A Writer’s Angst

As 2021 comes to a close I’ve been pondering the question, “Why are writers insecure about their talent?”

Our angst revolves around what is “good writing”. We ask, “Am I a good writer?” or “Is this piece good enough?” frequently followed by, “When will they figure out I’m not a real author/writer?” It’s all self-doubt.

I know professionals in other careers experience self-doubt. However, writers experience self-doubt far more than other professionals and we seem to experience it more than other artists. Why? Are we wimps? Is our profession harder?

I can’t answer these questions, and probably never will. I do recognize that self-doubt is a problem. I am a problem solver, so how do I eliminate self-doubt?

I can’t. I think of it like this: Self Doubt rides in the backseat while I drive. She never gets to drive and I constantly tell her she can’t have the keys. That doesn’t mean she’s not a backseat driver. It’s up to me to say, “Shut the fuck up! I’m driving!” I think the curse word helps. I don’t usually curse, so I can put all my frustration into that one, naughty word.

There are external and internal reasons that give self-doubt power. Dana Shavin does a good job of listing these in her article, “Why are writers so prone to self-doubt?” Bottom line: we can’t control external factors. I believe we can be aware of them so that they don’t feed self-doubt.

Most of my rejections start with, “Unfortunately…”. First, why is the editor using an adverb? What part of speech should you always avoid in your writing? Yep, we’re always told adverbs. I’d like that adverb to gone from rejections. But I digress. When I see that adverb, Self Doubt is at her most powerful.

“I told you your message was muddy.”

“Face it, you’re just not good enough.”

“Everything you’ve written has been written before.”

“You are not creative.”

Sound familiar? This is the time to yell, “Shut the fuck up!”

When you sent that piece in, it was:

  • Wonderful!
  • The best I’ve ever done!
  • I’m so proud of this!

And now it’s not? Get real. It’s good. It doesn’t match the editor, so find another darn editor! Rejections should be called prompts. They prompt us to send that piece out again. They are not failures. That is my mantra… not a failure, not a failure…

If it really does suck, you will run across an editor that has the balls and the time to say so. A kind editor will give you a sentence about where you went wrong. You’re more likely to get this feedback if you keep on submitting.

Self Doubt will still whisper, “There’s something wrong with this piece, otherwise it wouldn’t have gotten rejected.”

The way to shut her up is to put that piece away for two weeks. Longer if you’re still thinking about it in two weeks. Once you’ve forgotten about it, go back and read it.

Don’t ask, “Is this crappy writing?”

Be specific. “Is my pacing off? Are my characters flat?” If your answer is no, super duper. If you answer yes, FIX IT. Either way, send it out again and tell Self Doubt to “Shut the fuck up!”

Please don’t point out that always is an adverb. That’s why I used it. Twice.

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