Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Self-Doubt, A Writer's Constant Companion

Okay, let me tell it like it is … just this once.

If you’re like me you might have stumbled into writing. You always loved the power of story, but never actually imagined you would one day have a published novel. You toyed with story lines, even wrote them down. None of them were superb, or ever completed. Then one day a story so real, so unshakable, infiltrated your existence and you just had to write it down. You labored, you toiled, you backspaced and typed line upon line over again. And finally you typed the last word on the manuscript and sat back with a satisfied puff of breath.

You started submitting the manuscript to publishers. And when the redirection letters started pouring in, you demanded perseverance and perkiness of yourself.

But doubt knocked on your door.

You prayed. Oh how you prayed, that God would do with your story what He willed (but reminded Him that it would sure be nice if He would allow you to get published along the way). You may have even gotten so discouraged and busy with other of life’s pressing matters that you let God know He would have to “drop a publisher in your lap” if He wanted the story to go anywhere, because you didn’t have time to keep shopping it. But all that time, stories still percolated in the back of your mind. You just didn’t have the self-esteem to think they were any good. After all, your first story never got accepted.

Perhaps this was all just a waste of time.

Ten years and innumerable edits later, a publisher nearly literally dropped into your lap, and the story was picked up by a small publishing house. You had actually given up on them even replying to you, since it had been so many months from the time you submitted to them. But the day came when you opened your email and there was a message with your book’s title in the subject line and a return address that stopped your heart. Cringing you opened the missive, expecting yet another rejec— er— redirection.


You gasped as you read the acceptance email letter. You wiped away tears and read the letter again. You printed it out and put it under your pillow so you could pull it out at all hours of the night and read it again whenever the muse struck – which was every ten minutes. (Okay, so maybe that is a slight exaggeration. Slight.)

And you happily signed that first contract without so much as a flicker of a concern, because you knew God had orchestrated this acceptance-from-the-slush-pile as surely as you knew you loved your firstborn.

The small publisher offered no advance, but that was okay with you because you were about to be published! (And you knew the realities about writers mostly being poor and all that jazz. Sigh.)

Up to this point you’ve made no money on your writing. In fact, you are in the red as far as income vs. expenditures go. (Writing conferences, writing books, writing programs, writing groups – all have fees associated with them.) You look at your bills. You look at the amount of time it takes to write. Your doubts begin to rise. Is this really what you should be doing? Is this really where God wants you spending so much time?

You remind yourself that a prominent writer once asked you a question. “Why would God give you such a burning desire to write, if He didn’t want you to do something with it?” You push your doubts aside, remind God that you need a little money now and then (even though you are pretty sure He already knows this), and press on.

A year into your publishing contract, you submit a second story and expect it to be months before you hear back from the publisher on this one, too. But, amazingly, it is less than a week before you get an acceptance. You are pleased, but you still struggle with doubt. You’ve gotten a couple 3 star reviews. You sigh. You still aren’t sure if you are a really good writer. You still wonder if this is really where God wants you to be.

About a year later, you get accepted by an agent. The agent tells you that you are a better writer than another writer he knows who has over 50 books out. You say thank you. You are so excited to work with him.

All this affirmation….

And still you have doubts. You sit down in front of the one hundred thousand words that need to be edited, and you despair that you will ever make a story out of them. Then you despair that if you do ever make a story of them, someone out there still isn’t going to like it very much. (You know this is inevitable, but you still think about it. You still hope to make the story good enough that you might avoid passive impressions.)

And I say to you, if you are like me, welcome to the world of writing. You are an artist. You will always doubt yourself. And there would be something wrong with you if you didn’t. Doubt is good. It makes you think things through. Makes you work hard to be the best you can be. Makes you reaffirm time and again that yes, this is where you ought to be. What you ought to be doing.

Get over it. Press on. Write that next word. Sentence. Paragraph. Story.

Pray. Give it to God. Ask Him to use it. Do your best. Pray some more.

Then write on….

Okay, I’m done preaching to myself now. Back to writing.

What about you? Are you like me?
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  1. Why yes I am. Well, except the published thing. Shoot! I suppose that is a pretty big one. :D

  2. Sounds like me, Lynette. Yea, except for the being published part.

    Good job capturing what it feels like to be a writer!

  3. Sigh. Oh yes. Sounds like me (without the "being published" part). I reached the point where the self-doubt was crippling me and my writing. Thank God for re-affirming friends and a terrific conference experience!

  4. A mirror image of every writer out there! Yes, a constant companion, indeed, but one that does push us to be better.

    Great post!

  5. Is it even possible to *be* an artist without doubt? Makes me think of the Orson Scott Card quote I used in a recent Wordplay article:

    "Writers have to simultaneously believe the following two things:

    "1. The story I am now working on is the greatest work of genius ever written in English.

    "2. The story I am now working on is worthless drivel."

    Great post, Lynnette! Thanks for reminding us we're all in the same boat - and it's *not* sinking!

  6. Thank the Lord I'm not alone!

    No matter how many wonderful reviews I receive on Goodreads or book review blogs, there's still that thought in the forefront of my mind that I'm wasting my time. Maybe God only wanted me to write the one book. Maybe it was just a fluke. Why waste my time trying to see if I can do it again? This is a daily battle for me... heck, it's a minute by minute battle for me. So far, I've let it grab hold and take root. I haven't written anything in over a month (even though I'm 90 pages into something new).

    I plan on using this post to help me push on through the doubt. Thanks for taking the time to share your truth and help those of us who struggle as well!

  7. Did you peek into my mind before you wrote this? Okay, so I'm not published yet, and my story is a little different, but I've imagined going down that road and know I will still experience doubt as I continue traveling. It spurs me to hang on to God all the harder, because it's only in Him that I can find true satisfaction.

  8. I've got a knot in the current story and I'm procrastinating by reading through blogs and posting. Still, I'm picking at the knot in the back of my mind, working it and working it, almost on a subconscious level. The self-doubt never goes away but neither does the story. What else can you do but write it down?

  9. Doubt is my middle name! Thanks for these encouraging words.

  10. WOW! Up to the part about getting an agent, this was EXACTLY my story. I'm asking myself if I wrote this post myself? *scratches head* ;)

    Self-doubt creeps in when I'm least expecting it. I agree that it's part of the package when trying to create. Writing is deeply personal and it's like we're putting a piece of ourselves out there. Thanks for the post!

  11. I'm glad to hear there are so many others of you out there who feel the same way.

    I was a little doubtful about posting this! :D

    Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

  12. Well said, Lynnette! I was just thinking about this today as I was going at my current novel. I was banging my head against the keyboard and wondering what my character was doing, wondering if it was really in character and what if it didn't work, what if this, what if that...

    But as you said, questioning yourself helps you grow. Sometimes you have to question yourself to examine things from all angles. I've found that sometimes I have to write myself into a box to find the way out of it.

    Also, having other people you trust read through your work also helps you find the spots that need extra work or might not make much sense. (And I thank God for my wonderful friends/family who trudge through my many early drafts!)

  13. Yes, doubt seems to always lurk around the corner when you work in the creative field. I guess we all need affirmation in the form of success every once in a while.It reminds us that we're not just one of the those American Idol auditioners who "think" they're good when they're really not.

  14. Perfectly put, Lynnette! I (and many others) know just how you feel! And you're probably not the only one to cling to that first acceptence letter :D Just what I needed to hear before this weekend's writing conference. So nervous about pitching to agents!

  15. Ah yes, Self doubt... that's my bosom buddy. I'm hanging in there. Thanks for the blog entry; everything helps on this long writing journey. :)

  16. Laura, I so agree! I LOVE my critique group!

    Alex, so true and honestly, I think the very fact that we have self-doubt validates us as writers who want to give it our best. If we thought we were "all that" we wouldn't have any doubt.

    Joanne, I hope the conference is a huge step forward in your writing career! You go, girl!

    Steve, yes, every little bit of encouragement helps along the long road to publication and beyond!