12 Experienced Writers on How to Overcome Self-Doubt

Filed in When Writing Is Hard by on December 19, 2016 • views: 1046

After interviewing over 100 writers on this site over the last couple of years, I’ve learned one thing:

We all struggle with self-doubt.

This one emotion can destroy a writing career. It makes us question ourselves. It stifles creativity. It makes us hesitate rather than take action toward our goals.

We may all experience self-doubt, but we can’t let it stop us. To help motivate you to get past the ugly feeling, here are 12 writers who’ve appeared on the site who have good advice on the subject.

If nothing else, these quotes will help you realize that for a writer, or any type of creative artist, self-doubt is completely normal. Don’t get hung up on it. Just keep writing.


I’m wasting my time…

lindaI become plagued with self doubt. I fear I’m wasting my time, kidding myself when I say I’m a writer, flogging a dead horse. Oh, those horrible negative voices in my head!

It takes faith to believe you’ll be able to massage it into something better later. You know what saves me? The early drafts of my published novel.

They were really really bad.

I’m glad I kept them because looking back at them is reassuring. I also remind myself I can’t rewrite something if it hasn’t been written.

—Poet and Fiction Writer Linda K. Sienkiewicz


My second guessing dragged on for months…

hopeI write slowly, so the depression and second-guessing dragged out for months.

Yes there was gobs of self-doubt. I stayed tired, but then I stayed sick, too. But I never think I might not finish. I’ve never had that thought.

—”Funds for Writers” Founder and Mystery Writer C. Hope Clark


The devil inside us…

victoriaSelf doubts are normal.

We all have the devil inside us that wants us to fail, but I tend not to listen.

—Romance Writer Victoria Pinder


Who would want to publish my stuff?

pattyThinking about wanting to have a publishable book sometimes made me question what I was writing.

Who would want to publish this?

That question ran through my mind on the days when the worst doubts came up. Trying to write something that fit into the box I’d created of “publishable” sometimes had me self-editing everything I wrote.

I fought against this by submitting the individual stories to journals, to see if they would be accepted for publication. Happily, nearly all the stories were eventually accepted and later published. This gave me the confidence to keep going.

—Pushcart Prize Nominee Patty Somlo


Self doubt destroys my focus…

jamieI’m not clinically depressed per say, but I have times when the self-doubt is so rampant I have a hard time focusing on my work.

I worry a lot about how I’ll make a living as a writer. I love it, but so far it’s only made me enough money for a nice dinner.

I worry that people won’t like the book I’m currently working on because the themes aren’t deep enough or the characters not well developed. It’s crippling, this fear of failure, which is odd considering I don’t have much to fail from.

I try to remind myself that things will work out.

I often play this game of “What’s the worst that can happen?” Answers: No one will read my book; people will read my book but hate it; people will compare this book to the last one and be disappointed; I’ll never make a dime writing.

And then I look at those answers and think, if that’s the worst that can happen then I’m going pretty good!

Fear of failure can be so crippling, but if we understand that failure is just another obstacle we have to get past then it’s easier to set it aside and continue working on story.

—Award-Winning Author Jamie Jo Hoang


Time does heal…

terryThe rejection is tough. And self-doubt creeps in for sure.

As long as you don’t dwell on it too much, time does heal. I was blessed with an editor that believed in me. She kept me going.

Meditation and yoga are also a big help to me. I’ve read some great self-help books and use affirmations regularly. (Key to Yourself by Venice Bloodworth is one of my favorites).

—Children’s Book Writer Terry John Barto


Self doubt is a killer!

jcThe self-doubt is a killer.

My husband and publishing partner just pitched me a great idea for a non-fiction book about yoga. I’ve been teaching yoga for almost thirteen years, so I’m surprised it took me this long to think about it.

I jumped on the idea. I had a title! I started planning the outline. I have a wonderful friend, Stacey Graham, who’s an author and agent. I excitedly asked her advice on planning and development. I was on fire!

Two or three hours later, after working spring clean-up for another friend’s art gallery, I was a mess. The great chapter titles I’d been thinking of disappeared from my brain. Who was I to write a yoga book? Did I really have anything to say? Was it really THAT good of an idea?

I spent the evening moping and down on myself. At dinner, my husband pitched the idea to our sons, and I swear they should be agents or editors because they started asking me about the target audience, my intended message, and how was planning on framing voice.

Whew! I realized I had an answer for all of their concerns, AND my answers were solid. With a little help from my family, I talked myself off the ledge….

—Thriller Writer J. C. Lynn


Playing the comparison game…

carmielThe self-doubt came when close friends started to get great agents and to publish with big presses long before I was ready, and I started playing the comparison game.

At that point, there was the tinge of wanting to be published for its own sake, or to feel I belonged in the writing world, rather than for the sake of my writing and the work.

Not only did the comparison game get me down, but I then berated myself for playing it.

I took developing contentedness with my writing life very seriously. It has expanded and continued with my meditation practice. I have been practicing Transcendental Meditation for about nine months—twice a day for twenty minutes. This has helped very directly with anxiety and has helped me cultivate a beautiful, pervasive sense of fulfillment and happiness.

It’s not magic, per se, but it really has altered, in quiet and subtle ways, how I approach the world and how I problem solve.

—Award Winning Literary Fiction Writer Carmiel Banasky


The iron ball chained to my leg…

jenniferI wage a constant battle with self-doubt.

I often think of it as an iron ball chained to my leg, slowing me down. It makes everything more difficult. Promotion is harder, bouncing back from rejection is harder. I wonder what the writing life would be like without it?

I may never know firsthand. I just keep dragging that ball and chain onward, come what may.

—USA Today Bestselling Author Jennifer Bernard


What if I can’t do this?

lindsayAs a new author, I’ve struggled with rejection and self-doubt. I’ve struggled with the “what ifs” every writer faces:

1. What if no one ever reads my work?
2. What if no one likes my work?
3. What if I can’t do this?

I’ve had more rejections than acceptances. I’ve struggled to find my voice, my place in a sea of writers.

Even after the contract is signed and your published book becomes a reality, there’s the “nobody” syndrome authors face—it’s hard to get your work out there as a new author, and it’s easy to feel like a nobody in a crowd of famous authors.

I’ve watched my sales plummet, I’ve felt like the dream of being an author was an illusion.

Nonetheless, I keep writing. I keep writing partially because I can’t imagine doing anything else. These characters come into my mind and they haunt me. They beg for their stories to be told.

Even when I feel like no one will read their stories, I feel like I can’t stop writing them.

—Romance Writer Lindsay Detwiler


What are you going to do, quit?

donnaOne of the things I’ll struggle with on occasion is the inevitable discouragement and self-doubt that seems to plague every writer at every stage of their career.

My husband, who’s been a professional artist for over 20 years, is great at helping me with this. He knows when to listen and commiserate, when to offer encouragement, and when to give me the figurative kick in the rear.

If I ever get stuck emotionally, he’ll ask, “So what are you going to do, quit?” And of course the answer is always no. So I may as well get over myself and get back to work.

—Freelance Editor and Fantasy Writer Donna Cook


Don’t let doubts rule the day.

mindyMy grandma used to say, “Never let self-doubt drive your car. It rides in the back seat.”

Meaning, you’ll always have doubts. Just don’t let them rule the day. Put them in the back of your mind, not the forefront.

—Award-Winning Novelist Mindy Halleck

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