Self-Doubt - Why It Stifles Success

I’m rubbish; I’ll never be a writer.’  Not if you don’t do something about it.

We’ve all had these negative thoughts, thinking we’re simply not good enough to reach the glorious echelons of the Literati. Most writers have suffered this at some point and it usually manifests when fear of rejection overrides logic because it’s easy to doubt your own abilities when comparing themselves to others and thereby decline their own talent in the process.

When you begin to doubt everything that you write, it becomes a problem.

So you’ve written your novel, or your short story or article, but you're not going to send it to an agent/publisher/magazine because you think it's not quite good enough, despite the time and effort you’ve put into it, regardless of how good or bad it might actually be. You’ll spend another week or so editing, and still it won’t be good enough. You ask yourself: Is it any good? Who will want to read it? Will anyone be interested in what I have to say?

Let’s be realistic: not everything you write will be a masterpiece, nor will it be terrible, but it’s very important to understand this idea. Writers suffer from tunnel vision when it comes to their work, their talents and their limitations. They spend too much time wondering what others might think about their work rather than concentrating on the quality of their writing. It’s the fear that it’s simply not good enough, not up to standard, but it’s a perceived standard which is so elevated that it’s simply unattainable and it allows doubt to creep in to starve any ambition.

Where does self-doubt come from?

Psychologists believe self-doubt is borne from our childhood, usually from parents, teachers and peers telling kids that they aren’t good enough, they’ll amount to nothing. Eventually the child will start to believe it, causing them to doubt their abilities. These doubts are then carried through to adulthood. Most of our cognitive development and reasoning about our abilities is laid down through childhood.

In adulthood, rejection will cause self-doubt and continual rejections can shake any writer’s resolve. Praise from others quickly builds resolve, but all it takes is one rejection and that resolve crumbles and all that positivity is gone. Regardless of talent, writers can quickly lose confidence in their abilities after a series of rejections.

Second only to rejection is criticism. The key to handling criticism and rejection is to turn them into something positive. If you don’t then you end up holding yourself back, with little room to develop as a writer.

Self-doubt is a coping mechanism for fear of rejection and criticism. It’s a self-perpetuating syndrome of ‘it’s not good enough; it will be rejected, so why bother?’

If you don’t bother, then you won’t know how good a writer you are. Ignore the negative sting of criticism because critique is an important writing process in understanding your level of skill, your writing limitations and the need for development in weak areas such as grammar and spelling.

Another part of the problem is that sometimes we aspire too much. We want to the new Stephen King, Dean Koontz or Lee Child, but what we need to understand that we won’t ever be anything like them, because we’re not them. What we achieve is only through what we do, as writers, but predictably, when our work doesn’t measure up to famous authors, we become disappointed in ourselves and we start to doubt our abilities.

Always remember that each writer has a unique voice and style, each is different. Don’t compare your work to others, because your style will be vastly different. Aspire to be like others, but not to be them.

Overcoming self-doubt

The most damaging thing about self-doubt is that it makes you irrational about your abilities. This can cause a loss of writing opportunities because you’re afraid to send anything out into the big bad world, you’ll never let go. You need to take control of your approach to writing otherwise you’ll never be published.

Success only comes if you pursue it. Positivity is the key to that success. Sometimes positivity can be hard to foster, but through either your success or lack of it, positivity helps the mind focus and keeps that determination in place.

So how do writers find positivity and banish self-doubt? The most important thing is to understand that you are as capable as any other writer. If you believe in yourself then your ability will help you create your own success.

• Find a support system – That could be friends, family or teachers. Find people who can offer constructive feedback rather than pure negative criticism, people who will help bolster confidence in your work.

• Join online forums or a writers group where you can showcase your work and receive the benefit of knowledge, experience and encouragement from others.

• If you can afford to, sign up for writing courses or perhaps take on a creative writing degree.

• Look out for writing events in your area. Share your work with others and gain inspiration and ideas from them.

• List your goals, and what you need in order to achieve those goals. Don’t focus on personal failings or rejections, but concentrate on positivity, relish even the smallest success. This will build your confidence and help you recover quickly from setbacks.

• Take on board constructive criticism. As a writer, you need it. We all fear having our writing flaws exposed, but that’s how we learn. Criticism is a building block to becoming a better writer, so embrace it.

• None of us are perfect – no writer or work of fiction is.

Positive Reinforcement

Not in its true sense, but it’s a way of rewarding yourself for positive behaviour.

For instance, not sending out your work for fear of criticism and rejection or not being good as JK Rowling et al = negative reinforcement.

Posting your novel/short story or article, regardless = positive reinforcement. It may come back rejected, but you don’t let self-doubt stifle your creativity. Instead, you get back to work, improve your story, novel or article and send it out again. By doing this you gain a stronger sense of commitment to your work, and with it you’ll also find satisfaction and improvement and you give yourself positive reinforcement.

The more work you send out, the better the understanding you gain from feedback. It helps you develop your skills, improve your writing and gain experience.

Most of all enjoy the whole writing process. You don’t have to be great all of the time because in reality, you can’t. Confidence breeds assurance, so keep sending, keep learning, keep developing and become a better writer.

Next time:  Excuses why we don't write


  1. Talking sense as always, AJ. Good stuff. Looking forward to the 'excuses' post - that's something we all do.

  2. Cheers Col. Excuses...I have years worth!


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