Writers are often self-critical and full of self-doubt. We demand the very best from ourselves. But sometimes, we can be too hard on ourselves and fall victim to a common mental health issue.
If you call yourself an “aspiring” writer, or continuously question your abilities, your worth, your words, you might be victim of self-doubt or imposter syndrome.
But if this sounds like you, then please don’t worry.
You are exactly the same as every person who has ever thought about writing a book.
Even established and successfully published authors hear the voice of self-doubt in the back of their mind.
What is that voice?
A bit of self-doubt is normal in most things we do.
It makes us demand the best from ourselves as we strive for excellence. But when it gets too much and we can’t quiet our negative thoughts, it’s a sign that imposter syndrome is taking over.
There’s no need to call a doctor.
This is a common phenomenon that affects many people. And writers are particularly susceptible because we are so driven and eager to achieve our goal.
Something else that compounds this issue is when you compare yourself to someone else.
People will say “here comes the next J.K Rowling,” or ask if you’re going to be the next Dan Brown.
In their own way, they are encouraging you. But in doing so, they are measuring you against someone well-known and super successful. And if you measure yourself against anyone other than yourself, you may unintentionally invite feelings of not being good enough.
Self-doubt or imposter syndrome causes us to question our abilities.
We struggle to see our qualities, and we talk ourselves out of following through with our goals.
This is normal. It’s not very nice, but it’s more common than you think.
Self doubt and how do you recognise it?
Self-doubt can hit us at any time.
Most people suffer self-doubt before they begin writing. This is truly sad because it stops them from ever putting pen to paper.
Some will start writing and get a chapter or two into their book. But alas, self-doubt makes the ink run dry and they walk away.
Then there are the truly unfortunate ones. Those who write their novel, but never take it any further.
They believe they would be wasting an editor’s time, or that it’s not worth asking someone to beta read it. There could be multiple reasons preventing them from taking the next step. And that MS never sees a reader’s eye.
This is more than self-doubt. This is imposter syndrome and it stops countless projects in their tracks.
Don’t be ashamed
Throughout my life, I had never felt the need to write, but when I was thirty-seven, I felt my stress levels climbing and I began to hurt.
I needed a way to manage myself. For reasons I still don’t fully understand, I remember feeling compelled to write.
One night, around midnight, I got out of bed, turned on the laptop, and made a word document called “A story.”
I would love to say that this was the moment I knew I was a writer, but it would be a lie.
Instead, I got to the end of my second sentence, paused, then laughed out loud. I stood, walked away from the machine and shook my head at myself. I even said to myself, “Go to bed you fool.”
After a few more minutes of marvelling at my stupidity, I went back to bed. And when I woke, my first thought was one of embarrassment.
“What was I thinking?”
However, an interesting thing happened. I felt relief from simply writing two sentences, and that took the edge off my pain.
Then, at the end of the week, I tried again and managed to get the outline of chapter one onto a page.
But I didn’t feel like a writer.
Not once during the first draft, editing phase, or after publishing, did I feel like a writer. And I still don’t.
Even as I write this article, I question myself and feel like I don’t belong.
After all, who am I to give advice?
Some people (myself included) need to be told that what they are writing is worth reading.
If you require validation, look for someone who can be open, honest and impartial.
I wrote around eight chapters in secret. It wasn’t a secret in the literal sense, I was just keeping my writing to myself.
But when I got to this point, I felt the need to tell someone. And that person was my little sister.
I sent her my first chapter and waited for feedback. And that was a long and cringe-worthy day.
But, despite the obvious bias, she was thrilled by my words.
She was so encouraging that I began to believe in myself a little more.
Thanks to her, I began to trust my words and powered on to the next chapter. Then the next chapter. And before I knew it, I was holding a complete first draft.
Dealing with imposter syndrome
There is no silver bullet for you to get past this, but acknowledging it is a great start.
Below are three ways to push through this phenomenon and help you learn to trust yourself.
The way I got through it was to keep writing. I pushed on with my WIP and luckily, avoided the never-ending spiral of writing and editing.
Outline each chapter and bullet point where you want that chapter to take you.
Then, let the words do the rest of your work for you. However, you must avoid trying to perfect each sentence and every words.
Just get the story down on paper. You can tidy it up in the self-editing phase.
Write a short story
If you doubt your ability to write a full-length novel, try your hand at a short story.
This will give you some practice in opening and closing a story arc. And because it’s shorter, you will be able to manage the story, the characters, and yourself much better.
You’ll be amazed how many novels begin as short stories.
The act of writing a complete narrative will build your confidence. Then, you can add to parts of the story or give more to each character.
Before you know it, you’ll be increasing your wordcount without realising it.
Write an article
A great way to exercise your writing skills is by writing articles. It will help temper that feeling of not being good enough.
Writing an article begins the same way as a short story or novel.
Having the overall idea laid out with bullet points will guide you and keep you on track.
Then, write what you know under each point. When you think you have finished, let it rest for a week or two, then, revisit it and do some self-editing.
By writing short stories or articles, you will learn to write a beginning, middle and end to a story or topic. You will also learn how to expand in some areas or refine others.
And in doing so, you will also learn a bit about yourself as a writer.
After you’ve written a few times, you will also notice a voice emerging. That is your author’s voice which will be very noticeable to your readers.
This is the fun part and hopefully you will begin to believe in yourself.
Shake off those nagging doubts. Acknowledge the possibility of imposter syndrome. Then, write your story.
Also, stop saying “aspiring writer” and call yourself what you are. Believe in yourself.
If you write, you are a writer.
If you have experienced self-doubt or its ugly big brother, please share your coping techniques in the comments below.