One of the biggest obstacles to any creative project is self-doubt—the relentless, persistent, overwhelming belief that we can’t do it.
Because we’re too stupid. Because someone told us we weren’t good enough or imaginative enough or smart enough or talented enough. Because someone said we’ll never make it. Because we’re amateurs. Because we’re frauds. Because we’re fools.
OK, so what if you are a fool?
Award-winning writer Renate Stendhal, Ph.D, told Joan Gelfand in her encouraging, practical book You Can Be a Winning Writer: The 4 C’s Approach of Successful Authors – Craft, Commitment, Community, and Confidence, “I have to be like a child in a sandbox, instead of being so serious about every word a so perfectionist. I suggest: Dare to be a fool—write an idiotic sentence and let it be. Look at it—then look deeper. Is there another sentence there? I give myself permission to be an idiot.”
Gelfand also includes the powerful words of author David Gaughran in You Can Be a Winning Writer: “Everything can be fixed in the second draft…except for a blank page. Give yourself the freedom to get the bones of your story down on the first pass. You can worry about putting flesh on those bones later. Because once you have that first draft done, nothing can stop you.”
If you’re still having a hard time with getting started, try tricking yourself into writing. As Gelfand advises, “Tricks are fine. Whatever gets you to the page.” Some writers set timers for 10, 15 or 20 minutes.
Similarly, what can help is to write regularly. Depending on your specific schedule and demands, try to write every day. Because when you do something daily, it usually becomes less intimidating. However, when we wait to do something, we build it up in our minds. It grows and mutates and becomes unwieldy. A kitten becomes a lion.
It also can help to surround your space with inspiring, supportive words. Here’s another great quote to write on a Post-It note and plaster everywhere. It comes from Lawrence Block: “One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
Here’s a funny one from Anne Lamott, which Gelfand features in the book: “I used to not be able to write if there was a dirty dish in the sink. Now I can write if there is a dead body.” (Humor is always helpful!)
Some days, you simply need to release your self-doubt. That is, write about it.
Write about your fears, doubts and discomfort. Write about what’s on your mind and the feelings fluttering inside your heart. Give yourself 10 to 20 minutes (depending on how much time you can spare) to let your frustrations out—without judging or criticizing or minimizing those frustrations. Write about the various what-ifs: What if nothing comes out? What if I embarrass myself? What if my fears are confirmed, that I’m a terrible writer and this is a terrible story? What if I fail miserably? Acknowledge this. Honor it. Then set another timer and get to work.
What you have to say is important. Your voice is important. Sometimes, maybe many times, you forget this. And you feel like you don’t deserve to tell your story (or your character’s story).
After all, who do you think you are?
But you do. You deserve to take up space on the page. You deserve to express yourself in whatever shape or form feels right to you. Imagine if the people who wrote the books you love, the stories you treasure, the words that help you feel less alone, thought this way? And likely they did, and maybe they still do.
Self-doubt touches us all. But thankfully these bloggers, writers, and authors didn’t think this way and don’t let it stop them.
I know self-doubt can be crippling and awful. But the key is to keep showing up, whether that’s sitting down at your desk or jotting down ideas and observations in your notebook as you’re waiting in line. Keep writing. If possible, do it daily.