What to Do When You Doubt Yourself

Filed in When Writing Is Hard by on November 25, 2014 • views: 1268

What to Do When You Doubt 2Interviewer: You’ve acknowledged that as writers, we all have moments when we think what we’re working on is crap.

Author Harlan Coben (Caught, Long Lost, and Hold Tight): Always. Every writer has that, if they’re worth anything.

I don’t think it matters if you’re a writer, musician, new mom, or entrepreneur. If you’re following your own voice and working to make your dreams come true, you’re going to have moments of doubt.

Doubt Can Be a Good Sign

Doubt doesn’t mean you’re going the wrong way. In fact, it often means the opposite—that you’re doing the right thing. It’s easy to feel sure of ourselves when we’re following the path others think we should follow. We get assuring nods of approval, sometimes monetary support, and the comfort of fitting in with the crowd.

When we dare to step out and follow a different path, often a lot of that support disappears and we’re on our own. Add to that the fact that we care a lot about succeeding, and it’s easy to see why we would experience doubt.

“Self doubt can be an ally,” writes author Steven Pressfield. “This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), ‘Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?’ chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

Take It In Stride and Keep Going

I’m currently on chapter six of a new novel, and the doubt is already rearing its ugly head. I’m not sure the pacing is right. Maybe I’ve taken too long to get things moving. The concept is a little too far out. I’m not sure where I’m headed.

If I take Mr. Pressfield at his word, I can assure myself that it’s all par for the course, just a sign that I care a lot about what I’m doing. But there’s danger lingering around the edges of doubt—the danger that we’ll let it deter us from continuing forward.

“Through the process of manifesting your desires,” writes Enoch Tan of mindreality.com, “you may encounter situations where you still haven’t got what you wanted at a time you expect to get it, and you start to question and doubt that what you’re doing works. When you think ‘why isn’t this working yet’ or ‘why hasn’t it happened yet,’ you are moving away from your desire.”

Doubt has a way of arresting our progress. While we consider the questions it poses (Am I doing this right? Do I really have what it takes to succeed?), we stop working toward our goals. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing, as doubt can force us to consider carefully the steps we’re taking.  It can give us the time we need to examine other options, or consider different ways of proceeding. If that results in a better outcome, then doubt has done it’s job.

If we allow doubt to continue too long, however, we  can end up stymied and may even abandon altogether the path we were on, destroying our chances of ever seeing our dreams come true.  It’s natural to have feelings of doubt. The trick is to refuse to allow them to deter you.

Get Back to Work

Interviewer: How do you push past [your feelings of doubt]?

Harlan Coben: You just have to. There are just times that the self-loathing goes on, and it does paralyze me the way it will paralyze other writers. The secret is to just push through it. There comes a time when you have to get to work.

Whatever it is you’re doing— writing, painting, parenting, running your own business—just get back to doing it. Doubt wants you to turn away from your work. The way to deal with it is to turn toward your work.

Creative coach Eric Maisel says, “It’s better to obsess about the work than about my doubts about the work.”

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Comments (4)

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  1. Thanks for the article! Doubt can be paralyzing. We can’t control having it, but we can control how we respond.

  2. Chere Hagopian says:

    That’s great advice! Let doubt drive you toward the work, not away from it. Let it make your writing better, but not stop you in your tracks. My self-doubt used to be so bad that I had to push past the urge to tear up and throw away and/or stomp on whatever I had just written. I would set the piece aside for a year or so before I could stand to look at it again. By that time, I would usually like it because it no longer felt like I wrote it. I don’t have to do that anymore, but I do still have trouble letting anyone read what I write.

    • Colleen says:

      I hear you, Chere. I’ve gone through the tear up, stomp on, and throw away stages too! (Still do!) Time away definitely helps. Hopefully you’ll share your poems soon! I want to read one! :L)