Self-doubt shows up in a multitude of ways for writers. It’s that persistent voice that tells you “you’re not good enough," and that "your story isn’t good enough."
Self-doubt becomes a problem when we start listening to it and acting from that mindset. For writers, this can mean struggling to start or finish their book. But it can also show up in writers who sit on their written novels and don’t seek representation or self-publishing, or who don't get beta readers, enter contests, or hire editors.
There are many ways self-doubt shows up, and it’s probably one of the biggest hurdles writers have to overcome.
I think us writers believe that once we’ve written our book, or gotten an agent or published a bestseller, our self-doubt will disappear.
But that’s not how it works.
You might stop doubting that you can do that thing, but then your brain is going to find something new to doubt. It’s going to question whether you can keep the agent, or be a bestseller twice, or write a series. The self-doubt will come back.
As long as you’re setting goals, and as long as you’re human, you will have self-doubt. There is no external place that you can get to where self-doubt doesn’t exist.
I remember thinking that if I got an agent then that would be it. That would mean I’m a real writer and that would mean that I would no longer have to question my skills.
Let me tell you–that did not happen.
As I said, that is not how our brains work. Instead, my brain just moved the goalpost. Now I’d only be a real writer if I had a TV series made. And if I had the TV series made, my brain would tell me I need an Emmy.
What does this show?
Self-doubt is not determined by the circumstances outside of us. Self-doubt is created by our thoughts.
Uncomfortable though it may be, self-doubt as a writer is inevitable. Remember, every hero has a moment in the story where they question their path. Every hero has a moment (or many moments) where they question themselves. Self-doubt is literally part of the journey. In our writing and in our lives.
No one picks up a YA book because the hero’s life is easy. And just like the hero in your story, you are also not entitled to a life void of any internal or external challenges. Nor do you want to be.
Most of the time, going after our goals does not feel good. It feels scary, uncomfortable, and like a lot of effort. And you question your abilities the whole time. But, like your hero, as you continue on your journey you get stronger every time you overcome an obstacle. Every time you don’t listen to the self-doubt, every time you take action even though your brain is telling you not to, you get stronger.
As an author, expect self-doubt and don’t fear self-doubt. It’s all part of it, and it will always be part of it. There is no magical place that you get to when self-doubt goes away. But remember, if self-doubt is created by our thoughts, then self-doubt can be a choice. It’s can be something that we have control over.
We might not be able to control the thoughts popping into our minds. But just because a self-doubting thought comes into your mind, doesn’t mean that you have to listen to it.
It doesn’t mean you have to take it seriously. Self-doubt is only a problem when you listen to it and let it drive your actions. Take a look at your writing results right now. If you are avoiding writing your book, publishing your book, or sharing your book, ask yourself why.
Find the thoughts that are causing you to feel self-doubt. Then recognize how those thoughts and feelings are making you show up. Now I want you to consider those thoughts as an option.
For example, if your thought is:
“I’m never going to be able to write a novel.”
I want you to talk back to yourself, challenge your own mind on that thought. Say things like:
“I don’t know that. It’s equally possible that I could write a novel."
"I have completed tasks before.”
“Many people have written novels and it’s possible I can too.”
“Writing a novel is just typing words on a screen. I can do that.”
Challenge your brain on its doubts. Your brain is just doing what it was evolved to do – to keep you safe. Of course it’s going to try and stop you when you want to venture into new territories.
Let’s look back at my example of getting the agent. When I set a goal to get an agent, self-doubt appeared. And once I got the agent self-doubt came back (could I get a TV series?). That self-doubt is there because I’ve set a new goal for myself. I want a TV series. Now there is a whole new layer of self-doubt because I have a new goal. But I’m not going to get rid of that goal because the self-doubt feels uncomfortable. I’m going to consider this self-doubt as a sign that I am on the right track. I am on a new, exciting journey that is going to make me grow as a writer and as a person. So I welcome the self-doubt. I can see it appear, and I move forward anyway.
When it comes to self-doubt, live the hero’s journey, beyond just writing it. Your story is just getting started and it’s going to be epic. When a hero is epic, self-doubt is going to be part of the process. It certainly doesn’t stop the hero from achieving greatness – it makes them stronger when they overcome it.
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