Self-doubt can cripple creativity. As Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Which is true because our own insecurities can stop us from making and producing and inventing. They can convince us that we’re not good enough to pick up a pen or paintbrush. And we stop before we ever start.
Often we assume the answer is to eliminate our self-doubt. But what’s more helpful is to learn to dance with it, to sit alongside it. Because even the best and brightest and most successful of creators—think your favorite authors or actors or artists—live with self-doubt. Because self-doubt rarely disappears. (Yes, it might diminish but it doesn’t evaporate.) It shows up any time anyone takes on a new project. It shows up any time we’re stretching our wings.
But we don’t have to wait until our self-doubt subsides. We can create with self-doubt present. Below are some ideas to channel your self-doubt into your creativity.
- Give your self-doubt-related thoughts and fears to a character in your short story or novel. Maybe this person isn’t afraid of failing at their writing, but they’re afraid of failing as a mom or doctor or person, and these deep-seated insecurities affect their actions—and maybe connect them on a profound level to another character.
- Describe your self-doubt in different ways. What does it look like? What does it smell like? What does it taste and sound like?
- Draw your self-doubt. Maybe you draw your self-doubt as a wild animal or a silly cartoon character. Maybe you draw your self-doubt as a fog, or as a field of weeds. If your self-doubt were tangible or a separate entity, what would it be? What does it feel like?
- Spend a few minutes making signs that tell your self-doubt to sit this one out—like “Do Not Disturb” or “Creativity Crossing.” Doing a silly activity like this helps you loosen up, and take your self-doubt less seriously. Plus, it helps to build momentum because you’re moving and using your imagination.
- Draw yourself and your self-doubt as separate people on a park bench. Jot down what each person wants the other to know. For instance, you might explore questions like: Where does this self-doubt stem from? What is it trying to tell me? What do I want my self-doubt to know?
- Use your self-doubt as a challenge. Write down all the things your self-doubt says to you. All the things it says you can’t create. All the reasons why you can’t create it. Then write down one or two or three steps you can take to create whatever it is you genuinely want to create. If your self-doubt says you’re a terrible writer, you might take a writing class; write 1,000 words every day; hire a writing coach. Of course your self-doubt might say things like “you’ll never have a bestselling novel, so why try?” And that might be true: Because there are many reasons books become best-sellers, which are out of your control. So focus on things that genuinely are within your control. You can control learning and sharpening your craft. You can control how much, how long and how hard you work on something.
Self-doubt can paralyze our creativity. It can stop us from working. But it doesn’t have to. Self-doubt doesn’t have to kill your creativity. Consider taking small steps. Consider how you and your self-doubt can co-exist—and create. Consider how you can channel your self-doubt into your creativity, and your creativity into your self-doubt.