One of the biggest obstacles writers face is not having enough self-belief. Taking risks to express ourselves creatively can be scary stuff, and self-doubt can be triggered all too easily. Especially by comparing ourselves to other writers.
Self-doubt can eat away at any creative person like rust in an automobile. Self-doubt can be soul-destroying, and it tends to feed on itself. The more you feel it, the more there is of it. Soon you’re feeling too paralyzed by self-doubt to write a thing.
It can be hard not to fall into the trap of comparison. So the best tactic is to go for the antidote: more self-belief.
But the pursuit of self-belief can sound like an elusive quest. Easy for someone to give you that advice, but how is it done exactly? Building your self-belief as a writer should be rooted in the act of writing.
Building self-belief is not something that happens overnight. And the deepest, most lasting way to do it is to write, write, write as often as you can. But getting to the stage of being able to write, write, write can be most of the battle.
Here are 5 steps that, practiced often enough, can help you train yourself to write on a more regular basis:
1. Shut out distractions
Allowing ourselves to be distracted by anything that glitters (social media, that new reality TV show, text messages from friends) is usually a symptom of procrastination. Acknowledging that you’re procrastinating is the first step.
Once you face the reality of it, you can take action. Start with baby steps. Decide that you will find one period of 30 minutes within the next several days where you will shut off your cell phone, log out of email and social media, turn the TV off and close the door to your writing space. Make an appointment with yourself and then keep it.
2. Recognize that you’ll be tested
Within almost every writer I’ve ever met (and I’ve known many) lies a seed of self-sabotage. We fear failure, we fear success, we fear the brilliance of our own creativity. We fear criticism, we fear having no readers, we fear we’ll have nothing worth writing.
The act of trying to get going with more writing will bring this seed to the surface. This can take the form of self-sabotage or events from the outside world. All of it looks very convincing too. These are things you seemingly must deal with now and, in doing so, put aside your intentions to write.
You must find a way to write anyway. If you don’t, you’ll go back to your state of paralysis or non-activity. This will then feed on itself, creating a downward, negative spiral and more of what you don’t want.
Remember, when you’re being tested, recognition and self-awareness are your weapons. Being aware of why it’s happening will help you take counter-measures. The counter-measure must always be some writing. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you write something. You’ve got to tip the scales in favor of writing. So don’t wait till you can write something “good.” Just write.
3. Don’t believe the voice of doom
The voice of doom (which you can hear inside your mind whenever you try to write) is part of the sabotage. I call it the voice of doom because it makes your chances of becoming the writer you want to be sound ominous.
Learning to recognize the voice of doom, and remembering that it’s only there to test you, can be enormously powerful. With this knowledge, you can keep writing whenever the voice arrives on the scene. Keep writing, because you must make it to the other side.
Imagine yourself on a perilous, rickety footbridge above a huge chasm with a dragon belching flames at your feet. On the other side of the chasm is paradise. Fix your eyes on (creative) paradise and keep writing.
4. Give yourself permission to be less than scintillating
If you haven’t been writing very much lately, you can’t expect yourself to be a Hemingway as soon as you sit down to write something. Hemingway, and other masters like him, become good through practicing the craft. Any master will tell you that a good writer has many ugly first drafts under his belt.
Loosen up and just write. Everything can be fixed in the rewrites. A first draft should be born of passion and love for your story, not the harsh taskmaster of perfection.
5. Can’t write it? Write next to it.
Writers who sit almost bleeding anxiety as they stare at the screen and wonder how to begin could do one thing differently and change their entire experience. Instead of writing what you “should be” writing (even if it’s the novel you’ve always dreamed of starting, and today is the deadline for when you said you’d sit down and start), try writing something you feel less committed to first.
There are many writing prompts available in books and on the Internet. Take a writing prompt and just let yourself write. It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be written. The more you write using writing prompts (where you won’t feel a huge commitment to it like you do with your novel) the more you’ll loosen up. Using writing prompts also means you don’t have to think of what to write. The prompt will provide you with the idea.
The key to overcoming self-doubt as a writer is to write more than you’ve ever written before. This is the road to confidence as a writer, and this is also the way to improve as a writer. Improving takes practice. And improving will help boost your confidence.
Use the 5 steps given above to create a positive, upward spiral. And remember that a little bit can go a long way, added up over time. Let yourself take baby steps. Often.