Writer’s Panic: Four Facts I’ve Learned About Self Doubt

One of the things that has become incredibly obvious to me in the course of practicing the craft of writing is that you will doubt your writing. I do it two or three times a day. While I’m reading someone elses’ work, I never think about how many drafts it took them to get the book where it is, or how much polish has gone into the prose and grammar. I just think about how their writing looks great and reads smoothly when compared to mine. When things like this happen, I try to take a few minutes to sit back and go through a mental check list I’ve created to help me deal with these problems.

The first draft of everything is shit. – Hemingway

1. As Hemmingway so succinctly put it, the first draft of everything is usually a big smelly turd. But that’s ok, we can take that turd and use it to make ground fertile and grow something wonderfully colorful and fragrant. Or something like that. The point is that just because it’s your first draft doesn’t mean the finished product is going to be awful. You’re building a skeleton and finding out where the story really goes. You’ll add the well toned muscular, smooth skin, and other alluring features in later drafts.

Erase self-doubt by working to build your strengths instead of focusing on your weaknesses. – Rodolfo Costa

2. You’re incredibly familiar with your writing style. None of it is new to you; it’s all just flat words on a page. You can see every flaw, every weakness, and every chink in the armor of your style. As a result of this, everything seems old and boring. But what about the people out there who might read your book? Your style is new, and maybe even exciting to them. Just because it’s old and familiar to you doesn’t mean it’s that way to everyone.

I am the one constant obstacle to my own momentum. – Pete Velluci Jr.

3. Your story seems boring and predictable to you, maybe even transparent. Well, that’s because it is, to you. Realize that you’re the one creating the world,  you gave birth to all those characters (and most likely they carry small parts of you with them), you dreamed up the trials that your characters will face. You know your world, its hidden places, its inhabitants, and its  history better than anyone else. Everything seems boring and predictable to you because you made it up. No one else is going to know what the path your story follows is like until they’ve walked it, so don’t stop trailblazing.

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt – Sylvia Plath

4. I have to disagree a little with Sylvia here. The doubt can be a boon, if you control it. Doubting yourself and your writing can really push you to take your writing to the next level, as it drives you to always look for flaws and to make yourself better. But this can be a double-edged sword. If you let the doubt get the better of you it can rob you of your will and desire to write and mangle your creativity. It can convince you what you’re doing is, and always will be, garbage. Do not let self doubt do this to you.

After I remind myself of all this, I normally don’t feel nearly as bad as I did at the start of the panic attack. I remember that basically at one point or another all writers hate their work. Does this mean your work is worth tossing out? Not at all. Sing your song to the world, give flight to the characters you’ve dreamed up and see where they take you. Just remember, lots of work and polish are going to go into the story before it’s ready, and even then you’re still probably going to find things you want to change.


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