How to Overcome Self-Doubt as a Writer

happy writer celebrating writing success

Here are some tips on kicking your inner critic out the door, so you can get back to doing what you love most, writing.

As with most creative fields, writers are often their own worst critics. This breeds self-doubt, which is not productive. Many things can cause self-doubt to set in, including rejection emails (read our blog post about dealing with that), writer’s block, comparing yourself to others, or just generally convincing yourself that your story isn’t good enough to be published.

Try these eight potent pointers to giving self-doubt the boot.

Accept the reality of being a writer

It was Tennessee Williams who famously said: ‘I don’t believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me.’

Successful writers are almost always riddled with self-doubt. Self-doubt and creativity go hand in hand.

So rather than torturing yourself by thinking that your doubts are unique to you, or as Tennessee Williams says ‘self-doubting the doubts of others’, embrace your doubts as being a natural part of the writing process.

Befriend your doubts, bring them into the forefront of your consciousness, and you will gain power over them.

The power of positive thought

When you catch yourself thinking negatively, consciously eliminate certain words from your thought process and vocabulary. Just as your editor will ban you from using clichés, ban yourself from using negative words. It’s not as easy as it sounds – but it’s a good habit to adopt. Forming a new habit will take practice, so don’t be too hard on yourself when you slip up.

Don’t focus on the possibility of failing

Instead of saying to yourself, ‘What if I fail?’, rather say, ‘What if I succeed?’. Picture yourself being successful. Allow a certain amount of positive daydreaming, but not so much that you procrastinate and avoid your writing!

Self-doubt is a human defence mechanism. We mentally want to protect ourselves from hurt, so doubting ourselves can stop us from trying. And if we don’t try, we can’t fail, and if we don’t fail, we can’t get hurt. It’s a vicious cycle. Break it.

Start by writing about topics you know well

Often our inner critic is questioning our expertise on a topic. If you’re writing a fiction piece, start with something less technical that doesn’t require you to know legal or medical jargon, for example.

If you’re unsure about technical facts in your story – consult an expert. If you’re writing for a publication, fact-check everything. And no, using Wikipedia does not count as fact-checking!

Accept that you have weaknesses – and work on them

Perhaps you know that grammar isn’t your strong point – then take some time to hone your grammar skills. If you don’t feel that you develop strong characters or storylines, invest in a course on novel writing.

Use your obstacles as opportunities to grow.

Amid the social media frenzy, stop comparing yourself to others

Social media has created a false sense of reality, and it’s caused us to be envious of others’ lives. Most people only post about the good or exciting things that happen to them, giving their followers a skewed glimpse into their lives.

The same goes if you’re following other writers online – you only get to hear about their success stories (which, of course, we want to celebrate), but we don’t get to hear about their failures and rejections.

In truth, the chances are that they have just as much self-doubt as you do in the journey to success.

Negativity breeds negativity – mix with positive and inspiring people

Look out for the Tiggers in this world – not the Eeyores. There’s a lot to be said for hanging around with like-minded people. Just like a bad apple makes the whole basket go rotten (yes, it’s a cliché, but an apt one), so someone else’s negativity will rub off on you.

Pick your ‘go to’ positive person when you feel that self-doubt creep in – that person who lifts your spirits and always believes in you no matter what

Find something positive every day

Keep a ‘positivity journal’ and write something down in it each day – no matter how big or small. Record these positives about your writing, or anything relating to your skills, talents, and joys that happen in the day.

Whatever you do – don’t let negativity and self-doubt take the joy out of writing. Find ways to stay positive and motivated, and before you know it, a sense of self-worth will accompany you on your road to success.

Basics of Creative Writing at the Writers College



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