Do you ever find yourself doubting your abilities as a writer?
Do you feel alone in your struggles with self-doubt?
You’re not alone.
You’re actually in good company—really good company!
Many of the world’s finest creative minds wrestled with self-doubt:
- Stephen King admitted, “I’m afraid of failing at whatever story I’m writing – that it won’t come up for me, or that I won’t be able to finish it.”
- Poet and novelist Charles Bukowski said, “Bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones have self-doubt.”
- Sylvia Plath, Pulitzer-prize-winning poet, novelist, and short story writer, summed it up perfectly: “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
Self-doubt is an equal-opportunity affliction, and it seems to go hand in hand with the creative process.
In other words, it’s not just an issue for writers…
One would assume most popular, iconic public figures possess consummate self-confidence; however, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy, some of the most beloved and successful presidents in American history, grappled with self-doubt.
Leonardo DaVinci, one of the most celebrated artists in human history, struggled with self-doubt while creating the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. He also battled procrastination and self-esteem issues.
David Bowie, popular singer, songwriter, and actor, once told a reporter he felt “utterly inadequate” in his early career. He went on to win 45 prestigious awards in music, film, and video.
Good company, indeed!
The Psychology Behind Self-Doubt
Self-doubt is a belief that you’re not good enough, that you aren’t capable or worthy of success, love, or fulfillment.
The worst part?
Self-doubt can be shifty, showing up in varied, subtle ways.
Often, it manifests as negative self-talk, as recurring feelings of inadequacy:
- “I’m not sure if I can do this”
- “What if something/everything goes wrong”
- “What if I can’t handle the pressure.”
- “What if I fail? Everyone will think I’m a fraud.”
It does to me.
Rather than feeling energized by challenges, self-doubt lowers your self-esteem, reducing your effectiveness, eventually creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.Rather than feeling energized by challenges, self-doubt lowers your self-esteem, reducing your effectiveness, eventually creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Click To Tweet
It manifests in the actions you take (and don’t take).
Dial up enough doubt, and you may begin to sabotage yourself:
- “I’ll deal with this tomorrow” (procrastination).
- “I’m going to need more information, so I’ll spend my time on research” (avoidance).
- “I’ll need to finish this preliminary step first, in order to be ready” (creating obstacles).
If you give in to these thoughts, you’ll begin making excuses. You may begin lowering your effort (consciously and unconsciously), stepping back from your goals, actively sabotaging your chances for growth and success.
For writers, this plays out in many forms:
- the novel you can’t seem to finish,
- the difficult chapter you walk away from,
- the wasted hours spent on social media talking about writing.
These adaptations keep you stuck, so you don’t have to face the consequences of finishing, the consequences of putting yourself out there.
And out there, after all, is where you risk criticism, rejection, hostility– proof that you’re not good enough.
Self-Doubt and Overachieving
Another problematic adaption is overachieving.
Some people respond to self-doubt with a desire to prove themselves—not by doing their best, but by overdoing their best.
If this is your pattern, you’re likely shaking your head right now. You know who you are! 😊
You put yourself at great risk, heaping enormous pressure on yourself—not to be your best—but by having to be the best.
“Good enough” isn’t in your vocabulary.
You’re going to be the best writer, the perfect writer. You’re going to reinvent the genre!
You’ll lose sleep, working well past midnight to perfect your characters, your chapters, your narrative arc. When you encounter a rough spot, you’ll obsess over it, consulting a stack of books for the perfect solution.
The problem is that you’ll never be satisfied. And what does “being the best” mean? You’ll move from project to project, idea to idea, without feeling fulfilled.
You may achieve some wonderful things, but they won’t feel right.
The worst part?
You’ll leave behind scores of unfinished projects, telling yourself one lie after another:
- “It’s just not ready.”
- “It’s not good enough.”
- “I need more time.”
- “I’m really close to finishing.”
Imagine never realizing your potential!
Self-Doubt: What it Means for Success
It’s not all bad news, though.
Like all positive and negative traits, self-doubt exists on a continuum.
Low or moderate levels of self-doubt can be manageable.
And at this level, you’ll even find positives:
Self-doubt, if kept in check, can act as a motivator:
- You may decide to take a class to level up your skills and confidence.
- You may set rigid deadlines to guarantee completion.
- You may take your work to a new level of quality by not settling for the status quo.
Other potential bonuses exist.
Small amounts of self-doubt may increase effort to overcome that doubt.
Perhaps, your lack of confidence reveals something deeper…
Have you heard of the Dunning Kruger Effect?
The Dunning Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias demonstrating that people with low ability tend to overestimate their ability.
Later studies confirmed the bias, and the scientists found something equally surprising:
People with high competence levels tend to underestimate their abilities!
So, if you’re self-aware, someone with dedication and experience, someone who works hard to improve your craft, you may be underestimating your abilities.If you’re self-aware, someone with dedication and experience, someone who works hard to improve your craft, you may be underestimating your abilities. Click To Tweet
It’s something to think about.
Tips for Managing Self-Doubt
Resist Comparing Yourself to Others
There’s no way to accurately compare two people—especially when you’re considering creative fields such as writing. Everyone has a unique story to tell. There’s always room for another voice, another quality perspective.
Focus on Short and Long-term Goals
While you’re pushing yourself to write the next Great American novel, break the process into manageable chunks. Don’t deny yourself the rewards of meeting short term objectives:
- meeting your daily word count,
- finishing a chapter,
- realizing your first draft.
Each step brings you closer to your end goal, demonstrating your ability, proving that you have what it takes, that you had it all along.
Set Achievable Goals
While setting goals, make sure they’re achievable. Don’t expect too much, too fast. Be realistic. Choose your targets carefully, making sure they’re reasonable, attainable.
Remember, each step has the potential to boost your drive and confidence. Set yourself up to win.
Believe in Yourself
Henry Ford said it perfectly:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
Make it Happen
Committing to the any process means no excuses, no alternatives. You don’t quit until the finish line. Finishing means proving that you’re worthy, capable, unstoppable.
Now, it’s your turn.
Share your most effective strategies for overcoming self-doubt.
Join the conversation below.