Conquering self-doubt

Having written and published one novel to a measure of success, I feel at least partially qualified to give some advice on the matter. I’ve decided to put together a series of writing tips over the next while, which I can maybe collate into an essay somewhere down the line.

First off, I want to talk about the struggle that exists in writing a novel to its completion.

Short stories are relatively easy to get done, because they’re, well, short. They don’t require the same commitment of time and energy as a novel. Here is one of the chief hindrances I have encountered in writing longer works:

Self-doubt.

This one is the worst. It’s the little voice that tells you you’re not good enough. However, it’s possible that the voice isn’t lying. Who can tell? I mean, we’ve all watched American Idol and giggled at so many deluded souls who think they can sing. In fact, those people look like they are desperately in need of a healthy dose of self-doubt, to bring them back to earth.

Well, logically these kind of people must exist in the world of writing, too. So, how do you figure out if you are one of them? The answer is, you won’t until you write. Self-doubt has no place in your mind during the writing process. It is a killer that is out to make you think the worst of your ability before you’ve even had a chance to test it.

I really wish I could recapture the feeling I had when I was writing short stories for English homework in high school. Although I would never have said to anyone, I thought I was brilliant at it. And that made the writing process sheer pleasure. Now that I’m older and wiser, I know different. When I’m reading the works of others, I have an analytical eye. One author will be a master of the metaphor; another will have a command of humour that makes me green with envy. And all it does it highlight my shortcomings.

The most helpful thing I’ve done to combat this, purely by coincidence, is to read the works of other small-press authors. My keen eye notices a certain sloppiness that you won’t find with the big presses: some bad grammar and dumb typing errors, for the most part. But the thing is, regardless of those shortcomings, I’ve actually enjoyed the books. At some time in the past, each of these authors decided they had a tale worth telling, and they’ve seen it through to the finish. And if I’m able to enjoy these slightly tarnished stories, and to consider them worthy of seeing the light of day, what’s stopping me from looking upon my own work in the same positive way? Nothing!

So, give the old self-doubt monster the satisfaction he craves by admitting to him that you know you’re not the next Stephen King. But if you understand that’s this is not a good enough reason to stop writing, then you won’t stop. Be like a kid: quit trying to achieve perfection and have fun.

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