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A Crisis of Self-Confidence

Here’s a rather entertaining question that Jeff asked back in November, but one the deals with an all-too-common evergreen creative ailment:

Recently I was infected with what I call “the demon of self-doubt” and I couldn’t work on my WIP for a month. A snarky comment in my crit group triggered an intense period of insecurity for me, and destructive thoughts like “I’m just not a good enough writer” and “my voice is too bland” kept buzzing around my brain. These thoughts kept looping back and getting stronger, like a bad song you can’t get out of you head (for example, “skyrockets in flight, whoosh, afternoon delight”).

I wrote in my journal, and I started some new material, but every time I went back to my WIP, I threw my hands up in air and wailed, “I’m not worthy!” I wouldn’t call this a writer’s block; it was instead a crisis of confidence.

Eventually I forced myself to forge ahead and I got over it. Now I’m writing my WIP again, but what can I do to avoid this if it happens in the future? Does this happen to other writers, or is it just me and my incredibly thin skin? What if the demon of self doubt is right, and in the end, I’m not a good writer and all my effort and hard work will be for nothing? Or is that the chance we all take?

I like this question, and I’m pretty sure a lot of blog readers will recognize themselves in these sentences. Motivation and confidence come and go. The more motivated and confident you feel, the more you write. But if a seed is planted and you just can’t seem to get past a comment or a rejection (see my post on dealing with rejection), you tend to just cycle down and down and the doubt perpetuates even more doubt.

As Jeff says in his question, creativity is a chance we all take. So is any endeavor. You do it and then hope for the best. If the best doesn’t happen, you keep on doing it until you either reach your goal or you stop altogether. For some, rejection or creative block is cause enough to throw in the towel, but the urge to create and be creative will almost always remain.

I don’t have the magic words to help a writer out of a tough creative situation. Not only have I stopped writing because of time constraints, but I have my share of moments where I feel doubt and a lack of self-confidence. The thing I can say, though, is that those people who persevere through the “demon of self-doubt,” as Jeff calls it, are the only ones who will reach their creative goals. It’s a very obvious thought, but one that bears repeating.

Also, sometimes the pressure of wanting to achieve a goal a certain way or having an unrealistic time frame is enough to kill your creative spark. A lot of writers get despondent because an agent or publication hasn’t happened yet. They write and they write and they write and yet the professional world doesn’t seem to be recognizing (or appreciating) their efforts.

Well, life rarely happens exactly as you plan. And publishing is unpredictable, not to mention slow (like, really slow). If you set your hopes on getting published or agented in a certain way, you will tend to give yourself not only a crisis of self-confidence, but an unrealistic goal, since most outsiders are not intimately familiar with the industry and how it works and what it really takes to succeed.

So if you’re feeling really frustrated, about to give up, or that your work is not good enough, turn down the heat on chasing publication. What you write when you’re blocked and angry and doubtful will most likely not be a joy for others to read, and you’ll just be getting yourself further away from your goals instead of closer when you are in that mindset.

Sometimes frustration is a good thing — it spurns you on when you might otherwise quit — but I find that the specific frustration of not being published yet has one common cure: stop submitting and start nursing the writing.

Maybe it’s not time to submit yet. Maybe your writing craft or a particular project isn’t ready to go out into the world yet. Maybe you’ve recently gone on submission with something and it’s better to stop and see what you learned from that round instead of jumping right back into the ring.

Whatever the case, self-doubt tends to grow under scrutiny. If this is what you’re experiencing, it’s totally okay to pull back, rehabilitate your confidence and your creativity, and try to get published down the line. Publishers and agents will always be there (even in the digital future). Your excitement, positivity, and motivation may not, especially if you force it to take too many blows when it’s still growing. So focus on your inner creative assets when you’re feeling down, and the rest will come in time.



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