Shutting up that inner critic
Disclaimer: I am not a coach, therapist or any kind of mental health professional. I have also in no way fully overcome my own personal self-doubt as an author. As with all my posts this is just an account of my journey and my own opinions.
First up, we need to acknowledge that everyone has self-doubt of some kind. For some it’s about the shape of their bodies, others lack confidence in social situations. Some people (like me) suffer from chronic self-doubt that spans a whole range of scenarios.
But as this is a blog about Becoming an Author, I figure this should be the main focus. And as I mentioned in the intro, I’m not claiming to be the beacon of mental stability in this area. In fact, if you’ve read any of my other posts you’ll probably know that I’m pretty much riddled with self-doubt when it comes to my writing.
However, unlikely as it may seem this has decreased a lot over the years, and for me at least, I think there are a few key things that have contributed to this:
Understanding the purpose of my writing
When I first started writing a novel one of the things I focused on most was getting published and turning writing into a full-time career. I’d still like that to happen obviously, but as you’ll see in my post of How Much Do Authors Make? I’ve come to realise that Becoming an Author is probably never going to be a money-making goldmine. Without that as a driving force I’ve become far more comfortable with the idea of just writing for me.
Alongside this is the fact that my novel will never, ever appeal to everyone. I could submit to to 100 publishers (and would probably have to in order for it to be read) and of those 100, 99 might hate it. But maybe one lone publisher would absolutely love the idea and the storytelling.
Just think of all the bestselling books you know of, how many do you genuinely love, and how many do you actually quite dislike even though everyone else in the universe seems to adore it? Equally, maybe there are books that you rank as your favourite, yet everyone else slams.
Either way, there will always be people who love what you do, and people who don’t. And you’re never going to know who those people are until your work’s in front of them. To me that’s both incredibly freeing and scary at the same time.
Learning to accept feedback
Even though I know that I can’t please everyone with my stories, I also have to accept that sometimes people will have genuinely useful feedback to share. And if I’m too chicken to accept that, then I will never become the author that I want to be. So I have been working on my ability to seek and use feedback from other people.
It’s not been easy, but the more I do it, the easier it gets (who knew, eh?). I’m quite fortunate that in my current day job I get a lot of feedback about my work from a range of people. I’m even more lucky that the feedback I receive is always really clearly presented and done so in a very gentle manner.
Because of this I always know exactly what I need to do to improve, and I rarely feel personally attacked by it. However, I know that won’t always be the case. Especially when my work enters the public domain, some people have no idea how to deliver good feedback, and I’m sure that if my work’s ever in front of agents or publishers, there will be some very harsh words delivered in a very unpleasant way. That will suck. I know it will.
But, if there’s actually a useful nugget of information in there, then I’ve had enough practice at getting feedback now, that I think I’ll be able to spot the useful from the spiteful. Of course, this could well all fall apart once I get ‘real’ feedback on my stuff, but I’ll be letting you know if that’s the case.
Actually writing stuff (and then reading it back)
It’s a pretty obvious point, but to get better at anything (including writing) you have to practice. So if you want to build your self-confidence as an author, then first up you have to write something.
Even if you’re pretty sure it’s not ‘the one’ in terms of what you want to eventually publish, you need to write something to get started. Those very first few lines will remind you that, yes, you can write, and yes, you do have a story worth telling.
Then after that you need to read it back, and this was even harder than the writing for me. I’m going to admit something that sounds absolutely stupid: after I completed my first full draft of my main manuscript I didn’t read it again for a long time. Why? Because I was absolutely scared stiff of re-reading it.
I was terrified that if I read it again I’d suddenly come to the realisation that it was just utter rubbish. In short, I was trying to protect my precious ego from myself. I told you it was stupid. But that’s how badly I lacked confidence in my writing. I didn’t want me to read it – I wrote the bloody thing! (Again, stupid).
Fortunately I came to my senses and realised that if I ever wanted to publish my work, I would probably have to read it again. So I did. And when I did, the most amazing thing happened. I liked it. I read my story from beginning to end, for the very first time, and I really enjoyed it! In fact, I felt pretty proud of myself. You’d be right in guessing that that doesn’t happen very often. That’s when I realised that maybe I wasn’t so bad at this writing thing as I thought.
And looping back to my first point, it’s got to be enough for me that I like my story and that I’m proud of myself, I can’t hang my self-belief on what other people think.
And neither should you.
I think that’s enough rambling from me: tell me about your experiences! Are you, like me, lacking in self-belief (almost certainly for no reason)? Or are you one of the lucky ones who broken through that barrier and is enjoying life on the other side? Maybe it ebbs and flows from day to day, sentence to sentence?
And what tips do you have for beating the self-doubt when it comes to your writing? I’d really love to know.