You've had them before, those nagging thoughts that creep in the next morning after a long night of writing. It's the same type of feeling that you get when you have a "crush" on someone. You get anxious, maybe a little nauseous. You wonder whether they'd even like you, or if they'd say yes if you asked them out. You may think you're not good enough, or question why a person like them would want to be with someone like you. It's the same with writing doubts. You spent all night writing a new chapter, and now you're second-guessing everything. What if you didn't convey what you wanted to say? What if it's a mess and doesn't connect well? What if your characters fall flat and readers hate them?
If you're like me, this pattern of self-doubt is cyclical. It comes and goes each time I finish a chapter and each time I return to rewrite it. When I first started taking creative writing courses in college, I felt incredibly self-conscious when it came to sharing my work. I found myself writing for the audience that I knew I would be seeing the next day in class rather than write what I found to be true to me. It changed my patterns of writing and became incredibly restrictive. It started to steal the happiness of writing away from me, something that personally horrified me. Instead of feeling empowered by the program, I felt myself becoming more and more insecure. This feeling culminated with the application- and rejections- of M.F.A programs I applied to for the fall following my senior year. I graduated feeling like a failure. It was devastating, but it sparked a revolutionary thought in me.
Once I graduated I decided to make a change. If I couldn't write for myself, then I didn't want to write at all. So I started writing- really writing- and made myself a promise that I wouldn't think about what I wasn't doing "right" anymore. I would only focus on putting words on the page. It was then that I started truly researching and delving into the world of writing. Know what I found? A lot of writers just like me.
Finding out that other writers struggle with the same crushing self-doubt helped fill some of the void I felt. I suddenly wasn't a failure, I was a writer who was dealing with a common writing problem. It was almost as if it had become a rite of passage, something that I needed to go through in order to join the ranks of all those who picked up the pen before me. It made me realize that it's okay to feel this way, so long as you can overcome it.
I began to research ways to get past being a closet writer. Here are some of the tips that I've found and tried that have helped me gain confidence as a writer.
1. Try out different types of writing and see what works best for you.
It took me years, several different types of classes, and some experience to find out what sort of writer I wanted to be. I tried writing news and magazine articles, screenplays, poems, movie scripts, short stories, essays, micro-stories, technical writing, books, blog posts- you name it, I've tried it. For me, variety seems to be key. I like being able to write whatever I want and stretch my creative muse however she wants to move. That's why I ultimately decided that blogging was for me, but while this is pleasing to the muse, so is novel writing. It's the balance between the two that makes me the happiest, so that's what I do. By trying out different things it opened the door for discovering what suited me best, and let me learn new things along the way which was a plus.
2. Write despite the fear.
The truth is, the fear never goes away. I'll probably worry about whether my writing is any good even after I've been published and have accomplished everything else that I've set out to do. Knowing this, the only way I can fail is if I let the fear stop me. It's the mirage that fear creates that keeps us from pursuing our dreams. It keeps us awake at night with "what if's". It leaves you stressed, worried, and terrified of what others might see. At some point you have to feel the fear and do it anyways. Otherwise you'll live a life forever wishing you had.
3. Do something every day that puts you outside your comfort zone.
This was a big one for me. Once I decided to write despite my fears, I soon realized that part of overcoming it was putting myself out there. I resolved to do something new in the pursuit of my writing career each day. For me that looked like starting my blog, being more active on social media, letting others read my work before it was finished, and by adding different genres to my reading list. There are plenty of more ways to do this that I'm excited to try out. For instance: entering writing contests, networking with other writers, going to writing conferences, taking part in a writer's retreats, and learning more about famous writers.
4. Lean on writing communities for support.
I'm just starting to explore this myself, but already I see the potential. So many different writing communities exist on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit- pretty much any social media platform has one. Other more traditional forms of communities can be found in places like Writer's Digest, The Writing Cooperative, The Write Practice and many more. I've found so many tips, advice, encouragement, and recommendations in these places. There's such an abundance of information that there's plenty for everyone, so definitely go check it out using the links I've included here.
5. Research your craft.
Do some research. If you want to try something new, find some examples of people who have done it before. See what people are doing, what works, what doesn't work, and see what's not being done at all. I found that I learn best through others. If I can see it being done somewhere else, then it's essentially like a blueprint has been handed to me. This is what I've used to help me start my blog. I have never tried this type of writing before, so I found some other bloggers online and started taking note of what worked for them. The same goes for any other type of writing. Seeing what other writers are doing helps inspire and guide me through the process ,and it can do the same for you.
6. Try, and try some more.
Practice is essential for success and overcoming self-doubt. I've learned this first-hand. You can feel bad about your first draft, but ultimately by the time you've written several versions, you'll be able to see yourself improve. It's solid proof that directly contradicts those irrational fears and thus can act as a balm to soothe them. That and practice really does help! I've watched my writing change and my technical skills grow over time and it's an amazing feeling to be able to look back at where you started and see how far you've come.
7. Accept the inevitability of rejection.
An unpleasant reality that all writers have to face, rejection is one of those things that we just have to get used to. It's going to happen, and most likely many times over. Personally, I find that the best way to overcome this is to accept it and expect it. The chances of being a writer and never experiencing any sort of criticism or rejection isn't plausible, so we may as well shrug it off and try again. While it's never a good feeling, it is part of the journey. The way I balance the disappoint is by remembering that with every opportunity that I didn't get, I'm one step closer to the one that is meant for me. I keep my rejection letters as badges of honor because again, it's tangible proof that I tried.
We all have good days and bad days. On my bad days, I question whether I'm a good writer and find that my confidence wavers. But as much as I second-guess myself, I also balance it with tools that can help me overcome it. Hopefully these 7 tips help you "crush" your doubts and get back to writing productively again too.