One thing I’ve gathered working with authors is that the majority suffer from creative doubt. They believe their writing isn’t good enough, that other authors are far superior and that they’d be better off taking more writing classes. Many authors are even hesitant to call themselves authors.
Creative doubt can be a crippling force, stopping you from writing or showing your work. It’s the what-if questions asked late at night – What if no one likes my book? What if people judge me on my writing? What if I’m laughed at? What if no one buys anything I write ever again?
Know this - You are not alone. Ever since humans begun to create they have been plagued by thoughts of fear and inadequacy, as everyone from Shakespeare to Stephen King will attest.
‘Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.’
― William Shakespeare
‘Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.’
― Stephen King
‘I'm not too fond of the hard work and the constant battle with self-doubt that goes on when I write, but I figure that's part of the territory.’
― Robert Sheckley
‘Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.’
― Maya Angelou
So, if all authors feel this way what is it that keeps them writing? How do they shake off the fear of inadequacy? Here's five ways to overcome what Sylvia Plath deemed to be 'the worst enemy to creativity', self-doubt.
1. Feel the fear and keep writing anyway
Your creative doubt is not going to magically disappear overnight so face it head on. Keep going, keep writing. You are not alone in feeling this way and ironically the most talented of authors know this feeling well. When things are overwhelming try breaking your writing down into manageable goals. Remind yourself of why you began. By focusing on your passion rather than your fears, you’ll move forward even when you are feeling uncertain.
‘I write every day whether or not self-doubt is kicking my ass. It's what writers must do.’
― Don Roff
‘I found my first novel difficult…there are so many opportunities for self-doubt, that you just kind of need to soldier on.’
― Anthony Doerr
2. Reframe your Fears
Some authors use their fears to drive their work. Try envisioning your self-doubt as necessary to moving out of your comfort zone and improving your writing. Set out to prove your fears wrong.
‘I think self-doubt, as grim as it can be, makes me a better writer. Stasis and hubris would probably be the death knell for my career.’
― Kristan Higgins
‘Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.’
― Steven Pressfield
3. Don’t compare yourself to others
Holding yourself up to the work of successful authors can feel overwhelming. Sure their work may be amazing but thinking that you are inadequate to other authors doesn’t make it true. You have your own story to tell and your own way to tell it. Part of conquering self-doubt is about taking pride in your own work and knowing that you have something unique to offer the world.
‘Never compare yourself to other writers. Sure, you can learn from them and be encouraged by them, but judging yourself against their successes is self-defeating.’
― Shaila Patel
“If I waited for perfection… I would never write a word.”
— Margaret Atwood
4. Focus on your strengths
Build yourself up rather than tearing yourself down. Don’t spend all your time agonizing over your weaknesses. Look at how far you have come, rather than how far you still have to go. Confidence is skill that can be developed. Begin by celebrating your achievements, however small, and becoming your own cheer leader.
‘It wasn’t until my early twenties that I stopped saying “I can’t” and started doing it. I have been writing with fervent passion ever since. Sometimes we are the biggest thing holding ourselves back.’
― Jennifer Wilson
‘Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.’
― E.E. Cummings
‘In the darkest hours we must believe in ourselves.’
― Terry Goodkind
5. Surround yourself with supportive people
Writing can be isolating. Build a network of fellow writers, family, friends and anyone else that supports your work.
‘Surround yourself with people who believe in your dreams, encourage your ideas, support your ambitions, and bring out the best in you.’
― Roy T. Bennett
One thing is for certain, authors have to push past self-doubt to bring their stories to the world, as Paulo Coelho says ‘Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart’. Someone out there is waiting for your story.
Photo by: Drew Coffman