I read this blog post by Juliet Marillier (one of my favorite writers when it comes to romance and love), and it inspired me to follow up on an old post of mine.
Writing Self-Esteem. We all suffer from highs and lows, and not even the writes who are multi-published, have quit their day job years ago, and have won lots of awards are exempt from fluctuating self-esteem.
So, after watching my self-doubts jump all over the chart (Fig. 1), I decided to sift apart the various sources. What makes the Self-doubt Goblin surface?
It’s hard not to find your self-esteem plummeting when you read something so beautiful, so well-written, and so satisfying that you want to crawl under the porch and die. Yes. I blame the following writers for my Envy-Induced-Self-Doubt:
- Ursula K. Le Guin
- Sherwood Smith
- George R. R. Martin
–Oh wait! I’m just listing my favorite authors. Whenever the goblin in my chest heart, “You can never write this well”, I try to remind myself that:
- All writers started somewhere. These people have been writing longer than me. They have experience to guide their pens.
- No one can write the story I’m writing. Even if they took the same plot and characters, it would not be the same story as mine.
- If I keep wasting my time feeling crappy about myself, that almost-finished-draft on my hard drive is never gonna get finished.
Whether I like it or not, my identity gets wrapped up in my work (no matter what that work may be — from kitchen-assembly to dog-training). When someone dislikes the choices I made in my creations, I feel that this somehow reflects on my identity.
Me: What do you mean this sentence is too flowery?
Self-Doubt Goblin: The fact that she dislikes your sentence means she dislikes you. You suck as much as that sentence does. You’ll never be a writer.
Beta Reader: Yeah, there were too many adverbs. And I’m not sure comparing death to grasshoppers really works.
Self-Doubt Goblin: Your metaphors suck, your syntax sucks, and YOU SUCK.
Me: Ack. Self-esteem — dropping! Can’t. Breathe. Call 9-1-1.
Clearly, the only solution here is to jump off the roof remind myself that my work is not me. Yes, it is connected to my identity. Yes, it is an expression of my identity. But, it’s writing is really hard. More importantly, it’s really easy to eff up. And, maybe even more important than that, I have to make mistakes in writing if I want to learn to write better.
So, singed ego aside, criticisms are often only reflections on how much I still have to learn — not how much I suck.
IMPATIENCE is a real killer for me. I want to be finished with all my novel now. Not tomorrow, not next year. Now. And that means, I get LAZY because I don’t want to revise my novel for the forty-fifth time — even if it needs it. I want to be finished now and I don’t want to keep working my booty off.
Fortunately, I’m pretty good at kicking my laziness to the curb (there’s a reason I finished my MSc nine months early).
Unfortunately, I’m total crap at kicking my impatience to the curb. All I can do is tell myself this:
Sooz, if you try to query this novel before it’s ready, you’ll ruin all chances of making it. You can’t re-query an agent for the same novel, and do you really want to burn your bridges before you’ve even begun. NO. Anyways, what’s a few more weeks in the grand scheme of things?
The #1 self-esteem killer is FEAR. Fear of wasting time, fear of never getting an agent, fear of never finishing my novel, fear of rejection, fear of criticism, fear of over-writing, fear of under-writing, fear of letting others down, fear of __(fill in the blank)__.
You get the picture, and I’m pretty certain you can relate on some level. We’re all scared of things. The key is to not let the fear feed our goblins because trust me, those goblins will gorge on your fears.
Self-Doubt Goblin: It’s safer not to even try. Why take all that risk when you could just do nothing and avoid it all?
Me: That is very sound advice, Goblin.
Self-Doubt Goblin: So put down the pen, step away from the paper, and go do nothing for a while.
Me: Okay. That Xbox 360 sure looks — hey, wait! I can’t achieve my dreams if I put the pen down. And I want to achieve my dreams, so **** you, Inner Goblin.
Oh my, this post turned out much longer than I’d intended. All the same, I hope it’s something other writers can identify with — and non-writers too. I know I’ve had self-doubt in all aspects of my life, and one of these (or all four) was the source.
How do you cope with self-doubt? Do you have the same dramatic fluctuations I do? Or are you more level (I hope for your sake that you’re more level)?