When Self-Doubt Rears Its Ugly Head

I was recently talking to one of the writers I’ve been working with about ways to stay motivated when your confidence gets shaky and you’re hit over the head with writer’s block, and since this is such a common problem, I thought I would share some of my thoughts here as well. I wish I had better news about writer’s block and a lack of confidence, but after experiencing A LOT of it myself, I have come to the conclusion that they are one and the same: I always find, in my case anyway, that writer’s block is 100% due to a lack of confidence. And that’s something that I have never gotten over, and every writer I know struggles with it too. One of the things that helps me push past it is giving myself permission to write badly. My rough drafts are awful, but I know that I can go back and revise them as much as I need to to make them better. I get these great ideas in my mind, but they never turn out on the page the way I had envisioned them. And that’s okay. I’ve been in a lot of workshops over the years, especially in my MFA program, where I was in workshops with other students who I felt were light years ahead of me (some with many published books under their belts), and one thing I discovered there was that we were all going through the same process and struggling with the same things: brainstorming, drafting, revising, etc. That helped me gain a lot of confidence because I saw that I wasn’t alone in my doubts — we all had them. And awful as it is, I think those doubts are actually really useful (when we use them in the right way, rather than letting them stop us from writing) because they are what push us to become better writers, to revise and polish and get the stories just right, though I realize that’s not always very comforting when we’re in the midst of those doubts.

So here are the main tips, techniques, and resources that help me stay motivated when self-doubt rears its ugly head:

— My workshop group. It’s my number one motivator. We workshop a member’s story online once a week and chat throughout the week about writing. We’re also there to help each other with writing goals and crises, whether one of us needs feedback or just a place to vent about a writing problem. If you don’t have a writing group already, that might be a huge help to you. I met my writing group through school, but I know a lot of writers who have had great luck finding writing groups through SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators http://www.scbwi.org/). SCBWI is a great resource, and it only costs about 80 dollars a year to join. I’m a member and have had great luck with it. SCBWI is how I met my agent: she was at a local conference I attended. One of the perks to SCBWI is also that once you join, they can connect you with other writers and find you an online workshop group. I’ve also heard good things about the site Scribophile (http://www.scribophile.com/) but don’t have any experience with it myself, so I can’t vouch for it.

–Another thing I do to stay motivated, especially when I’m stuck, is read books by my favorite authors, and I often reread my favorite children’s books to put me in the mood to write. There’s something inspiring to me about reading these books — they always make me want to write. I also watch You Tube videos of my favorite writers talking about writing. Some of my favorite writers are Donna Jo Napoli, Kate DiCamillo, and MT Anderson — they have some great videos on You Tube that are really inspirational to watch. (I also spend A LOT of time procrastinating writing by doing this…)

— The books on writing I find the most inspirational are Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Stephen King’s On Writing. I’ve also heard good things about Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way but haven’t actually done that one, though I own the book (it includes a three month plan to get you back on track writing).

— Gail Carson Levine has an EXCELLENT blog on writing: http://gailcarsonlevine.blogspot.com/ with lots of practical and inspirational advice. My friend Michelle Barker also recently started a blog on writing, and I started reading it because she was my friend, and now I just read it every week because it is so GOOD. http://michellebarker.ca/blog/ I find it hugely inspirational, and she touches on writing problems so many of us face.

–Another strategy is to do some writing exercises or work on a project that you have no intention of showing anyone ever. I just finished a rough draft of a novel that started out that way. It was just supposed to be my fun project that I never showed anyone, but then I really started liking it, and now I’m beginning revisions on it. But the good thing about this is that there is no pressure to write well because it is just for YOU. You can just have fun with it and explore the story and characters and let the story go in whichever directions it wants to.

–Exercise. You don’t have to get sweaty, though I do think there is nothing like a run for clearing your head. But even going for a short walk is enough to bring me back to the page with fresh eyes and fresh confidence.

I hope some of that is helpful. The truth is, I don’t know if it’s ever possible to be completely confident as a writer, but there are strategies to not let the doubt freeze you completely. Good luck. And now after typing this, I realize it’s time for me to go do some of these things too. 🙂




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