Have you ever been told you can’t do something? Have you ever been told you can’t go somewhere? Have you ever been told you’re not good enough? If you’ve lived just a few years on this planet, you’ve been told all of these. Now, there are some things we should be told not to do especially when we’re young. We shouldn’t cross the street when cars are coming. We shouldn’t touch a hot stove. We shouldn’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater. Those aren’t the kind of things though that I’m talking about today. I’m talking about a young girl revealing a dream to become an astronaut and being told she can’t do it. I’m talking about a teenager wanting to become an engineer and being told she wasn’t good enough. I’m talking about a woman wanting to become a published author and being told she was too old. And I’m talking about all those rejections turning into self-doubt.
Rejection isn’t easy. It can be hard to have our dreams crushed by those we love or by those whose respect we want. It can leach into our minds and make us think we’re incapable of doing anything. It can even make us think our presence isn’t welcome if it gets bad enough. So, self-doubt and its twin insecurity can do some real damage to our psyches.
Since rejection is part of life as a writer, I wasn’t surprised to read that many writers are prone to self-doubt and feeling like frauds. Even writers who are well-established like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Flannery O’Connor, Franz Kafka, and Stephen Pressfield. I especially liked what Stephen King had to say in a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone. “I’m afraid of failing at whatever story I’m writing–that it won’t come up for me, or that I won’t be able to finish it.” I also liked what Stephen Pressfield had to say. “The more scared we are about our calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
With all of that, I acknowledge that writers-doubt, or self-doubt exists and that people whose names we all know suffer from it. But, is there anything we can do about self-doubt? I don’t have much original advice. Every time I think I’ve defeated self-doubt as a writer or as a person, it has come roaring back and makes me think this world would be a better place without me or without my meager contributions. It’s hard to keep going when you think no one notices, to write your words and to write your stories down. It also makes me want to shut my heart down and not care so much about my writing, about all of it. Because, I realized something the other day. I have very deep-rooted doubts and insecurities about myself as a human being. How did I figure this out? Let me be honest and admit I already knew it to a certain extent. But, I was reading a fiction book, and it got to the point where one of the main characters was having to work through her doubts and insecurities. Of course, the specific circumstances in the book were much different, but when she said she didn’t think she was making a contribution, I said, “Oh my goodness. That’s exactly how I feel right now.” It was a light bulb moment. Other people can have deep-rooted things going on in their psyches that no one else knows about. It was a freeing moment, and I knew what I needed to work on not just with my writing, but with myself too.
It comes back to that not so original advice about writers-doubt which I believe can also apply to self-doubt. First, it’s always going to be there. Like I said before, there are moments it will be gone, but it will always come back. Second, for the writing portion, we need to give ourselves permission to write garbage. We tend to think no one ever fails at writing because no one ever sees the failures. They only see the successes. It’s the same way with real life. How many of us put our failures out there for everyone to see? Not many, I would think. So, when we fail or have our doubts, we think it’s just us. I know I do, and I live with it inside my head. When I fail at writing, when I fail at my faith, when I fail at friendship, when I fail at everything, it’s always just me. That’s why I think the final thing is so important. We need to believe in a truth we can’t see, or have faith. For me, that has a religious connotation because I’m a Christian, but it can stand by itself without the religious component. We need to have faith in our writing and in ourselves. It takes incredible mental strength to do that by ourselves though which is why I want to add this one thing. Find people who believe in you. People who are willing to say they believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself, when you can’t feel it yourself. People who will be your cheerleaders when your insecurities plague you and when you feel like you’re not doing very much. That’s why community is important even though we don’t like to admit it. It’s the way we get strength to keep writing and to go on.
I think we all want that strength. We want to be able to overcome the garbage in our heads from our pasts, to move forward, and to begin healing. With that being said, I want to end this with a quote so we can know it’s all right to care about our writing and about ourselves. From Morgan Snyder, “Whatever you do, don’t shut your heart down. Keep it open. It’s going to be needed.”
Have a great day, everyone!