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How to conquer self-doubt for writers

Self-doubt can be a creative writing killer. You’re setting out to write a new work, or perhaps you’re putting something out into the world for the first time.

And then you stop and worry – what will people think of me? Is this any good?

And those thoughts can do everything from causing you unnecessary stress to paralysing you from putting your work out into the world.

How do I know all this? Because I’ve been there too. I have sat in front of agents and other authors, hands trembling as I read my work or pitch my stories. I’ve talked myself out of submitting stories because I just don’t think they’re good enough.

I’m Kat Clay, and today I am going to give you a writing pep talk. If you take one thing away from this video, know that I believe in you, and you can do this thing.

I’ll talk you through some techniques I’ve learned to build confidence as a writer, so you can beat self-doubt too.

Everyone gets it

The first thing you need to know about self-doubt is that everyone gets it. Whether you’re a first-time writer or a seasoned pro, we all get self-doubt at certain points in our writing journey. It’s important to know you’re not alone. I have been exactly where you are, thinking I should give up on writing. Thinking my work is terrible, no one will like it, I’ve had too many rejections so I must be awful.

A lot of self-doubt stems from this fear of rejection. As writers, we experience a lot of rejection, and it’s hard. Everyone goes through this, but the authors who succeed are the ones who persevere. I’ve seen plenty of more talented people drop off the writing scene because it was too hard. Push through.

Rejection isn’t always to do with the quality of your writing – it could be the market, the publication has too many stories, it’s not the right editor for you. Remember that editors, agents, and publishers are people too. They have their own pressures and stresses in their jobs, and they’re not always making a judgement call on your work and who you are.

Practical ways to deal with self-doubt

Feel your feelings

Whenever you feel self-doubt, sit with those feelings for a moment and acknowledge how you’re feeling. It helps to write out those questions in your head saying you’re not good enough. 

Then take a step back and look at the proof that says otherwise. If you’ve never been published, think about a time when someone gave you positive feedback. If you’ve been nominated for awards, remind yourself of those.

This gets easier as you get more experienced, but regardless of your experience, remind yourself why you got into writing in the first place. Unless it was for fame and fortune – two terrible reasons to become a writer – remind yourself of why you love it, what you have to say about the world, and why you’re doing this.  

Collect positive feedback

One thing you can do is collect good feedback, inspiring quotes and writing advice. Put it on post-it notes where you can see them and remind yourself when you’re feeling down that you can do this.

Get a cheers squad

Another way to beat self-doubt is to get yourself a cheer-squad. Your cheer squad are the people who will support you no matter what. They’re the people you can go to and say I feel down today about my creative work, and they will tell you amazing. They’ve got your back. I have a chat group with them on speed dial, so that any time we feel down, I’ve got that cheer squad in my pocket.

Writing isn’t a competition

When you sit down to write, remember that writing isn’t a competition. Comparing yourself to other people isn’t helpful. In the first instance, the only person you should write for is yourself. Write the book you want to see in the world. It’s not about getting approval from anyone else. Leave the criticism for the editing process. Shelve it at the door and come to the page without thinking about what other people think.

All first drafts are terrible

Another thing to remind yourself of when you’re writing is that ALL first drafts are terrible. You might feel down because the writing isn’t any good. Well, I’ve got news for you. Everyone’s first drafts are awful, mine included. Rather than place value judgements on your work while you write, let yourself just write and get it out. The glorious thing about writing is that you can always fix it later. That’s why they call it a draft.

Read autobiographies of famous authors

If I’m not writing, but I need a pep-talk, I read books on writing or autobiographies of famous authors. Often, they talk about the journey to get there – and it’s a long journey. It’s rare for someone to become a literary sensation overnight.

Whenever I feel down about how tough writing can be, I think of a story that Margaret Atwood talks about in her book Negotiating with the Dead. Early in her career, she organised her own book tours, and hauled her poetry books through the snow on a sled. If in doubt, think of Margaret Atwood and her sled.

Back yourself

Finally, I will leave you with this advice. Back yourself. If you believe you can be a writer, if you put the hard work in, you will get there eventually.

You are not a fraud or a phoney.

You’ve got this, I believe in you!