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Navigating self-doubt as a writer


Navigating self-doubt as a writer is an ongoing battle that one, no matter how successful, will never conquer.Self-doubt. From those just dipping their toes in the writing world, to successfully published authors, self-doubt doesn’t discriminate. I’m sorry to say, it really is a constant companion.

That could be the end of this article. With the not-so subtle message that self-doubt will always be there. Full stop. But that wouldn’t be very helpful. And if you’re looking for a How-To manual on managing your self-doubt, this isn’t it either. Instead, I’m going to share something about my own self-doubt as a writer. The things that go through my head. My impatience, my frustration, and the over-riding sense that maybe I’m not as good as I want to be.

I’ve written about the themes of self-doubt before. From impostor syndrome, to when you feel like giving up, and also about the related issue of self-confidence. So it’s something that’s never far from my mind. It’s something I have to navigate day to day, which I’m good at doing. Most of the time, I simply get on with writing or editing, and concentrating on the work. That’s how books get written.

But, there are times when I check in on my self-doubt and realise it’s becoming bigger than me. It’s festering in the back of my mind, always posing the question of ‘what is this all for?‘ Usually facing this question I can tame the self-doubt dragon with the answers – because I love writing. It’s who I am. And what I feel most content doing. But some days, I seek more from the answers.

I want that publishing deal. I want to see my books on the shelves, and on Amazon. Not for the notoriety as such, I don’t ever dream of becoming the next JK Rowling or Liane Moriarty, but for the validation that the time, effort, dedication, determination, focus, sacrifice has been worth something.

It’s times like these I begin Googling indi-publishing. Because I’m impatient, and because the publishing process is sloth-like slow. And because no matter how good your writing or story is, there is no guarantee that you will ever be traditionally published.

That’s when the self-doubt creeps in. Questions pop up like up meerkats.

If I contemplate the indi-publishing route…

  • Am I admitting my writing isn’t good enough to be traditionally published?
  • Am I limiting/hurting my chances of every being traditionally published?
  • I’m simply diving from one crowded pool to another.
  • I’m just being impatient.*
  • I’m hiding from my fearing rejection.*
  • Will I still feel inadequate as a writer?
  • Will people/readers/family/friends view me as less of a writer or not a ‘real’ author?
  • Will other authors look down on me?

(*Both awfully wrong reasons to consider the indi route!)

And the self-doubt continues. The questions continue, the answers still elusive.

What I have discovered though, is that for me, self-doubt is tied closely with the need for validation.

I’ve tried long and hard to fight it. Have even blogged about how I know validation needs to be internal. I’m smart, I know that, but the longing for external validation still exists.

I’m not really sure exactly where it stems from. I’m sure if a psychologist were to analyse me, they would come up with myriad reasons for my need for external validation. Not having a uni-degree, not following the path I wanted to after high school, trying to make up for the mistakes and associated guilt along the way. Regrets of what if. Whatever the reasons are, the longing is still there. And without that validation, I know self-doubt will always be close to the surface.

And the really stupid thing about all this? I know even with the validation of either a publishing contract or the decision to self-publish, I know that self-doubt will still be there! It will simply raise it’s head in another form.

So what’s the moral of the story?

Sit with your self-doubt. Recognise it. Feel it. But…

Never let it take hold of you completely. Always stay one-step ahead of it.

Self-doubt is a beast that doesn’t need much sustenance to help it grow. So as much as you need to feel it, don’t ever feed it. The only thing you can do is remember your why, remember your love of story, and just keep writing.