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Why are writers so prone to self-doubt?

We asked authors, editors, instructors, and psychologists to find out.

WHAT HELPS, WHAT DOESN’T

If lack of confidence in your writing is driven by factors you have no control over – such as how long it takes to get responses from editors and agents or what the marketplace favors or any number of other externals – railing against them probably won’t help. A possible exception to this rule includes speaking out against policies or systems that are detrimental to or discriminate against certain groups of writers, which can help turn the tide of systemic abuses.

But if your self-doubt is caused by internal forces, there are a number of ways you can work to shift your perspective.

 

Unlearn perfectionism

“The monkey-mind chatter of perfectionism can be interrupted with a simple mantra: it’s good enough,” says writing instructor Lowen. “It helps to know that even ‘successful’ writers feel inadequate, that while perfection dogs their process, it doesn’t stop them.” For writers for whom nothing is ever perfect, she suggests they adopt the mantra, “done is better than perfect.” And then move on.

Submit more

Wendy Fox, author of three books of fiction, says she was able to tame her dismay over rejections by submitting more, after which she started to get more acceptances. “It helped me understand how much it is a numbers game and that there is also a timing consideration” – that is, sometimes things like the news cycle determine what will and won’t get published.

“Ultimately, it’s about being accepting of the things I can’t influence, like an editor’s workload, and focusing on the things that I can influence, which is my own creative output and my own relationship to it.” She says she stopped calling rejections “rejections” and started calling them “reminders” to submit elsewhere.

Shannon Luders-Manuel, who has bylines in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, says, “My first New York Times piece was rejected by eight outlets before it found a home there. I just see a rejection as one step closer to an acceptance because I know it’s par for the course and so much of a numbers game.”

Still not convinced? Read “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year” by Kim Liao on Lithub.com. Then read it again. Then do what it says. One hundred times.

Find your allies

Krystal Jagoo is a registered clinical social worker and contributor to Huffpost Personal who advocates for finding writing allies.

“Engaging with the work of BIPOC authors helps BIPOCs value their own writing abilities,” she says.

“The best advice I have for other writers of color (and anyone with a marginalized identity) is, keep pursuing your goals despite the obstacles, ignorance, and bigotry,” says Rachel Werner. “Own your talents, celebrate your wins – and know that real allies do exist in most creative spaces. You just need to know how to find them. Start with asking other BIPOC, queer, and/or disabled creativepreneurs who they have existing professional relationships with. Never be afraid to advocate for yourself in regard to pay and the stories you’re itching to tell, or know are being ignored by society at large. We can’t keep waiting for change to occur within a biased system, thus don’t discount your ability to potentially start a ‘zine, launch a publishing company, or become an influencer.”

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Self-publish

For some writers of some genres, self-publishing is a perfect workaround for self-doubt, as they no longer feel at the mercy of gatekeepers, the whims of the publishing industry, or a fickle marketplace.

Therapy

When our emotions, core beliefs, feelings, and behaviors get in the way of the writing, chances are they are getting in the way of more than just the writing. Addressing them in therapy could be a multi-faceted win. Your relationship with your writing needs tending the same way your relationships with people need tending. The idea is not to bemoan the problems you are having but to find a way to work with your writing that feeds your (and its) soul, that brings you closer to knowing your (and its) truths, and that does so in ways that are benevolent, forgiving, professional, and respectful.

Hire a book coach or mentor

Take a cue from professional athletes: Having someone in your corner can be a game-changer. Consider it an investment in your career. It is.

Don’t let fear drive

Bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert famously said of her creative endeavors that she always gives fear a seat beside her in the car, but she never, ever lets it drive. This is a great way of saying that, since we can’t ever completely rid of ourselves of our fears, we’ll fare better if we learn to live with them while at the same time not letting them call the shots.

Keep a past acceptance letter or kind note from a reader in constant view

Don’t make yourself have to dig for it. Put it where you’ll automatically see it.

Be a good literary citizen

Reach out to other writers: form or join a writing group; help beginning writers find their footing. Listen to the advice you give other writers!

Cultivate a sense of humor and gratitude

Learning to laugh at yourself, including how seriously you take things, can help. So can gratitude for what your writing does give you.

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