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Why are writers so prone to self-doubt?

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

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In my search for answers to the question, What is driving writers’ doubt, another fundamental question arose: What do we believe writing/publication is going to do for us? What is the story in our heads about what our writing will make of us, of our lives?

For some writers, like Mimi Jones Hedwig, who was an editor at Viking Press and later at Redbook and Reader’s Digest, it is the desire to see her work “open a dialogue with like-minded readers” and to have them engage with her characters and worldview. For too many others of us, it is some version of, “If I could only get ___ published, then I would be happy/OK/fulfilled/successful.” It is this latter narrative that can put backbreaking pressure on our work and heighten our self-doubt.

Writing and publishing are, at best, uncertain undertakings. There are no guarantees, there is much that is out of our control, and many – if not most – who have had great publishing success are still prone to feelings of self-doubt and/or insecurity. Writing and publishing can be deeply fulfilling endeavors, but they are never a cure-all for what ails us. So get really clear about what your definition of “success as a writer” is. Know what you are demanding of your work. And ask yourself (honestly), “Is this something it can actually deliver?” If not, what can it deliver? It’s always better to want what you can have than what you can’t.

—Dana Shavin’s essays and articles have appeared in Oxford American, The Sun, Psychology Today, Parade, Next Avenue, Bark, PBS, and others. She is an award-winning humor columnist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press and the author of a memoir, The Body Tourist, about the intersection of her anorexia with her mental health career. You can find more at and follow her on Facebook at Dana Shavin Writes.