Chronicling The Craft is a series where I share my experience with working on my YA fantasy novel THE KEEPER’S CURSE, which is now in its third draft. These articles alternate between a) progress updates and fun “TKC-related” content, and b) revising / editing tips. Today’s post is the tips-oriented post to celebrate 60% completion of Draft #3.
No writer (or anyone pursuing their dreams) is immune to the monsters of doubt. At any time during our process, we might lose faith in our story, our characters, even our own abilities. And when we do, the effects can cripple us, sometimes to the point of giving up.
It’s a tough subject to broach. I’ve hit the wall a few times myself, but I’ve rarely written about it. But I should write about it. In fact, all writers should. Not only does it make us feel less alone in our struggles, but it allows us to find or share ways of managing any doubts or anxieties we have about our craft.
For today’s Chronicle, I’ll share one of my recent struggles with doubt while editing my WIP. I’ll also reveal my personal method for dealing with those fears, and how some of my writing friends manage theirs. Perhaps some of these tips might work for you. Or, maybe you already have your own ways of bouncing back. The point is to encourage and motivate one another to keep doing this crazy thing we love called writing. I hope this post will accomplish that for you.
My Recent Struggles with Writer’s Doubt
I typically have an upbeat attitude about writing. If you’ve read past blog posts or follow me on Twitter, you might know I share my optimism in different ways: humor, fun animated GIFs, statements of gratitude, or sheer childlike squee-ing. (Hey, I can’t help myself sometimes!) When I express that joy or pride, though, by no means am I trying to sugarcoat the writing process. There are days – or stretches of days – when I feel anything but positive about writing.
Here’s an example: After a productive weekend with Draft #3, I felt confident about how the manuscript was shaping up. That changed the following evening, when I was using Microsoft’s Speak function to read back the latest completed chapter, and found a paragraph that wasn’t written to my satisfaction. I edited it, but still wasn’t happy with it. Even worse, I continued reading and got discouraged with the entire scene, then the entire chapter. Which mushroomed into thoughts like these:
- “What if my characters aren’t believable enough?”
- “What if my world-building isn’t solid enough?”
- “What if the entire story is CRAP?”
This GIF of Stitch illustrates how I felt when I turned off my laptop that night.
If I’ve learned anything about writer’s doubt, though, it’s that a) it’s temporary, and b) we have the power to make it only temporary. As soon as I acknowledged how I was feeling, I planned how to “fight back” against those doubts with tried-and-true methods that work for me, and acted on those plans the next evening. Those methods worked wonders for my confidence.
There’s no way to avoid anxiety over writing, unfortunately. It happens to all of us, and it will happen again, no matter how hard we try. But what we can do in response is recognize the feeling and, instead of dwelling on it, triumph over it in ways that work for us individually. Also, it’s important that we, the writing community, talk about facing our fears with our craft – not to scare other writers away, but to remind each other that we’re not alone. Because the less alone we feel in our struggles, the more inspired we’ll be to keep pushing forward.
One Writer’s Method (a.k.a. My Tips) for Overcoming Writer’s Doubt
The following tips illustrate how I deal with writer’s doubt. Some of these may not work for you, and that’s OK. Every writer’s way of managing their doubts is as unique as their writing process. However, if you haven’t created your own approach yet or are looking for new techniques, these might be good starting points.
Tip #1: Take a Night Off to Engage in Hobbies or Other Activities
In my previous Chronicle, I recommended taking one or two days off from writing per week for self-care and other responsibilities, especially if you work a full-time job. The same advice applies when battling writer’s doubt. If you’re frustrated with your WIP, take a night off from it. This will give you a chance to clear your head and focus on regaining your confidence in creative and productive ways.
What kinds of creative or productive activities should you do? Anything speaks to you, really. Journaling, exercising, arts and crafts, working on a different writing project – in other words, any activities or hobbies that you enjoy or help you feel better. During my recent episode with doubt, I used one of my two “off-nights” to do yoga for an hour, color in my mandala book, and read a new entry in Sue Patton Thoele’s The Woman’s Book of Courage. Oddly enough, that entry was titled, “Facing the Dragons of Fear.” Coincidence? I think not. 😉
If you do take a night off from your WIP for confidence-building, please don’t feel guilty about it. You aren’t neglecting your craft or being lazy. Instead, you’re taking care of your inner creative. An “off-night” is an opportunity to calm down (let’s face it – doubt can lead to stress and physical tension!) and let your mind “reset,” or find a new mindset that’s more conducive to the creative flow. Then when you return to the WIP, you can look at it from a fresh perspective (or one that’s not tainted by fear) and with a renewed spirit.
Tip #2: Talk About Your Fears With Other Writers
I may be an introvert, but when something bothers me, I often talk it over with family, friends, or colleagues I trust. Maybe it’s because, as an ISFJ, I get wrapped up in anxiety, worry, and other negative emotions too easily to work through problems logically. But I’ve learned who to turn to for advice or encouragement when it does happen, especially when it comes to writing.
So, when wrestling with writer’s doubt, be honest with yourself and the people around you. If a writing pal asks how your (stagnating) WIP is coming along, tell her the truth. If a craft-related question bothers you and you think one of your critique partners might have an answer, why not send him an email? Maybe even put out an an occasional Tweet or social media status update to acknowledge a standstill in progress or any worries you’re experiencing. You might be surprised by how many followers respond in an inspiring way.
The point is, no writer wants their colleagues to suffer from discouragement. Many will actually go out of their way to offer practical advice or emotional support. Chances are you already know writing pals like this, so don’t be afraid to ask for their guidance or “listening ear.” Be mindful, though, of how often you share your doubts and how you phrase them. A defeatist attitude will likely turn others away, while balancing truth with good judgment will prompt your cheerleaders to root you on every time.
Tip #3: Remind Yourself Why You Love Your WIP
In the spirit of Tip #2, I recently shared my struggles with writer’s doubt with two of my offline friends. One of those friends said this in response: “You just have to keep going and remember why you’re writing that story in the first place.” How right he was.
All writers have their reasons for embarking on a story. Certain characters, setting, genre, type of plot, even the source of inspiration – whatever those reasons may be for you, always remember them. They are your anchors to this project, the “whys” behind the “what.” Many of the details may change (and are meant to change) in order to make the story work, and that’s normal. But that “why,” that anchor, that soul beneath all the words you’ve written, will remain the same.
If you want, make a list of the reasons why you’re working on your WIP. Use the questions below to jumpstart the process, then see what else you think of. When you finish the list, save it to your computer or leave it on or near your writing space. Then it will be within arm’s reach (or a click or two away) the next time you’re frustrated with your WIP, and will remind you of why you’re writing it.
- What inspired this story?
- What were the first ideas or images that came to you as you brainstormed?
- What aspects do you love most the story? What makes it unique?
- What themes or ideas explored in this story are close to your heart?
- How else is this story “the book you’ve always wanted to read”?
Tip #4: Turn to Your Faith
Not everyone practices a religion or alternative spirituality. But for those who do, faith is another wrench in one’s motivational toolbox. It’s not a logic-based tool, like taking workshops, reading books on writing, or asking for practical advice (which are all necessary for improving your craft and building confidence). But sometimes, despite everything we’ve learned, our morale still wavers. One way to push through it is through prayer: asking the higher power you believe in for answers and seeing what messages you receive.
One of the spiritual practices I’ve adopted is reading oracle cards. Every Sunday, I ask the Universe a specific question or for general guidance for the week ahead, then pull three cards at random. I don’t claim to be a psychic or medium… but it’s stunning how accurate my readings have been over time.
Just days before my recent episode with writer’s doubt, one of the cards for that week was the Nine of Gabriel (pictured right), which deals with positive and/or negative extremes in our careers or passion pursuits. I had no idea how its message would manifest until my anxieties about my WIP kicked in. When I read the card again – especially the sentence “Stay determined and move forward” – I almost pinched myself. It was exactly what I needed to hear then, and it spurred me to keep moving forward with my edits.
How you use your faith to battle writer’s doubt will depend on your beliefs or preferred spiritual activities. But as long as you trust in your higher power, just as you would in times of crisis or other circumstances, you’ll get the answers you need.
How Other Writers Deal with Craft-Related Confidence Issues
To show how different our “doubt management processes” can be, I asked some of my writing friends to share their methods or tips on dealing with craft-related doubt or anxiety. Here’s what they said:
“Separate your planning time from your actual writing time, and do it on a regular basis. If you plan your writing in advance, even if it’s as simple as jotting down a few notes about the chapters you’re going to work on that week, you’ll be better able to get into a state of flow while writing. In my experience, it’s the halt in the flow that allows the doubts to creep in. If that does happen, remind yourself that your ‘planning self’ knew what she was doing, and that you can always take up any new issues with her during your next planning session!”
“Whenever I’m worried I’m not good enough, I pick up another book about writing craft, or get some feedback from a respected mentor, and level up my writing skills. Because a pep talk will only temporarily banish the doubt, whereas actually becoming better gets rid of the source of the doubt. I AM good enough!”
“Fake it until you become it. If you take yourself seriously as a writer, other people will take you more seriously. Writing is HARD. It’s extremely personal, even when it doesn’t seem like it, and rejection can really hurt. So it’s important to present yourself as confident in your writing. Everyone doubts themselves, but we all choose to show it or not. Sometimes, confidence is really just a choice, not a feeling.”
“Get off the internet. Get away from everything that’s making you feel doubtful—be it social media, your manuscript, or even your bookshelves. Retreat and regroup. Go for a walk, listen to music, have dinner out with family and/or friends. Do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel good, be it exercise or a social call or a night in with just yourself and your favorite movie or TV show. Twenty-four hours after completely blocking yourself from the sources of your doubt, take a deep breath and say, ‘You know what? I got this.’”
“When I start to doubt my story or writing abilities, I know my ‘confidence tank’ needs to be refilled. Some of the tactics I use to boost my confidence back up include reading inspirational / motivational quotes on writing, listening to encouraging talks from writers I admire, and reading about the backgrounds of my favorite authors before they ‘made it’ in the publishing world to remind myself that all writers struggle. If all else fails, I take a break from writing. Taking a step back allows me to rest and regain perspective, and when I return to my writing it’s almost always with renewed confidence.”
The Best Advice for Dealing with Writer’s Doubt? Keep Writing
As you can see, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” method for overcoming writer’s doubt. But if you look at all the tips presented here, one central idea should stand out:
“The quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult” (Merriam-Webster)
In other words, when writer’s doubt strikes, you must keep writing. It’s tempting to listen to the negative voices in your head, and just as easy to obey them. Nevertheless, perseverance is your greatest weapon against low confidence. How you choose to persevere is up to you, but when you find a way that works, make it part of your strategy for overcoming doubt the next time around. You may need to adjust that strategy from time to time, but what matters more is that you have a plan. You have what it takes to not only write, but to persist in your writing journey.
Additional Links on Wrestling Writing Doubts and Regaining Confidence
Looking for more articles on the topics discussed in this post? Here are some I recommend:
- “A Letter For When You Feel Like a Failure” by Emily Tjaden (This Incandescent Life)
- “How to Accept Your Writing (When You Feel Like the Worst Writer Ever)” by Kaitlin Hillerich (Ink & Quills)
- “How to Keep Writing When Times Are Tough” by Leanne Sowul (DIY MFA)
- “How to Overcome Writing Doubts and Rock Your Novel Style” by Kristen Kieffer (She’s Novel)
- “Self-Doubt, Faith, and Creativity” by Leanne Sowul (The Creativity Perspective)
- “The Things That Keep You Going” by Orly Konig (Writers In The Storm)
When was the last time you were plagued by writer’s doubt? How did you overcome it? Do you have others tips for regaining confidence with your writing projects?
By the way, have you read the first half of the 60% progress report? Click here to read Tuesday’s post, where I also shared more songs from TKC’s novel playlist.