Throughout my writing journey I’ve had to fistfight with self-doubt. Harsh reviews or agent rejections fueled stagnant writing periods and kept me from getting words on the page. Self-doubt needed to go.
Knocking out my apprehension started with this inspiring kick-butt quote.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller
When I read that quote in two different articles this week, I took it as a sign to keep my chin up and continue to pursue my writing goals.
One way my self-doubt surfaced was in negative thinking. “That agent will never choose my work. She’s in New York and so many talented authors send her manuscripts, I shouldn’t even submit.” Or, “I’m not sure why I entered that contest. I’ll never win. It was probably a waste of time and money.”
Christina Katz, in her book, The Writer’s Workout, suggests that we reframe negative statements and reveal the truth.
“The truth about _____________ is ______________.”
My negative-turned-positive example (by using the agent sentence three paragraphs above), is — “The truth about agents is that they build their businesses on finding new authors. If I want to be a professional writer, I have to wade through rejections and keep submitting my work.”
Reframing negative statements made sense to me. Positive messages were my new modus operandi.
I made it through the first round, conquering negativity, but still had a lingering self-doubt to defeat. Reading The Right to Write by Julia Cameron, in the chapter titled, “Valuing our Experience”, I found a break.
She suggested, “We (creatives) must be small enough, humble enough to always be a beginner, an observer.” But, then she adds, “…we must stay big enough to recognize that any individual criticism, any negative feedback, accurate or not, must be seen in light of the bigger picture: we have actually made something and we plan to make many — and perhaps better—things more.”
Small, yet big. That’s a tough balance, how do I do it? Ms. Cameron said we achieve this balance by developing a “creative routine”. She says the routine ensures we value our experience by “paying active witness to ourselves and our world.” Her routine is writing three pages long-hand each day. She calls them her Morning Pages.
Also, at the end of her chapter, to help the reader understand this experience, Ms. Cameron suggests listing fifty things you are proud of, everything from small to large.
I thought it would be silly, but I went ahead and listed the numbers down my page and started to think and write.
As I sped through the first twenty, then slowed for the next ten, I felt a shift of my attitude. The list was valuable. When was the last time you cataloged the things that made you swell with pride? Powerful stuff. I almost caught myself patting my own back. Yeah and I did that too – number twenty-five, made chicken parm from scratch. I am good.
I’m not sure I’ve knocked out self-doubt, but I’ve definitely got it on the ropes. And with it on the ropes, I’ve felt empowered to be brave and daring in my writing. Making it richer by searching for the raw emotions that made me swell with pride, or feel desperate, or madly in love, or madly in hate, and bring that to the page. No more perfect women and polite plots.
To misquote Helen Keller –
“Make your writing daring or nothing.”
Have you found successful strategies to conquer self-doubt? In the comments, let us know what’s worked for you.
Kristi Rhodes is the Treasurer for the RWF Chapter of RWA. She writes romance and women’s fiction, both set in tropical climates. She moved to the Northeast from Florida more than ten years ago. Tropical writing keeps her toes in the sand when there’s snow on the ground. You can reach her at her website, on Twitter or on Pinterest