3 Ways Insecurity Hurts Your Writing  

Today’s guest post is by Braeden Phillips.

Have you ever given a piece of writing to a friend to read and had butterflies in your stomach as you watched her read it?

Most writers know what I am talking about.

Whether we’re doubting our own abilities, dealing with criticism, or struggling with our first draft, insecurity is a common emotion that a lot of writers feel.

But I think insecurity is far more dangerous than a lot of us realize. From what I have seen, it isn’t just a bad feeling but is rather a serious leech on your storytelling abilities.

Today we’re going to look at three ways insecurity hurts your writing and what to do about this dangerous feeling.

#1 – Insecurity, the hidden root of unnecessary exposition?

If you’ve read enough books on writing, you’ll find warnings against unneeded exposition.

Exposition is the information that explains stuff to the reader, usually about backstory, world history, etc. The reader needs to know what’s going on, but most writers don’t suffer from having too little exposition. Most suffer from stuffing their stories with too much. When this happens the story gets bogged down. The reader gets bored and tends to skip whole paragraphs or even quits reading a book entirely.

Knowing you should avoid this is a good start, but if the root of the problem isn’t addressed, it’ll still influence your writing in a negative way.

An overuse of exposition often comes from insecurity. An insecure writer tends to think if he doesn’t explain every single detail, the reader will have no idea of what’s going on.

This is the quickest way to make your book unreadable.

When a writer instead operates out of confidence, he knows that the reader can pick up on information easily through implication and action.

Not only that, the confident writer knows that readers actually get a mental buzz when they are figuring things out for themselves, rather than when having it spoon-fed to them.

That’s just the first way insecurity can hurt your writing.

#2 – Flashy writing marks an amateur writer

Another way insecurity can express itself in your writing is with “flashy” writing. That’s writing that tries to draw attention to itself.

I remember quite recently that I began reading an article on Medium. I had to quit because the writer thought it was appropriate to fill every second line with a simile or a metaphor.

That did not make for easy reading.

The insecure writer, whether consciously or unconsciously, assumes that to write well she has to use all the language features she learned about in school. They believe that good writing is in the writing.

This is not true for genre fiction.

What the insecure writer forgets here is that the reader wants to read a story, not to read writing. Big difference. Every metaphor and simile should be used in the service of the story, not the other way around.

When used properly, clever writing heightens the experience the writer is creating for the reader.

Clarity is probably one of the most underrated aspects of good writing. Before you can use advanced writing techniques, the first concern of the confident writer is to make sure that she’s creating a clear vision in the reader’s mind.

Compare the following two paragraphs and see which one you enjoy more:

Tony detected the strange tingling sensation in his lower arm as he strode forward. He failed to recall what precise moment in the night the wound had been dealt to him. He gritted his teeth as the frosty fangs of the cold dug into his flesh, chomping at his bones. He looked like a furious bear who has been surprised by a pack of hunters. The drops of red life descended from the spot where he had been stabbed.

Tony felt a numbness in his arm as he walked ahead. He couldn’t remember how he’d been wounded. He gritted his teeth as the cold air cut into his body. The blood began to drip from the wound, and Tony knew that he might die tonight.

If you take your average reader, they’d have a much easier time with direct writing vs fluffy writing.

#3 – Possibly the biggest danger of insecurity

Here’s where I think insecurity is especially dangerous to writers.

When you are insecure about your writing, then you are vulnerable to feedback.

An insecure writer gets emotional about his work. He is afraid to let anyone read it. If he does let anyone read it, then he is in danger of getting emotionally crushed if the person has any reaction that isn’t glowing praise. The biggest problem here is putting your self-worth outside yourself and relying on someone else’s approval.

The confident writer only experiences anxiety as a twinge rather than an overwhelming force. The confident writer knows what she’s capable of. She knows that no matter what her friends or family think of her work, she can always improve and disregard criticism that isn’t useful.

This expression of insecurity really hurts a writer’s ability to improve because, like any skill, feedback is essential for growth.

A confident writer makes adjustments and changes and grows. An insecure writer tries to build a shabby shell around her broken skills by avoiding feedback.

The truth is that some people will not enjoy your work. Some people will find holes in your story that you didn’t expect. Some people won’t like your characters or think they are realistic.

The confident writer takes good advice and ignores bad advice. The insecure writer lashes out at any criticism that emotionally hurts him and becomes reluctant to make the needed changes.

Bringing It Together

When you write with confidence, when you are sure in your abilities, and when you can see your work objectively, the process is a lot more fun.

Being riddled with insecurity is an awful feeling no matter who you are. It just happens that with fiction it results in stories that become broken due to too much exposition, too much flashy writing, and not enough feedback.

If you want to improve your writing, I encourage you to work on removing any insecurity you have so you can boost your storytelling abilities.

Braeden Phillips is an entrepreneur and copywriter who lives in New Zealand. He’s been writing fiction seriously since he was sixteen years old, (he is now twenty-one.) Right now, he is editing the first book in his adventure-fantasy series. If you enjoyed this post, then check out his latest venture, Storykation—an online resource for writers who want to improve their storytelling abilities and create works of excellence. There you can download his free guide on Dialogue called Snap Dialogue. This guide will give you the principles you need to know to write great dialogue, and you can learn it all in less than forty-five minutes.

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  1. Hi, your last point is true but the first two points you make have nothing to do with insecurity. They are the mark of a writer who still has a lot to learn about the craft. Thank you, Tinthia

    1. Hi Tinthia,

      Thank you for your reply. From my perspective, there can be a number of different reasons for a writer making mistakes with their craft.

      One reason could because they are new and don’t know any better, but from my own experience, I have found that insecurity can cause writers to overuse exposition and pump their writing fill of superficial words.

      Thanks for sharing your point of view.

  2. To quote Ernest Hemingway, “Insecurity is a bitch.” Actually, he didn’t say that, but he may have once thought it for all we know.

    You raise good points about insecurity. One of the books that has helped me in getting past my own insecurities in writing is Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. It was a good kick in the butt for me — someone who second guesses every word and sentence. Like many writers, including successful ones like Neil Gaiman and Seth Godin, I suffer from Imposter Syndrome.

    Another way to help manage one’s insecurity is through humor. Insert a touch of humor in your writing. Most writing lacks even an ounce of humor, which, for me, is not representative of the types of people most of us are, even the most serious of folks. Also, read Dave Barry. Sure, he’s a humor writer, but his approach that he’s not a real journalist is the perfect amount of self-deprecation we can all use in overcoming our insecurity when putting pen to paper.

    1. Hey Jeffery,

      Thank you for your reply! It was great to read. Yes, Steven Pressfield has been monumental with improving my creative work.

      It’s interesting that perhaps all of the roadblocks between us and our creative goals are internal problems, like insecurity.

      Imposter Syndrome is such a common thing! Plenty of people in the creative world, the business world etc work their ASS off to achieve some goal, but when they get there, they feel like the same idiot they were when they started.

      I might have to give Dave Barry a look! Thanks so much.

  3. “An overuse of exposition often comes from insecurity. An insecure writer tends to think if he doesn’t explain every single detail, the reader will have no idea of what’s going on.”

    I am SO guilty of this. I’ve at least reached the point where I recognize it during revisions and excise as much as possible, but my first drafts have NO faith in the reader.

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