Common Writer Traits: Self-Doubt

I can’t do it. If I had to guess, those four words (or some variation) have been spoken by every writer sometime in their writing career. I spoke those words just the other day. I’d sent in the first round of edits on my third book and started thinking about the fourth. That ones going to be a tricky one. It’s gone through some minor changes and then one major change. 

The big change occurred when I had gotten 45,000 words written and then I decided that it would be better as the fifth book. I was faced with two choices:

1. Ignore my judgment and make the fourth book work as it was written.

2. Make it the fifth book and write a completely different book as the fourth in my series. 

Now, I know what you’re all probably thinking. “Don’t ignore your instincts Jim.” 

Easier said than done my friends. One of the factors I have to figure into my decision is the deadline of the book. I have to be finished with the novel by the end of August. September I’ll go through and edit it and have it sent off to the publisher early October. That’s all this year. No pressure, right? Now if I was Stephen King and had no other job other than to write then that would be easy. Or if I was James Patterson, I could just write the outline and have another author write it for me. That wasn’t a joke, either. That’s what happens when he coauthors a book. Look it up.

So why am I doubting myself?

If you ask a writer, then you’ll probably get the response “because you’re a writer.” Writers will get that joke. But it really goes deeper than that. When I first started writing my first book I had met the woman that would be my wife. She encouraged me to write and even suggested that I go back to college and study creative writing. The entire reason you’re reading this now is because she was the one that pushed me. She was the one that believed in me. 

Ten years later, I have everything I worked so hard for. I’m a published author with my third book coming out in less than a month, I write for a living at a newspaper, and I even have a part-time gig as an editor/submissions reader for an independent publisher. I should be happy. Except there’s one thing that I don’t have anymore. 

I don’t have the never-ending support my wife would give me when I doubted myself and my writing. To my knowledge, she never read one word I’d written. That didn’t stop her from telling me that I’d become a published author one day. It didn’t stop her from turning off the television and instructing me to go into the office and write. For all she knew my writing was garbage, but that didn’t stop her from believing in her husband. Deanna was the rock that I could steady myself against the waves of self-doubt. Now she’s living her own life a state away and I go home at night to a house filled with regret, guilt, and doubt.

“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough,” said Stephen King in his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not completely alone in this world. I have a network of supportive family and friends to rely on. But when you have that level of support, that I had for nine years, crumble into nothing it can seem almost insurmountable. 

I’m not too sure that I have the answer either. If you are working through a problem similar to mine, there’s one piece of advice I can give you. Don’t go through it alone. Whatever dilemma you’re facing, be it doubting yourself or something else, you don’t have to go through it alone. If you have friends and family that are willing to help you, then seek them out. If you don’t then there are groups and organizations that can help. If you attend a church, talk to your priest/pastor/reverend/etc… If you don’t attend a church, then start attending a church.

On Monday, when I was mildly freaking out about this Book 4 issue, I texted a friend of mine. 

Me: I need a writer’s opinion. Is it really crazy to throw out 40k words for a story when you start thinking of another way to write it?

Friend: Nah. Even if it was, you need to write in your own way. If it’s weird to someone else, so what?

Me: Well that’s true. Thanks for the opinion. It’ll be a madhouse getting it written before my November deadline though haha.

Friend: You can do it.

Once I read that last text, my anxiety vanished. My friend’s four words trumped the four that were floating in my head.

Stephen King is right. Writing is a lonely job. Life, however, is a lonelier job. Having someone who believes in you makes all the difference.

So go and find someone.

2 thoughts on “Common Writer Traits: Self-Doubt

  1. It’s funny bumping into your article today since I have been pondering whether to tell my husband that I do like writing (because it would totally sound ridiculous to him for me to say that) for some time now. But since you said that a never-ending support is invaluable, I think I am going to tell my husband. Thanks!

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