If you feel a bit lost from time to time, or unsure of yourself, don’t be discouraged. According to Joseph Heller, every writer has trouble writing. x
If you feel a bit lost from time to time, or unsure of yourself, don’t be discouraged. According to Joseph Heller, every writer has trouble writing. x
I’m going to be honest with you. I have this problem (which is a fairly common one) where I compare myself to other people. I’ll spare you the mushy, self-esteem-issues stuff because day-to-day it doesn’t bother me that much.
But when it comes to my creativity, comparing myself to other writers is really not okay. I’ve come to realise this in the last few months, and want you to know why (even though we all do it from time to time) we need to stop. It’s a matter of taking pride in yourself and your own writing rather than trying to find ‘the answer’ in other people.
Ever finished an incredible book, one that had a profound effect on you, and wanted to know more about the author? Of course you have. Flick to the author bio, do a quick Google search. You find out they started submitting to publishers when they were 15, they had a book deal by 20 and they’re making tonnes of money, or even worse, they never wanted to be a writer, they just sort of ‘fell into it’ and got extremely lucky – suddenly it’s like someone’s let the air out of you. Here you are in your 30s bumming around still trying to write that first novel and wishing your MS was even half as amazing. This is your life. And look at theirs. Tragic.
Stop. Stop right there.
You’re no doubt familiar with the scenario above, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an acceptable way to judge yourself as a writer. The more you compare yourself to others this way, the more you devalue yourself.
Such thoughts might go along these lines:
They’ve written so many amazing things / I haven’t written anything good
They’ve been published so many times / I’m not even good enough to get a response
They write every single day / I can’t even write once a week
These sort of thoughts are neither productive nor helpful to your development as a writer, so banish them from your mind the second they start to creep in.
Making yourself depressed over what other people are doing only wastes time that you could be being productive, that you could be making a change toward the things you’re complaining about. If you’re feeling low because Ray Bradbury wrote an early draft of Fahrenheit 451 in just nine days and you’ve been sitting on your book draft for over a year (yes, this is my life) then stop pouting and get a wriggle on. Instead of getting depressed about it, use it as motivation to get your head down.
Okay. Here’s the sentimental, motivational part: every artist is different, and just because your methods or techniques aren’t the same as everyone elses’ doesn’t mean they’re any less valid. Emily Dickinson shut herself up to write, but that doesn’t mean we all need to become hermits. Hunter S. Thompson was a gonzo journalist who did tonnes of drugs, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to report a story.
Own your habits and your quirky creative identity. Find your own voice. Write by your own rules, and don’t let anyone else dictate how you should do it.”
Yes, there are writers who’ve been published young, or who mingle with big names, or who got a crazy-lucky break into the industry (Evie Wyld, I’m thinking of you). But the thing about those amazing writers is that they didn’t get where they are now by being someone else, they did it by being the writer they were meant to be; by being themselves and putting in a lot of hard work. You might not be where they are, but if you don’t believe in yourself you won’t even get close. As the saying goes:
Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”
While comparing yourself to other writers in a negative way can be damaging to your creative self-esteem, you can turn the experience into a positive. Instead of wallowing and feeling crummy, think about your achievements and inspire yourself to keep creating. The worst thing you can do is give up because you don’t believe in what you’re doing. Think about those writers that simultaneously excite and revolt you with how amazing they are. They’re amazing because they tried, because they put in the effort, and in the end they made it.
Maybe your stories and poems have been rejected a lot, and you haven’t won any competitions, but at least you’re submitting them which is a massive dedication in itself.
Maybe you haven’t been writing much lately, but maybe you’ve been pursuing other creative tasks like reading your favourite books. Or researching some important plot points. These are also valuable uses of your time.
Turn your self talk on its head. Find a plus amidst the minuses. Give yourself permission to be awesome, stroke your ego a little. It’s absolutely acceptable, I promise.
Sometimes the only thing you can do is text a buddy or meet up for a drink after work and let loose. Chances are, they totally understand where you’re coming from (especially if they’re a writer too) and can balance out your frustration with a fresh perspective.
Talk to writer friends, or find a Twitter or blog post about it. I guarantee you will find others in the same boat. It certainly helps to hear that you’re not alone in the way you feel about your writing idols (and trust me, we’re all right there with you on this one).
If you’re unhappy with where you are in your creative journey, make a change. Don’t waste another minute. You can twist those negative feelings towards other writers back around and set yourself some achievable goals. Want to write more or even finish that novel? Set deadlines and cover your walls in post-its. In love with the technique or style of a particular author? Give it a go in your own writing and see how it works. Challenge yourself by saying, ‘yes, I can do that too’ or ‘I’m going to do it even better’. You might just surprise yourself!
Happy writing x
Does your writing never feel not quite good enough?
You are not alone.
All writers feel like that at times.
And there is a simple reason why.
Hidden within us is the writer we are born to become. And this inner writer urges us to improve our craft.
That’s a good thing.
But the process starts unraveling when the gremlins of fear, doubt and shame start to bombard us with negative messages:
“You haven’t got what it takes!”
“You can’t write!”
“Everyone else writes better!”
Are these thoughts familiar to you?
I bet they are!
The question is, would you talk so harshly to someone else?
If a new writer were to show you her or his work, how would you respond?
Most likely you respond with kindness and support.
And that’s exactly how you need to treat yourself.
Because as a writer, you’ll always have doubts about whether you are good enough. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, you’ll still feel inadequate at times.
Elisabeth George wrote the following in her journal (after publishing twelve bestsellers):
I’m reading John Le Carré’s The Constant Gardener right now. Frankly, it’s making me feel more inadequate than I’ve felt in a long time.
As you can see, at times even successful authors doubt their ability to write. If there is only one thing you take away from this post, let it be this:
Your feelings of inadequacy have no bearing on your talent as a writer.
The messages that the inner gremlins of fear, doubt and shame give you are the negative voices of the past. Voices of your parents, care-givers or teachers. They had a huge impact when you were little – and you still believe them, don’t you?
It’s time to free yourself from these gremlins!
It’s time for an antidote.
The antidote of inspiring quotes from writers who have gone through their fear, doubt and shame, and have come out the other side with some wisdom.
Here are some such inspiring quotes to help you on your way:
I hope you feel inspired by these quotes and are encouraged to keep going.
Best of luck!
Keeping with the theme of fear, and overcoming it, here is some more great advice from blogger Leo Babauta for getting to grips with sharing your writing with the world, whether that’s blogging, writing short stories for magazines, or novel writing.
You’d think that after eight years of public blogging and writing books, I’d be completely free of fear when it comes to putting my writing out in public. You would, of course, be wrong. Hitting “publish” still makes me nervous.
I still get little shivers of nervousness when I hit the “Publish” button on any post, and bigger fears still when I publish a print book or ebook. Writing in public is like speaking in public, if you’re doing it right. You’re baring your soul for all to judge, and there are few things as scary as that. But I’m here to tell you that it’s not only doable, it’s worth the effort to overcome that fear.
I’ve had several people write to me recently asking me about their fears about writing their blog. One person said they deleted their blog because they thought what they’d written was too lame. She said, “I thought it would be great if you could share how to put yourself out there in public and not worry about it.”
Well, I wish I could share the secret to not worrying about putting your writing in public, but I don’t think it exists. It’s scary as hell.
And yet I manage to do it nearly daily. Here’s how:
Write for One Person
You may have heard this advice before from more than one author. It’s impossible to write for thousands of people at once – that’s like trying to have a conversation with a stadium full of people. Who are you addressing? What tone do you use? What do they care about? So instead I follow Kurt Vonnegut’s advice to write for one reader (for him it was his sister). For me, it’s often different people I care about (my wife, one of my kids, a sister, a friend, a specific reader with a problem). I try to write like I’m talking directly to them, and though I change the style a bit to fit my blog’s style, that’s what I have in mind as I write. This has the added benefit of not being as scary – you’re just talking to one person.
Start with a Tiny Audience
When I started my site Zen Habits, my only readers were my mom and my wife (thanks you guys!). It wasn’t too scary to write for them. Then I got a few more readers, but by then my comfort level grew and the fear wasn’t overwhelming. Then I had 50 readers, and it was like a big group of friends, because everyone was supportive. By the time I had hundreds and then thousands of readers, I felt like I knew what I was doing (nevermind that I still don’t). One of the great things about blogging, for writers, is that your comfort level grows as your audience does.
Get Over the Idea of Perfection
We freeze up when we think of the idea that we need to write the “perfect” blog post or book, so that everyone thinks highly of us. I’m telling you now: there’s no such thing as perfect. Not everyone will think your writing is the greatest. And that’s okay. If you accept that there will be some things you do that are good, and others that are less than good, and that’s part of being a human; you can embrace a wider range of possibilities. You don’t have to hit a home run with every swing or score a goal with every touch.
Be Motivated by Learning
Why should you even attempt to write when it’s so scary? Because if you don’t do the things that you’re afraid of, you never learn anything. The best learning comes when you try something you don’t know how to do, and make mistakes, and then learn how to fix those mistakes. And then repeat. If you want safe, you give up on learning.
Be Motivated by Helping
I write because people have said it’s helpful. They like seeing how someone else solved a problem, or that it’s even possible to overcome, or at the very least they like knowing that there are other people out there going through the same thing. When people give me that kind of feedback, I feel great, and I can’t wait to do the scary thing again.
Writing is transformative. It changes you, and the reader. You get feedback from the reader and learn from them. You get accountability and you have to reflect on what you’re learning. You become greater from the attempt to overcome the fear.
There has been no greater achievement in my life, other than raising my kids, than overcoming the thunderhold of fear and writing for all of you.
One thing I really took home from the Festival of Writing 2017 is that all writers suffer from self-doubt – something refered to in Debi Alper’s Facing the Fear workshop as “The Doubt Demons”. One of these demons is Imposter Syndrome, and it’s the one that plagues me most.
People who feel like impostors believe they have somehow managed to fool others into thinking they are more capable, intelligent or talented than they ‘know’ themselves to be.”
Imposter Syndrome is the belief that you’re out of your depth, you’re not really capable, and it’s only a matter of time before other ‘real’ writers suss you out. If you suffer from this, as I do, you will regularly have thoughts that you aren’t good enough, that your writing is crap, and no one wants to read it anyway. Well, I’m here to tell you (and myself) that this is NORMAL and EVERY writer, even those who have had massive success and published loads of books, suffers with this exact same thing.
So how do we deal with it?
Well, I found a really good article from The Guardian that deals with this topic, in which Dr. Valerie Young, an internationally-recognised expert on impostor syndrome suggests the following:
In order to understand why you’re not currently capable of acknowledging your skills and talents, you’ll need to explore where these feelings stem from. According to Young, feelings of low self-worth could relate to family expectations, but they could just as easily arise from studying in a competitive environment or working in creative fields. (See, what did I tell you – all creative’s suffer with this!)
You’re probably familiar with the notion that voicing worries or fears out loud will lessen the power they hold over you. “I would encourage anyone feeling that they may be experiencing imposter syndrome to talk about it with someone they trust; whether that be a professional or someone from their own circle of family and friends.”
The aim of practicing positive self-talk is to learn how to manage your thoughts when an impostor moment strikes. “If you want to stop feeling like an impostor, you have to stop thinking like one,” advises Young. “We need to become consciously aware of the impostor thoughts running through our head so that we can reframe them the way a non-impostor would,” she says.
“What we want is to feel confident 24/7, but that’s not how it works,” says Young. Instead she suggests learning how to act with confidence, even when you’re feeling insecure, as a way of gradually changing how you feel internally. Taking back control of a situation can also help you rediscover your self-worth.
These are all great suggestions for dealing with the demons. Personally, I find positive affirmations help – telling myself I can do this, and telling the demon to go to hell.
Other things you could try are:
Perhaps use a combination of the above, or simply keep reminding yourself that the very fact you feel like an imposter means you are a real writer, and puts you in the same group as even the best published writers, who also suffer from the same affliction.
Here is a little anecdote from Neil Gaiman to illustrate my point, and hopefully make you feel better. It certainly helped me:
Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.
You can read the full Guardian article here: https://jobs.theguardian.com/article/impostor-syndrome-and-how-to-overcome-it