How to Curb Self-Doubt for Good

Donna Baier Stein

Once you’ve decided to write a novel, self-doubt is bound to rear its ugly head.

But not to worry!

Lots of authors before you have wrestled with their inner critics … and there are great new psychological techniques available to help you silence your own self doubt long enough to get words on the page!

The thing is, self-doubt is part of being a writer. In fact, the more self-doubt you have, the better writer you may be!

I saw a recent post on Facebook from a contemporary novelist named Richard Bausch:

When you feel the heavy doubt about your talent, you are experiencing your talent — the ear that allows you to hear that what you're working on is falling short. People who have no ear and no talent don't have those doubts.

So what you have to do is start learning how to tame that doubt. Just long enough for you to get some first draft pages written. As someone else I know once said, “Getting any words down on the page is a heck of a lot better than getting none.”

You’ll have plenty of time later to make those words better.

The trick at the beginning is to give yourself permission to fail. To write a lousy first draft. Ernest Hemingway, in fact, said, all first drafts are *&%^. I think we can give ourselves as much permission to write a lousy first draft as he did, don’t you?

So if you’re doubting your ability to write a novel, that may just be pretty good news.

It means you’re human. And like most other writers out there, including the big time successful ones.

Being aware of your fear means those doubts can be overcome.

Here are a few things I've found to restore a novelist's flagging confidence:

  1. Stay true to your voice. Write the way that inner voice in your head sounds.
  2. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. You don’t have to churn out the next "Great American Novel" to be a successful novelist.
  3. Don't retreat under your desk. Get out into the world when you are stricken by doubt. Connect with other writers and learn how universal the feelings you’re experiencing really are.

And that’s just a few of the restoratives that can buoy your spirit as a novelist. So, if you’ve got the heebie jeebies, and think, No way could I really write a book, hear the voice and then move on. Keep writing. Write more.

One wonderful writer I know in New Jersey, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, calls self-doubt the crow on the shoulder.

The crow for me is this creature who has in it the voice of every person who has ever been negative to you in your life — and that’s a lot of people for most of us … All those voices are caught in the beak of the crow. And if you listen to it, because the crow whispers in your ear all the time, and if you let it, it will stop you. So I really believe you have to knock the crow away.

Novelist Gail Godwin called it the Watcher at the Gate, “a restraining critic who lived inside me and sapped the juice from green inspirations.”

Give your fears a name. Write them a letter if you have to, telling them that despite their existence, you intend to write this book!

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Published: January 20, 2016

6 Responses to “How to Curb Self-Doubt for Good”

  1. This has been a great help for me to read. I didn't realize how much self doubt and fear I would be going through. But with some of the set backs I've experienced lately I've questioned whether or not I have what it takes. It has been hard. I am making sure to do all that is recommended to start out right. It is inspiring to read all the great success stories. When I read about people getting that first big job it is exciting. When I get paid my first time I'll probably fall out.

    Sarah F

  2. I'm glad this was helpful to read,Sarah. Always remember that self doubt is part of the creative process. It means you care about making your writing as good as it can be!

    Guest (Donna)

  3. Donna I love this message! It is such a powerful force that keeps many of us from achieving our dreams. Even after lots of reading and therapy myself the inner critic still creeps in! At this time of life I am better able to ignore and shoo away- but still it shows up! But I also work to stay connected to the absolute joy I feel when in the moment of writing or thinking about an idea. I feel I am most alive when I am in the writing zone! Thanks for this article !!

    Guest (Sharon)

  4. Oh boy, Donna, I call the "Crow" my Itty Bitty Committee (of negativity)! I've written two books over the years, and also started a third (Non-fiction). I got the go ahead for a rewrite on the first two fiction works, got scared and promptly registered for college. Seven years later, I graduated with a masters, got licensed in my field, and specialized in my field with another credential!

    My new mantra: I am enough and am worthy to have what I want! I have time now to write every day. Thanks!


  5. Sharon, I understand! I don't know many writers who are able to banish the inner critic for good. I think it was Joseph Conrad who said that our writing is neither as bad nor as good as we think it is on any particular day. As you note, being aware of that inner critic is a step in the right direction though.

    Guest (Donna)

  6. Ninarose, I like that "Itty Bitty Committee" phrase :) May you honor your desire to use the time you have now to write!

    Guest (Donna)

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