Writers Must Kill Self-Doubt Before Self-Doubt Kills Them

It’s insidious, this thing called doubt.

You’re sitting there, chugging along, doing your little penmonkey dance with the squiggly shapes and silly stories and then, before you know it, a shadow falls over your shoulder. You turn around.

But it’s too late. There’s doubt. A gaunt and sallow thing. It’s starved itself. It’s all howling mouths and empty eyes. The only sustenance it receives is from a novelty beer hat placed upon its fragile eggshell head — except, instead of holding beer, the hat holds the blood-milked hearts of other writers, writers who have fallen to self-doubt’s enervating wails, writers who fell torpid, sung to sleep by sickening lullabies.

Suddenly Old Mister Doubt is jabbering in your ear.

You’re not good enough.

You’ll never make it, you know.

Everyone’s disappointed in you.

Where are your pants? Normal people wear pants.

You really thought you could do it, didn’t you? Silly, silly penmonkey.

And you crumple like an empty Chinese food container beneath a crushing tank tread.

Self-doubt is the enemy of the writer. It is one of many: laziness, fear, ego, porn, Doritos. But it is most certainly one of the worst, if not the worst, in the writer’s rogue gallery of nemeses.

You let self-doubt get a hold of you, it’ll kill your work dead. You’ll stop in the middle of a project, then print the manuscript out for the sole purpose of urinating on its pages before glumly eating them.

You mustn’t be seduced by the callous whispers of the doubting monster at your back. To survive as a writer you must wheel on the beast, your sharpened pen at hand. Then you must spear him to the earth.

Here, then, are some revelations that will help the everyday inkslinger slay the dread creature.

We’re All Part Of The Self-Hatred Quilt

Everybody suffers under the yoke of self-doubt. Everybody. Creatives especially. You really think that Neil Gaiman doesn’t find the gnomes of doubt nattering at his back? Or Stephen King? Or Steven Spielberg? Or Snooki? Self-doubt has the singular power to make you feel very alone indeed, as if you’re the only sad motherfucker in the universe feeling like he’s not worth a damn. It’s bullshit. A ruse.

Admiral Ackbar knows what it is: that shit’s a trap.

You’re not alone. We all get it. The difference is that some writers pull their boots out of the hungry mire and others sink deeper and deeper until they’re caught in an inescapable nest of old Druid bones.

You Get Multiple Go-Rounds On This Carousel

Writers are afforded a gift few others have: the wondertastic, majestariffic, splendiferous do-over.

Self-doubt is handily eradicated when you give yourself permission to write badly. I mean, okay, this isn’t a permanent permission slip: it’s just a day-trip to the Shit Museum, a hall-pass to the Turd Closet, but you have to let yourself karate chop doubt in the neck and step over his twitching body as you step boldly into the breach to write some occasionally awful awfulness.

Because you are also afforded the chance to go back. And fix it. And rewrite it. And fix it some more.

It’s like the writer gets one giant infinite roll of duct tape.

Dude, Seriously, You’re Not Curing Cancer Over Here

Put differently, you’re not exactly saving lives. You’re not pulling children out of burning buildings or shooting Osama bin Laden or curing a global pandemic. You’re a writer. Self-doubt for those other guys is life-threatening. They fuck up, people die. You fuck up, the the ink on your manuscript bleeds from your blubbering tears and you put on a couple pounds from wolfing down three boxes of strawberry Pop-Tarts. (*chew chew chew* ARE YOU THERE GOD ITS ME DIABETES)

Doubt evaporates when you realize that what you’re doing isn’t some epic quest. I’m not saying storytelling isn’t important. It is. Real important. But lives don’t hang in the balance.

Calm down. Take the pressure off.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Put down the Pop-Tarts.

Failure Is The Snake That Bites His Own Tail (And His Tail Tastes Like Shit)

There’s that whole Yoda saying: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to George Lucas endlessly tinkering with Star Wars where he makes Luke step in a squishy pile of Wampa waste, inserts a series of Darth Vader dance scenes, and ensures that the Tauntaun shoots first.”

I have my own version of that, which says:

“Self-doubt leads to failure, and failure in turns leads to self-doubt, and the two tango together, punching you in the butthole again and again until you can no longer defecate productively.”

That’s the horrible thing about self-doubt: it convinces us that our own failure is inevitable, an unavoidable recourse based on our own screaming lack of talent. But failure isn’t inevitable, and in fact failure is created by a fear of failure and by our certain uncertainty we possess about our own ability to succeed. Writers engineer their own failure with such grace and elegance it’s almost impressive.

Remember: failure is not a foregone conclusion.

Piss in the face of that sentiment.

Time And Practice Are Two Of Doubt’s Mightiest Foes

Sometimes self-doubt comes from a real place, a revelation that you’re just not ready. The problem isn’t this revelation but rather how writers react to it. The reaction is: OMG NOT GOOD ENOUGH MUST EJECT OR DIE. What a terribly unproductive reaction. Or, more accurately, over-reaction.

Can you imagine if that was our response to all the things in life? “I tried to bake my first cake and it turned out gluey and unpleasant, so I set fire to my kitchen and walked away as it exploded behind me.”

You can’t do that. That’s insane. You’re not going to be perfect right out of the gate. Time and practice will improve your mojo, and an improved sense of one’s mojo will go a long way toward mitigating doubt.

I mean, this doesn’t happen overnight. “I practiced for a week. WHERE IS MY CONFIDENCE COOKIE?” is not a useful question to ask. We’re talking years upon years of this: but the good news is, it’s not like a switch gets flipped. This is gradual: over time, the light of your increased abilities beats back the shadows of your own doubt. Time and practice are the medicine that heal the anal fistula of your raging insecurity.

I went too far with “anal fistula,” didn’t I?

Clear Your Head Of All Those Boggy Tampons

Sometimes you just need a short term solution. Take a walk. Have some tea. Read a book. Talk to a friend. Go jerk off. Eat a cookie. Run on the elliptical. Pet a dog. Go to the park. Give a sandwich to a homeless guy.

Get perspective. Sometimes doubt is just a tangle of vines and cobwebs and you need to chop through them and go to clear your head. Easy Peasy, George and Weezy.

Turn That Frown Upside Down Until It’s A Curved Blade With Which To Cut Doubt’s Throat, Then Watch That Doubting Asshole Bleed Out On Your Carpets

Turn self-doubt against itself. Don’t let it be a weapon against you: let it be a weapon against itself. Self-doubt can occasionally be clarifying: it might be a red flag that says, “Okay, you know what? Something just ain’t right. Is this the best character arc? Do I need to rejigger these scenes? Am I sure that a rock opera about Anton van Leeuwnhoek, the Father of Microbiology, is really the best move here?”

The key is to let doubt be clarifying rather than muddying. It’s important to know that the doubt isn’t yours to carry. It’s not about you. You needn’t doubt your own abilities but rather some aspect of your current work that feels like it’s not coming together. Here your self-doubt serves as the standard-bearer for those instincts rising up from your gutty-works. Follow your heart.

Thus, self-doubt helps you improve, which in turn helps you defeat self-doubt.

That’s some ninja shit. That’s like, reversing the energy of the attack. You are a goddamn self-doubt killing machine. You take self-doubt and evaginate that sumbitch.

And yes, “evaginate” means to “turn something inside out.” To turn it tubular.

In other words, to turn it into a vagina.

Be honest: it’s shit like this that keeps you coming back to terribleminds.

Validation Comes From Within

In the end, here may be the most important factor: don’t go looking for validation elsewhere. Don’t look for it from friends, loved ones, publishers, editors, agents, mailmen, or cats.

External validation isn’t a bad thing. It just isn’t what you need. Because it matters little that they believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself. Confidence must blossom from within, a corpse-flower redolent with your delightful stink, a stink you find captivating, enlightening, empowering. The confidence you find elsewhere is hollow, a ladder made of brittle twigs. At the end of the day you’ll never be sure if those around you are just wrong — or maybe they’re lying! — or maybe they’re suffering under the depredations of some wretched brain parasite that tricks them into liking mediocre things! — and that just means you’re opening yourself to other forms of doubt.

And doubt needs to go suck a pipe. Doubt needs to take a dirt-nap.

And the way you do that is by finding your own way. By fostering your own confidence.

Because just as doubt is one of the writer’s greatest enemies…

…confidence is one of the writer’s most powerful friends.

Your turn, word-nerds.

How do you defeat the doubt within?

* * *

Want another booze-soaked, profanity-laden shotgun blast of dubious writing advice?


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  • “And yes, “evaginate” means to “turn something inside out.” To turn it tubular.

    In other words, to turn it into a vagina.

    Be honest: it’s shit like this that keeps you coming back to terribleminds.”

    Yes. Yes it is.

    Great post. I had a thing with doubt myself recently. Took a while, but I kept beating it about the head and neck until I figured out the problem was with the fundamental premise of the MS in question. I upended that premise, shook it out, gave it a slap on the arse, and now it’s in much better shape. And the doubt it gone.

    Take that!

  • Booze. Or more particularly a triple shot of Pinnacle Whipped Cream flavored vodka taken in a wine glass. After that I don’t care if my stuff is shit, I can write it. Now granted that may just be getting past a mental block with the idea of alcohol but it works. (Several glasses of either Barefoot Wineries Moscato or Pacific Rim Sweet Riesling also work.)

    Other than that: I read really shitty stuff to remind myself I can do better, I reread things that I enjoy to remind myself of why I write, why storytelling matters.

    Honestly sometimes I just indulge myself in looking at some of the work I am proud of. Self doubt has no reign if I still like it months later.

    This final one is a gamble but sometimes it pays off. I have a small folder of my very worst work (mostly from teen years) and I read that. One of two things happens. About 20% of the time I feel I will never rise to be a truly good writer, and I am doomed. The other 80% though? I have to laugh. Because hey if I have come as far as I have above my old work then fucking masterpieces are in my future.

    And I leave you with this thought I have just had: Learning to write well is like climbing an Everest made of shit. It stinks quite often, everyone calls you mad, and the risk of sinking in or sliding back is always present. But the view from the top makes it all worth it.

    • June 10, 2013 at 12:40 AM // Reply

      I feel the same way, but isn’t it a crutch?

      I’m an anxious, stifled, wordless fool until I get some booze in me. Only then do I feel capable of letting anything out. Without the booze, I feel dried up. Too scared to approach the muse, to let anything out of my head and into the world.

      Which leads to more self-doubt about my abilities as a writer, and in turn more drinking.

  • I am SOOOO with you! I actually just started another blog so that I had somewhere to put that nasty reptilian creature when he climbs out of my head. I cough into that blog, and then the voice goes away, leaving me to return with my writing.

    Writing isn’t about just talent. It’s practice, practice, practice. Revision, time, hard work. All the gritty stuff. And none of that happens if I give up. It’s easy to ignore the nastiness of others (family members) who say I won’t make it. The hard part is dealing with the creepy voices in my own head. That someone with your skill feels the bite of the zombie too, well, that just proves the epidemic is widespread.

    I say kill ‘em all, all them ugly voices. I’ve got garlic around my neck now, a wooden stake on the armrest next to me, and a big baseball bat.

  • Oh, man. This is timely. The past few days, writing has been tougher than usual. This morning, I realized it was because of a couple of really nasty doubts. Damn gremlin things!

    Reading this helped. A lot. Great post, C. Thanks, as always, for writing. And BTFO. ;-)

  • Loving this one today.

    I’m working on the climax of Dissecting Dallas right now (seriously, how can we ever say that word without snickering?) and everything has to now come together, which can sometimes be difficult. Have to make sure you cover all your bases, don’t want to have to do a total rewrite of the last quarter if you miss one integral detail…

    But when I feel like I’m starting to doubt myself, I’ll take a break from writing and re-read the book from the beginning. When I see particular paragraphs or sentences and think, “Wow, I wrote that! Not too shabby!”, that gives me a boost.

  • Along with practice, booze, re-reads and those lovely, lovely distractions, I reach outside of myself to others. I love my test readers to death. Even if I just run a paragraph past them, I usually get feedback that begins with “it’s good”, usually followed by a bit of helpful advice I hadn’t considered.

    More later, but for now, thank you for this post.

  • Drinking works. I also pick up a book by Paolini, Dan Brown, or Steve Alten sometimes and wait for the “Fuck, if this hack got published, I’m a Hugo/Nebula/Nobel candidate” impulse to kick in.

    Or, you know, there’s always the old “strangle a hobo” thing. Never fails to raise the old mood, does it?

  • I spend some quality time with my friend Jack Daniels, and all the crazy inner doubt just melts away.

    Though I might try strangling a hobo next time. Mix it up a little. Thanks, Marko!

  • You saved the most important one for last, I see. Great advice. Validation must come from within. I admit I was ignoring that one. Letting story acceptances buoy me along, instead of believing in what I’m doing. How foolish of me.

  • Don’t I wish I had read this post a month ago.

    My little doubts are usually doused with a shot of rum before writing. That tends to get the fingers working on the keyboard. The larger doubts come from things that are out of my hands. I have a MS in edit right now, so I am basically just sitting on my hands waiting for the chapters to get back to me so I can see what needs to be fixed.

    That part is maddening. Turns out I am a bit of a control freak. Who knew? Oh wait, everyone did.

    The last point really is the best one, Chuck. It really is an internal thing, something that must be ironed out in your head. Too much external validation seeking comes across as a bit… er… desperate… and embarrassing.

    In the end, we really are just facing ourselves.

  • Doubt deserves nothing less than our full attention. Acknowledge his presence, shake his hand and pull him into a flying knee to the eye. Our writing demands protection. We are wasting our time, not to mention our lives by letting Doubt deflate the confidence balloons in our pants (or shirts). Accept Doubt’s Challenge. Play the fucking word fiddle better that his sorry ass. Steal Doubt’s shit after you’re done curb stomping his sorry face on the edge of your dictionary and stuff his facehole with more writing for good measure. XP earned, loot looted, Level Up, motherfucker.

  • Hi Everybody.
    One of the ways I defeat the DoubtWithin, is to come to your blog, Chuck, and imbibe a snifter of your latest insanity.
    I admit I get pretty discouraged sometimes. The house is a mess, the garden’s a mess, all around me is a Dooms Day’s whack of crap. And it’s hard to get people to read my stuff. Let alone not be published. And maybe never.
    But that’s life.
    Then I’ll read a piece I wrote 6 months ago and think Woh… that’s pretty damn good.
    So I think I’ll get off this old comp, go downstairs, chug on the ellipse for 1/2 hr, and get back to my wip> dinosaur sludge that it is ATM
    I have found that my stories start to fizz for me when I find the angle in it that turns me on. And that’s a shot of morphine.
    Or if I have a passionate belief that I turn into a story.
    I always get this little zing when I know I’ve nailed it.
    And besides, if I don’t write it, it’s not going to get written; never going to exist.
    And that would be sad.
    Hasta la vista, amigos… I’m off to go shine my little light : )

  • When doubt comes to me while painting or drawing, I think its also a good strategy to pick up the pace a bit. If you are working on something, and doubt is hanging around, you should remember that its easier to outrun it than confront it in battle.

    Just try to make yourself draw, paint or write (whatever the work at hand is) a little quicker and you can often get so far ahead that you can’t even see doubt anymore. You can always come back to the work you made when doubt is gone and edit the crap out of it.

    Of course you have to be able to run without tripping all over yourself, face-planting and breaking teeth, but that comes with practice and training.

  • I’ve had to deal with “you’re not doing that right” and “you’re not good enough” from a very early age. My mother tried to grind me into dust for daring to resemble my father’s family, and since we were poor, we were an easy target for insecure outsiders.

    The criticism was intended to disable me, but Dad always had my back, and that helped. Did I say I favor his side of the family?

    I treat doubt the same way; when it arrives with its pushiness, I shove back, hard! That’s not to say I don’t sweat a little, I do, but I’ve always made it out the other side intact.

    Plus, you talk dirty to me.

  • At risk of sounding egocentric, thanks for this post. Timely indeed. It’s like you looked inside my head and said, “Whoa there nutjob…let’s figure out a way to cleanse the howlers without the butcher knife. Thanks.”

    Doubt is clever, it waits until I’m wavering on the cusp of indecision and then rushes up to shove me over the edge. And let me say, I’m getting tired of dusting myself off and climbing back up the side of the frigging crater. Next time, shiv in the side of the slithery beast.

    My best method for dealing with the insecurity of doubt is to put it all away. Let it stew until the howlers run out of voice and reason reasserts itself. If that fails I write angry haiku, compose nasty limericks and turn Dr. Seuss stories into tales of horror. It makes me feel better.

    To each their own. Don’t judge.

  • Wow, this was timely.

    I just rewrote a novel, which is both wonderful and awful. On one hand, I am proud I actually did it even though it felt like pulling barbed wire through a hole in my tongue, but on the other hand it’s fed the self doubt. “Remember that last book? You messed up so bad you had to write it ALL OVER AGAIN.”

    I am starting my next novel and just plagued with self doubt. My doubt is extremely sneaky though, and comes in the form of “legitimate” worries. “Man that idea is just like all the other urban fantasy out there. How are you going to even sell that?”

    It wasn’t until I thought of a strange idea outside of my normal stuff that the voice turned around and said, “Yeah, but how do you sell something that weird? And if you do, you’re stuck in that genre forever!”

    I realized that those statements are CRAP, and my self doubt is a sneaky bastard. No matter what I tried to think about, there was always doubt telling me why I would fail. Once I unmasked it for what it really was–my insecurities–it made it a lot easier to simply ignore it.

  • I just bought “250 things . . . .” on the strength of the 1-star comment alone! Did you send in a ringer to complain about your language, sarcasm and utter inability to communicate ideas? I’m feeling like I’ve been had . . .

    Seriously, you win the Internet today. The doubt monkey has been so heavy on my shoulder lately that my posture is screwed up.

  • I know every other writer suffers from this (see above comments), but I always think I should be exempt. Because, you know, I’m speshul. Or something. Thanks for the coping tools.

    My favorite part: you think saying “anal fistula” might be going too far.

  • After reading Terri’s comment, I had to go check out your 1-star. She didn’t rant very much :( Might still be worthy of a T-shirt though. You know, white text on black, with the phrases stacked on top:

    Abusive Statements
    Excessive Swearing
    Arrogant Side-tracking
    Blatant Lack of Sense

    I’d buy it. Just saying.

  • Pretty much my love for you is the only thing keeping me going and The Picard. He’s my confidence slave master. I have to disguise my self confidence or I just think I’m a douchebag…and I don’t want to be a douchebag. Not today.

  • Yep. Needed this sermon. My doubt devil likes to whisper, “Are you kidding me? You flunked out of community college. And look at these other guys. They went to an good school on a Golden Ticket scholarship and had their first critically acclaimed novel written by 22. Anyway, you dysgraphic, nervous slob, you’re older than Sanskrit. BTW. How’s Farting in Church selling?”

    I put Doubt in a headlock and say, “Damn, straight. I ain’t no latte-sippin’, Classics fattened, nancy boy. I write about people who overcome and kick ass. Like me. And to correct you, sir, I flunked out of college twice.” Then I slam his head into the wall a few times. Stunned, it scrambles away, mutter that he’ll be back.

    “You know where to find me, vagsore.” Then I mount my trusty laptop and ride, baby, ride.

    @Kallauner: Does that treatment come in oral form or as a nasal spray?

  • You see, sometimes I pretend all the little doubts are vampires and I’m Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I dust everyone of those suckers. Stake ‘em right in the heart. But sometimes they’re really strong. Or maybe sometimes they’re Angel. Or maybe Spike and then…um…oh yeeeeeeah…heh heh heh…

    Uh…where was I again?

  • I guess I’ve been writing long enough and had enough clients pay me for it that I don’t have the giant existential “oh shit, I can’t write” moments anymore. But we are all subject to the occassional specific “this sucks” crisis.

    It seems at least once in any WIP, there comes a moment when I want to hit Control A Delete, where I’m convinced this whole damn idea was stupid, and I’m not executing right and my characters are wooden and my dialog is flat and and and . . .

    What I usually have to do is just walk away for the day. Then, when I come back in the morning and re-read whatever set me off, I may find something wrong with that particular chunk (or not) but faith in the overall project is restored.

    The thing to remember is that your talent isn’t transitory. If you can write, you can write. It’s like anything else you’re good at — you’ll have days where you are rocking the universe to its foundations with your brilliance and other days where you’re just doing a workmanlike job. And the more of it you do, the better at it you get. But, unless you’ve had a stroke or something, you don’t just forget how.

    So when the doubt monster taps my shoulder these days, I just see him for what he really is. He is the “You’ve had enough for today buddy, it’s time to drink” monster. He is not near as fearsome in that garb.

  • >Am I sure that a rock opera about Anton van Leeuwnhoek, the Father of Microbiology, is >really the best move here?”

    I hereby nominate coming up with the titles of said rock opera and the one-day Tony award winning songs therein as the next micro-fiction challenge.

  • THANKS! I so needed this today. As a former grade-grubber, I struggle with the tendency to rely on external validation. I get a string of good reviews or fan emails and snort them like lines of validation cocaine. Then puffed up on flattery, a single criticism can cut me off at the knees.

    The best part of writing is that feeling where you’re in the zone, grooving on a story that’s just perfect in your mind and feeling it come to life as you get it on paper. None of that has anything to do with what others think. And sure, there comes a time when we have to revise and edit so that the reader sees the story we imagined. But the spark, the chi, has to come from within. And we can’t bring the heat with out tails tucked between our legs.

    Yours in mixed metaphors, Daisy

  • Sometimes I think if I were any good at writing (and editing), it would be easier, that I must inherently suck because it’s hard, that *good* writers don’t struggle, don’t growl in frustration when the words just won’t come.

    My self-doubt dementor enjoys these mind tricks I play on myself. His beer hat overfloweth.

    Loved your line about the brittle ladder of validation. Great writing. Bet you whipped out this blog post without any effort, without any needs for edits. Right? Oh, wait. He Who Must Not Be Named said that, not me.

    Keep it up!

  • ‘Evaginate’ is definitely a word I should use more often.

    One way I’ve personally kicked Doubt’s ass is to remind myself of the work of a mediocre or even just downright terrible author that I’ve read in the past. If they can get a book published and sold, there’s no good reason I can’t.

    I think a new way to brutally torture Doubt to death might be to print out your post above, cut out key pieces of the text and paste them to my wall. The image of that asshole bleeding out on my carpet is worth being reminded of later on. Thanks for that.

  • Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! I have been needing something like this for a while. Lately I’ve been feeling down in the dumps about my work. I draw as well as write, you see, and both practices were starting to get into the negativity zone. I kept feeling like my work was “terrible” or “not going anywhere” or the worse, “My classmates’ work is better than mine.” Reading this gave me a whole new outlook – the only person I need to satisfy is myself. Thank you!

    As for how I tackle self doubt? Sort of what I’m doing right now: turn on some epic music, turn up the volume, grab a glass of Pepsi, and jam out. Life can’t be bad when listening to awesome tunes.

  • I think this post may just have saved my (writing) life today. At least, it stopped me from setting fire to my metaphorical kitchen and walking away while it explodes spectacularly. Also, I have decided that normal people can wear all the pants they want. I’m not down with that shit.

    Apparently, what I do to defeat the doubt vampires is to find posts like this and realise that the doubt vampires are, you know, imaginary.

  • Chuck, we’ve been talking a lot about fear over on Writers In The Storm and this post just begs to be referenced. THANK you! You always manage to hit the nail on the head with grace, humor AND foul language…I love it.

  • Great advice. This is something we all go through and I know it’s a big one for me when the people reading the short stories I’m thinking of publishing, say, ‘hey, these are great’ and other such acolades, but as you say, real validation comes from within. I guesss I”m too scared of deluding myself. Hence we do need the mirror of others views. I do know that I have something valid to offer from my own view of the world, but the skills for making that offering effectively is something I have to learn.

  • Whenever I feel an attack of self doubt coming on I shut my eyes and clear my head and visualise what I can see in the future. It’s about three years ahead of time, a time where I’ve completed three more books and they’re starting to sell rapidly due to the momentum I have built up over the years. Then I start to think about the steps I have to take to reach that goal and by the time I’ve thought about those things, the self doubt has gone.

  • “inkslinger”, “word-nerds”, “evaginate”, “sumbitch”

    You, sir, should go teach English. I’m not kidding, imagine IBM CEO’s surprise when his Korean translator uses “evaginate” or the President’s reaction to Polish students talking about their favourite authors using “inkslingers” instead. Gold.

    Do it, Chuck, DO IT!

    As for doubt, I usually read a variety of books, drink, watch movies, then read something motivational until I accept that I am truly procrastinating. Then I go to a cafe with my laptop but no charger, sit down, and write try to write 2K words before my laptop dies.

  • I just read a post on another blog this morning recommending writers continue to run the literary agent-publisher gauntlet in the almost mystical hope that they will find some level of validation for their work within the inevitable reams of rejections before they take the step to self publish. My mind simply locked up trying to find a polite way of saying, “that’s the most asinine and counterproductively destructive thing I’ve ever heard.”

    You totally summed up my thoughts with your last point about not seeking external validation because it’s ultimately hollow. Bravo! Seeking validation for my work from agents/publishers, who clearly have their own agendas that emphasises saleability above quality, lies somewhere between having explosive diarrhea and losing a testacle in a car accident on the list of things I want to experience in my life. If you can’t find value in yourself, nobody’s going to find it for you, especially a group of people who, in their very nature, want to use you to further their own ends.

  • Anne Lamott reminds us in her book Bird by Bird that it’s OK and even necessary to have shitty first drafts. Just pray you don’t die before you can edit.

    So I remove some of the self doubt by telling myself that first draft is supposed to be rough and crappy.

  • Thank you for linking this post to your 25 things writers should stop doing post.

    Outside validation issue truly resonates with me. I love to write, need to write. The story bubbles out of me even when I try not to think, write or talk about it. It has me in its death grip. But when I sit down to write it the other voice comes in. “your wasting your time.” “your wasting your kids time.” “You are a bad mother spending all this time writing…you should be baking cookies and listening to your sons talk on and on about the aliens they killed while playing halo.” “your a bad wife you should be helping your husband work on his classic car”. Basically any time I spend on someting that is not my husband or children or work…i feel guilty about. There is always something to cook, clean, mend or help with.

    They support my writing but I feel guilty…always worried my son will be the one on the top of the tower with the rifle and scope because I didnt pay enough attention.

    Since reading your post I have started imagining that voice = that self doubt as a 20 something skinny blond bimbo with her roots showing, wearing to big sunglasses, driving her light blue beemer with a license plate that says “Daddy’s Princess” on it, talking on a bejeweld cell phone….and then I imagine a monkey stabing this blonde B!tch with a pen….a bit graphic but hey…

  • My buddy Matt Forbeck said recently that this is exactly the reason for an outline. Take some time to plan, and each new bit needn’t be another opportunity to ask, “Do I really know what I’m doing?” Fact is, you got a map.

  • Glorious addition to the TM site. We all need an extra tip of advice in our notebook (fuel in our tank) or a few extra shells of Doubt-Killer every now and again. We all run low on ammo. Thanks for the post and the down and the down-and-dirties. This is one I’m re-tweeting Chuck…and passing along to my writers group. It’s a beauty.

  • Having just found terribleminds and being pleasantly disturbed by it’s raunchy glorious truths…I wanted to acknowledge how many crazy, beautiful artists are supporting each other here. For years I felt on my own like most creatives do at times, but seeing that so many souls have similar battles makes me glad I landed here. I think their should be an official chuck wendig t-shirt that says something like “when in doubt Chuck it! ” or “Chuck it before it Chucks you”..The 25 list is damn fine wisdom. I think that a healthy dose would keep many a self-doubting soul from literally burning down the kitchen. I’m glad I got lucky and found your site. Thanks for helping me gain some good tools for fighting off the doubt demons. They are still telling me my work is shit but now I think of that as good fertilizer.

  • I book marked this page. If I need a pick me up or to piss off my neighbors with my loud, obnoxious laughter I will know exactly what to do. Thanks for that. I know you don’t need the external validation, but it certainly doesn’t hurt the Pen monkey. Excellent stuff.

  • Man, I needed a bitch-slap wake-up call like this! I just realized I`ve been begging the world for something I should be giving to myself. This makes all the difference! Now, if I could only put it into practise.

    Oh, and this is priceless!:”Self-doubt is the enemy of the writer. It is one of many: laziness, fear, ego, porn, Doritos.”

    Guilty on all counts. Even porn disguised as literary genious.
    And of course, Doritos.

  • Drool. You had me at “Where are your pants?” Love you. Love your style. Needed this kick in the ass after a 43-year old temper tantrum in my bedroom last night (yes, pantless) while trying to write.

    First time here. Will be back as I go through this journey.

  • Ahh what sage and timeless advice. There are no tricks out of this one. I am so well prepared on my current project I have no room to breath. My doubt can not be out manoeuvred, I have to confront or slip away into an infinite dark sea of wank. My plan is to have doubt over for dinner, really get to know it, ask a lot of questions and if it turns out to be a speculative, vapid turd then I’ll know not to listen. But if there’s some genuine concerns then I’ll make it my dark little pet ready to peck the eyes out of a bad idea. Thanks TM.

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