Today’s guest post is by Bryan Hutchinson, author of the popular blog for writers, Positive Writer.
Writer’s Doubt is insidious. It’s the fear within each of us that causes us to stall, reconsider, and—if we don’t fight back and overcome it—end up quitting.
What makes Writer’s Doubt so challenging is that it comes from within us. Yes, there are people who have criticized our writing and told us in one way or another that we’re not good enough. Some of us have even had teachers or editors tell us to give it up. But their words are nothing compared to the harshest critic of all: ourselves.
We Are Our Own Worst Enemy
Nobody can be as hard on you as you can. You know your triggers better than anyone.
Haters can try all day to put you down, but their efforts, although still hurtful, won’t stop you from writing for long. Every once in a while, a cruel critic may say something that hits the mark, the proverbial bull’s-eye, causing you to stop writing and consider giving up. However, you know your triggers, and anytime your internal naysayer’s voice rises up to make you doubt yourself, she hits her mark every time.
You are a writer. You know it, and I know it. You have the power to overcome doubt, and you can do it. Believe it.
You have stories within you that you need to share with the world, and there are people who need to read them. So don’t hide. No. Please don’t hide your writing.
It’s true: not everyone will “get you,” but that’s okay. Not everyone “gets” Stephen King, either, and he’s sold over 350 million copies of his books. Once you accept and come to terms with the reality that not everyone will get your drift, Writer’s Doubt will loosen its grip from around your heart.
We give critics, haters, and those who don’t like our writing way too much power. Here’s the truth:
THEY DESERVE ABSOLUTELY NO POWER OVER YOU.
Take Away Your Internal Naysayer’s Power over Yourself
The next time it starts whispering its sweet you-can-do-nothings, stop what you’re doing and state with conviction: “I am a writer.” And it will whimper off and wait to try again another day. And yes, it will try again. It knows your secrets, even the dirty ones, and it will use them against you. But each time it tries, it will fail if you affirm, “I am a writer,” and continue to write.
Your internal naysayer is a dark, shadowy lurker, and the way to force darkness away is to shine a light on it. It’s that simple. And it’s that difficult. For example, maybe you’re not too happy with a piece of writing you did in the past (you know the piece I am talking about). You recently read it, realized how terrible it was, and then told yourself you’re really not that good of a writer. Stop. Repeat after me, “I am a writer!” It was your naysayer playing tricks on you.
Know this: we all look upon our past writing with fresh eyes and realize it’s not as good as what we could write today. That’s normal, and it’s a positive affirmation, because as time progresses we learn, grow, and improve as writers. But if your doubt convinces you instead that you’re in fact a terrible writer, you risk giving in to it and quitting.
See how sinister Writer’s Doubt can be? I’ve fallen for such trickery from it, and maybe you have too. The good news is that once you realize what’s happening, you don’t have to fall for it anymore. You are a writer. Go ahead, say it again, right now: “I am a writer.”
5 Tips on How to Gain Confidence and Overcome Writer’s Doubt
- Accept that writing is about writing, nothing more and nothing less. It’s not about being perfect. You don’t have to be the next Hemingway. You get to be someone unique and rare. You get to be you.
- Limit the people who you share your preliminary writing with to only those you trust to give you honest and helpful feedback. When you publish your work on your blog or in magazines, newspapers, or books, the whole world can read and comment on your writing. But while you’re still in the process of writing, you want to guard your work from overzealous critics, and especially from others so riddled with their own doubt that they feel the need to tear yours apart.
- Don’t compare yourself to other writers. All of us are at different levels—some are better and some not. Some attract tons of attention while others, even better writers, attract very little. Comparing yourself to other writers serves no one because there’s nothing to gain from it. It’s too easy to compare yourself to others, to start thinking negative thoughts about how it’s not fair that a less talented writer made the best-seller list or that you’ll never be as good a writer as someone else. It just doesn’t matter, and your own doubt will always distort the comparison in order to stall your writing.
- Write intentionally. Writer’s Doubt causes us to stall, to hold back our stories, and to find distractions that keep us from writing. The only way to overcome distractions is to be intentional, to write every day, rain or shine. You might write 500 words one day and 2,000 the next. The length doesn’t matter. Just be intentional and write every day.
- Highlight your successes. With all this talk about Writer’s Doubt, it’s important to remember it doesn’t always win. You have achievements too. It’s time to give them credit and remind yourself of them when you’re feeling discouraged.
The Most Important Tip of All
If you’re to the point that Writer’s Doubt is sabotaging your every effort, then that means you’re on to something awesome! Writer’s Doubt is at its most insidious when you’re about to make a major breakthrough. Keep moving forward, keep writing. Doubt can’t stop you anymore. You’ll know this because it will go nuts trying every weapon in its arsenal to make you stop.
You know how, just after it rains, when the clouds clear and the sky seems to brighten up with sunshine brighter than ever before. That’s what it’s like after you finish your masterpiece in spite of doubt’s efforts to trip you up. It’s worth it. Trust me, it really is. You’re going to make it after all.
You are a writer!
Bryan Hutchinson writes at the award-winning blog Positive Writer. He’s just released a stirring new book for writers about overcoming doubt, “Writer’s Doubt!” He claims he’s a positive writer and when that doesn’t work, he eats chocolate (so do I!). He encourages writers and all artists by means of practical, workable strategies on how to slay the beast of doubt within and create work that matters. In his free time, he loves visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join him on Twitter and Facebook.