by Christine Hennebury
Self-doubt is one thing that all good writers have in common and it’s what causes us to get stuck. Even though many of us interpret getting stuck as a sign that we aren’t ‘real’ writers, it’s actually a sign that our writing practice is focused in the wrong direction.
Luckily, by figuring out where our self-doubt is springing up, we can change our focus and get back to our writing.
A lot of the time, we don’t even realize that self-doubt is the problem. We struggle to get started, we find it hard to keep writing, or we hate what we have written, but we don’t realize that these feelings spring from doubt. Instead, we decide that we aren’t good enough or that we lack discipline.
However, if we can turn our attention to our writing practice, give ourselves a little freedom, and, be kind to ourselves in the process, we will be able to see self-doubt for what it is.
Here are three ways you can identify self-doubt and start to change your focus:
1) Think Process, Not Results
We measure our writing in words, in chapters, in articles, and in books. We get an endpoint in mind, and we make it our entire focus.
But when we focus on the results instead of on writing, we make things harder on ourselves. We start thinking about who is going to read it and whether they will like it. We start comparing our rough drafts to other people’s published work. There is no good result from this. Either you will get intimidated and stop writing, or you will hate what you have written, or you will try to get the whole project done at once and end up baffled and confused.
You can’t finish writing projects that way. You must write them word by word. It’s your job to develop a writing practice that enables that process.
So, instead of focusing on your endpoint, work on developing behaviors that will lead to where you want to go. Sure, it can be fun to envision yourself as a best-selling author, but if you don’t have a process that gets your words on the page, you won’t sell a thing.
2) Give Yourself Freedom to Mess Up
Help yourself to keep writing by allowing yourself more freedom to do things wrong. Recognize when you are in draft mode and that you need to make mistakes to go forward. So, go ahead and put in a placeholder word or too. Put in a sentence that says ‘Add science-y stuff’. Call your character ‘Waserface’ until you figure out what her name should be. If you keep the story moving, all of the pieces will fall into place.
In addition to those kinds of mistakes, feel free to decide what success means for you for each writing session. Decide what will be ‘enough’ writing. Decide what methods you will use to get to ‘enough’. Your job is to get your words on paper, it doesn’t matter how messy things are in the meantime.
Finally, feel free to be terrible. Terrible writing is part of the writing process. After all, you can’t revise a blank page – you have to start somewhere. Go ahead and write something awful right now, you are just trapping ideas. Polished writing will be in your future.
One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.
~ Lawrence Block
3) Go Easy On Yourself
Most of us think that the only way to be self-disciplined is to be very tough on ourselves. We put ourselves down and judge ourselves harshly because we think it will make us get down to work. Somehow, we think that being gentle with ourselves will result in sloppy habits and messy work.
Yet, if being hard on ourselves produced results, we’d all be best-selling authors by now. Clearly, we need a different approach.
I recommend finding ways to be kind to ourselves. Ideally, we would could find ways to make our writing process as interesting and fun as possible and to forgive ourselves when we get off track. And, when we come to the challenge parts, we could take them in small doses and give ourselves rewards for our efforts instead of just for our accomplishments.
This doesn’t mean that we give up when things get hard or that we only do fun writing, it means that we are kind to ourselves when things go wrong. Treating ourselves with kindness will help us find ways to stick to our practices and get those words out into the world where they belong.
Ditch the Self-Doubt
The first step to solving any problem is correctly identifying it. When you struggle to get your words out, take a gentle look at how you are approaching your writing practice. Perhaps, self-doubt is getting in your way and it’s time to change your focus and get back to writing.
No matter what your specific writing issue involves, taking a moment to focus on the practice of writing, giving yourself some freedom, and going easy on yourself will help you to feel better about writing. Any words that come as a result will be a bonus.
Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her storyfying at www.christinehennebury.com or visit her on Facebook .