Sometimes, it’s all worth it. I just received an email from Still Point Arts Quarterly that an article I submitted will be published this summer. This means I’m a published and PAID writer! An awesomely cool feeling and gives credence to the slogging away at the keyboard. And a reminder to never give up, despite the rejections and feelings of self-doubt.
As writers, we often face the cruelty of our minds – the ever-present
nemesis of self-doubt and fear. We struggle to overcome our creeping negativity which is only compounded by the cold rejection letters. We face the fear of not being good enough, that people won’t like it, whether we can finish it or not, and being rejected. William Shakespeare once said, “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” Our fear and doubt can cripple us enough that we don’t even begin to write! If we aren’t willing to even attempt writing, we’ll lose out on any reward that may come our way, be it large or small.
Peggy Tabor Millin, Founder of ClarityWorks and teacher about writing and courage, likens writing similar to a spiritual journey. The Zen sayings “how you do anything is how you do everything” and “wherever you go, there you are” have become almost commonplace, to the point that we might not really hear them any more. She makes the point that writing will bring up all of our issues: self-doubt, concerns about criticism and humiliation, and so on. All of our closets will be emptied out for inspection, and not just for ourselves to inspect, but for every agent, editor, and reader to judge. No wonder we’re afraid to write and the voice of self-doubt shouts from the rooftops.
Steven Barnes, life coach, screenwriter, speculative fiction writer and co-author of the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series (along with his wife Tananarive Due and actor Blair Underwood) says starting small is a great way to conquer doubt.
“Work on shorter projects. Short stories or articles,” he said. “Do not write books until you have published (and been paid for) shorter work. This is like running a marathon when you’ve never run around the block!”
But what if, like me, you’re already working on a novel? Barnes says the same advice to think small holds true.
“Divide your goals into tiny bite-sized chunks that can be accomplished in one day,” he said. “A fine goal is: write 1,000 words. If you are ‘blocked,’ then simply take a story written by a classic writer, and type that out. Do the work, no matter what.”
Create a new belief
Achieving a daily goal will help build confidence that you can achieve a more long-term goal. Robin Johnson, life coach and author of Awakening a Chocolate Mystic, calls this process “collecting evidence.”
“People often can carry an old unconsciousness belief that stems from some past event, such as a teacher giving a failing grade on an essay or getting some criticism about their work,” she said. “Now as an adult, this old belief is running underneath the new desire to be a writer.
“In order to change the old behavior, you must first install a new belief system about being a ‘wonderful writer,’” she said. “You collect evidence from new situations that show this new belief to be true. As feedback comes, new evidence is collected. This allows the new belief and new behavior to be anchored so that writing a book is now possible.”
Focus on your goal
Delving into why you haven’t succeeded in the past isn’t as important as focusing on what you want to accomplish now, says Diane Sieg, author of the CD and soon-to-be-published book, 30 Days to Grace. “What we focus on expands,” she said. “Once we decide what it is we really want, focus on it every day for 30 days and transformative change takes place. I have seen it in weight loss, increased sales and completion of writing projects.”
Keep the channel open
Start small, collect evidence, focus on what you want and the self-doubt goes away? Alas, no. Each new book brings its own form of doubt. Doubt is part of the process.
“I won’t say I’ve ever successfully subdued the doubt, at least not completely,” said Elizabeth Eslami, author of Bone Worship. “The best you can do is to recognize it, think of it as an unwelcome relative who shows up at your door with troubling regularity. Have some compassion for your fearful self. Then give your relative a hug, thank her for coming, and shove her the hell out of your way.”
Rosalyn Story, author of Wading Home, looks to the past for strength. “As a writer and musician I’ve learned and accepted that doubt comes with the territory,” she said. “I think it must be required for the creative process. But sometimes the doubt is so stunning that I need a little jolt just to get me back to the page or the practice room. When I have those moments of hopeless incompetence, I pull out my little note: a wonderful letter from Martha Graham to Agnes DeMile.”
“In it Martha tells Agnes, who’s obviously stuck in doubt, that we don’t even have to believe in ourselves or our work. We simply have to ‘keep the channel open’ – to stay open and aware of that urge that motivates us. Whenever I read this, I understand that if I can accept my talent, my creative urge, then I have to accept the doubt that comes with it,” Story said.
Accept it and use it, says Glorious author Bernice McFadden. “I use it as stepping stone to overcome my insecurities. I acknowledge it for a time – even entertain it – and then I crumple it into a ball, sprinkle it with sea salt and swallow it whole.”
How do you, as a writer, deal with your self-doubt and fears? Remember, “Doubt is the beginning not the end of wisdom.”