artist leaves a good deal of their inner self on the canvas or page. It's just part of it.

    Thanks for a great post.


  9. Another great blog, Jody.I feel doubt everytime I start to write a new book. I think I won't be able to do it again, I'll run out of ideas. But then I did that when I did decorative painting too. Still, I am doing what I love and making a great living from it. So I keep reminding myself that I'm living my dream.

    Elizabeth Loraine

  10. Congratulations on all the awards. I sometimes scratch my head at the books that are successful. Maybe they had a bigger ad campaign, but it is sad when great writers don't get as far as some of the others.

  11. I doubt if you have more doubts than I do!

    One of the things that make me insecure is how quickly the market changes. What's hot this year is old the next. I don't write for trends, but I sometimes feel I'm trying to hit a moving target with a crooked arrow.

  12. I think the snails pace on everything in traditional publishing allows you way too much time to think about things.

    That old self doubt pounces at every opportunity.

  13. My biggest "doubt" is more of a fear. I fear not finishing the massive story I have in my head before I die.

    Finishing it seems to be a bigger goal to me than whether or not it gets published.

    I don't expect other people to read it, much less "get" it. After all, sci fi and fantasy isn't for everyone. I certainly don't expect it to be a world-wide success. But I'll just feel better once it's written.

  14. Your points resonate with me, Jody. Especially the last one about our view being clouded. I'm early on in my journey with my first book coming out next year. One of the things I was not prepared for was the long lead times and the insecurities that creep in during the wait.

    The self-doubt, the ups and downs of the industry--they remind me, daily, it's only the rock of Christ that grounds me and holds me firm. And regardless of what the publishing industry does, regardless of how my trilogy sells, I'll do my best to stay standing on the solid ground that is my Lord and Savior.

    Thank you for the post. Transparency is beautiful. :)

  15. What I always keep in mind is a very simple thing. Dean Koontz remarks often that he doesn't think he's all that great; he just writes what comes into his head.

    Now, I know a lot of people don't like Koontz. They write him off as a writer of horror. But I've been reading him since I was thirteen, and he writes some of the most passionate and human characters I've ever read. Yes, there are moments of tension and fear, but that's because his writing and characters are amazing. But he, after over 3 decades, still doesn't see what the fuss is all about.

    My point is, whenever I start to think I suck, I remember that even a 'great' like Koontz thinks he sucks. That helps a lot. :-)

  16. I like to tell my insecurities to sit down and shut the hell up. All I control are my own actions and responses, the rest will sort itself out in time.

    Of course, sometimes my insecurities just won't do as they're told, and I do worry that my book is going to be released and sit there, at the bottom of the sales lists, like some discarded half-eaten chicken sandwich.

    But I've been through the worst life could possibly throw at me, and I've survived. Whatever comes next, I know I can take it.

    And now I really want a chicken sandwich...

  17. We need to realize that it's a gift to be published at all, and as far as insecurities about the publishing industry, well, all of that is beyond our control.

    As a librarian, I'm all too aware of how short a life books have, even on library shelves. Most writers would probably break down and cry if they learned the truth, but it is what it is. Even libraries are limited for space, and if your book happens to be purchased, don't expect it to be there for more than 5-15 years, depending on who you are. If you're a bestselling author who publishes at least one book per year, then your shelf life will be at the longer end. If you're really important, it could last a generation. But that's not going to happen to most of us, and so we just need to enjoy knowing that our books will sell and be read for maybe a couple of years before they're forgotten on the shelves.

  18. When it comes to writing, I don't doubt myself or battle with insecurities. However, the hope of becoming a published author is what causes an enormous amount of insecurity and doubt. If only I didn't have to think about the publishing industry!

  19. What causes my insecurities? Comparing myself to other writers.
    I don't think the comparison trap is exclusive to the writing industry, of course, but it's the industry I'm living and working in.
    OK, back to insecurities. And comparing myself to others.
    I've had to learn to keep a stranglehold on the whole "look what they're accomplishing and look what I'm NOT accomplishing" mindset. It makes me c-r-a-z-y. And insecure.
    And discontent with where God has me on the writing road. (Yeah, I always come back to the writing road analogy.)
    Guess what? I'm not in charge of the industry. I'm not in charge of sales. (Really. I'm not.) I'm not even in charge of whether someone likes my book or not. (See your point about Art being subjective.)
    But I do have some control over where I set my mind.
    I can focus on what everybody else has--and what I don't have.
    Or I can be thankful for what I do have--insecurities and all.
    Thanks for asking the hard questions, Jody.

  20. What I often doubt is whether my writing is or will be good enough. The other things I can work around, as they are business.

    But the craft, well, that is something I'll always doubt aspects of it.

    Very interesting post, thank you :)

  21. First of all, what a sad picture! This post is such a logical -- and true -- take on what drives out insecurities.

    You're right. We have to revel in the real reason we write, the one that transcends publication. For me, the audience of One.

  22. Jody, thanks for being so transparent about your own insecurities. You offer a lot of encouragement in sharing that struggle. :)

    Not too long ago, I had a discussion with my daughter about the changes in the publishing industry. (She's determined to figure out a career path before her 13th birthday. LOL.) I told her that it was an exciting, yet scary, time for the publishing industry because everything was topsy-turvy.I pointed out that although the publishing business model is changing, the demand for "material" was also increasing - although it may not look the same as what we see now.

    Anyway, it made for a good discussion.:)

  23. I love what Bonnie Doran said in her comment, "I doubt if you have more doubts than I do!" I couldn't have said it better myself. =)

    I experience bouts of doubts almost daily. They didn't stop when I was offered representation by my Dream Agent or when she sold my debut novel. I doubt they'll stop when that book hits the shelves next July either. Doubts, as you said so well, Jody, are part of a writer's life. Remembering why we write and writing despite the doubts are great pieces of advice.

  24. I think we are plagued with insecurity because we can think up every possible reaction and review to our books- the curse of being an author is imagining aliens from Mars sending bad review to your amazon page.

  25. We're imaginative and emotional...of course we get insecure! LOL I hate it though. I truly do. It's the most unpleasant feeling in the world, I think.

  26. Doubt is the enemy's tool. It affects everyone, not just writers. And it can affect any area of our lives. Are we a good enough mom, writer, speaker, fill in the blank. It has us focus on whatever will take our eyes off of God - our weaknesses, other's strengths.
    All that God asks of us is to be obedient. To seek, to love, to serve Him and His people. When our eyes are squarely on Him, our doubts fade in His light.
    Of course, that's my sermon for today. Tomorrow I may just be a pile doubts again. ;)

  27. I think Beth V nailed it. At least for me.

    The only thing I'd add to the other comments (which others have said) is that insecurity is not limited to writers, or creative types in general.

    In my Day Job I run a program that has been ranked #1 in the country for two years in a row, yet for some reason I'm baffled each time an industry group asks me to speak. Why would they want to hear what I have to say, I wonder.

    I think insecurity and self-doubt stem from the idea that no matter how good we are, we always see something we could do better. And we worry that our success so far is just good luck, a fluke. That soon someone will out us as the normal people we are.

    It doesn't help that the query process is, essentially, judgment of us and our work by a stranger who is looking through a pinhole. I would hate to have the totality of a year's work at my day job judged on a six-sentence summary by someone who doesn't know me. And have that be my only shot, a one-chance deal. But that's how it feels to be a writer trying to get published.

  28. Peter, I liked your description of the query process! It is like a "pinhole." A totality of a year or more of life's work being judged in a brief glimpse. I understand. I've been there.

    Although, I would have to say, after being a judge in unpublished writer contests a couple of years in row, I have come to understand that I can see so much of a writer's ability in the first page or two of a manuscript. If a writer knows his or her stuff and is telling a good story, that becomes quite clear very quickly. And likewise, if they're still amateur, that becomes evident right away too.

  29. I think we should start a new twitter hashtag #catlitterbox for when we're having bad days.:)

  30. sometimes I think it is because we ARE women that the doubts come in.. whether that be in writing or mothering or wearing the right blouse.

    i know I am often consumed by doubt, and it is my 'mission' to let my common sense and faith take over and just .. be.

    let the words flow, and then see what happens.

    that's the goal anyway. :)

    cheers friend.

  31. It's actually a wonderfully relieving moment to remind myself that I'm not the only one with self-doubt. But the reminder of the purpose of my writing is even better. Greater purposes overcome all self-doubt...eventually. Thanks, Jody!

  32. I blogged about self-doubt yesterday. With so many other writers, the little voice whispers "what makes you think they'd listen to YOU? Who do you think YOU are?" For me, when I stop focusing on SELF, then my focus turns to God, and instead of self-doubt, I can have God-confidence.

    Thanks for sharing!

  33. bekahjane, take it from me, men have insecurities too. We're usually just too dense to talk about them!

  34. Perhaps we incorrectly allow the industry to become a mirror, even an idol, to reflect our identity and worth. As a teacher I also battle the constant drip of doubt and insecurity. But I have to count that dripping as a good thing if it keeps me turning to a Strength outside myself.

  35. I know that feeling for sure. I imagined that it was become I'm unpublished and that I'm still fighting to get someone to notice me enough to help, but that's not the case. In some ways its actually comforting to know that established and published writers have those feelings too. Not being alone does wonders for the mood.

    Still, I would hope that the more I write and the more I get to the point where I'm comfortable with what I write, then that feeling will go away.

    Fingers crossed!

  36. It's hard for me to stay motivated and feel positive because there really is no sure thing....and sometimes, no matter how hard you work, your writing may not *ever* be published. That's one of the reasons I like blogging -- not only do I know my writing is being read, but also I get (at least some) feedback on whether or not someone likes it.

  37. SO glad I saw this post. Did you know DARWIN faced insecurity too? He almost didn't publish his theory of evolution paper. I blogged about it today! So glad to know I'm not alone.

  38. I think part of it is also the social media to do list. I know I jumped into before I knew what I was doing, and it becomes overwhelming quickly. When you know how to establish your voice and brand first, they become easier. But it's tough. I was lucky to stumble onto Kristen Lamb's blog through WP's Freshly Pressed. What would I have done if I'd never found her? Probably still be writing one paragraph blog posts babbling about nothing. Eek! lol.

    The best cure for me is having the support of a writing community. Reading about other author meltdowns about the stress of writing let me know I wasn't alone trying to juggle it all. I really appreciate that support network. It's one of the reasons another writer and I started up the Life List Club, where writers and readers can share life list goals they're trying to accomplish and have a group that will hold them accountable and be supportive when they need it. They've been an inspirational group that's taught me a lot and keeps me on my toes, which is good. Others are welcome to stop by the group if interested. We're on Twitter at #LifeListClub. Hope we can cheer on more great writers out there!

  39. Hi Jessi,

    Thanks for chiming in and sharing about the #LifeListClub. I think have I have seen that hashtag from time to time, and I wasn't sure what that was! We really do need each other to cheer one another on. The journey to publication can be brutal, and even after publication there are so many challenges. Thanks for doing your share of encouraging! We all need it! :-)

  40. The "one more thing" attitude just as you described, because I do this ... "If I had (fill in blank with one more thing), I'd consider myself a success . . ." Well, there will always be a "one more thing" so that we will never feel a success if we don't take a breath and enjoy all the moments of what we do have.

    My son said once, "Mom, do you recognize how many writers out there would kill to have what you have right now?" And then I remembered before my books were published, how I thought, "Just let me have this book published - I don't care what else happens!" Um, now three books and a novella later, I'm still going "But, but . . . next I need ..." well, dang!

    Really, anything else is just icing on an already iced cake. bit still we keep looking for that next thing - and in this business, that can be a frustrating endeavor.

  41. I have the just one more attitude too.

    I am a comic writer and artist first and I have several books that sell well. When I wrote the first one, I thought wow I did it. But then I wrote #2 and I think. Wow I have a series.
    Still how I defined success keeps changing.

    Of course, it never helps that any given hour at a convention, I hear: "Wow I love your style." to "Boy my five year old could do better."

    Now my debut written novel is under contract (to be published...) and I thought I would feel awesome. It did for the first day. Then my insecurities let loose again and I keep wondering if I am doing the right thing as I await the final edit. (sigh)

  42. Hi Elizabeth,
    I don't know how we can get away from the "one more" attitude. In some ways it pushes us to keep working hard to be "successful." But on the other hand, we can't let it steal the joy of the present. It's a tough balance to maintain! Wish you all the best in this new release!

  43. As someone who is a web developer first, and person who writes for fun (and some hope of being published), I wonder if the problem isn't as much "Why are introverts insecure?" as "Why are writers insecure?"

    I know I'm as insecure about my technical work as anything else.

    I suspect that as much as anything else, the sort of personality that enjoys sitting quietly and coming up with ideas to write about is also the sort of personality that's capable of sitting quietly and coming up with ideas to worry about.

    Or maybe that's just me.

  44. JZ,

    I appreciate your thoughtful insights! I think that introverts do tend to have a harder time putting themselves "out there."

    But as a writer, I'm not entirely an introvert. While I enjoy the quiet writing time in my office, I also can be quite extroverted at times too.

    As far as our writerly imaginations, I do think you're on to something! We sure can make everything much bigger (and perhaps more problematic) than it really is!


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