Friday, June 12, 2015

5 Steps to Fighting Off Writer's Insecurity

You are not good enough to be a writer.

You never have been. You never will be.

Everything you write sucks and you can’t do anything about it….Except maybe to give up on writing and find some corner to hide in.

That’s what a very, very loud voice tells me on a regular basis. I call him Wowbagger (you get major nerd points if you understand this reference) and sometimes it’s impossible to get him to stop talking. I imagine him to look something like this:
If you are a writer, you know exactly what I am talking about. We all have a voice inside us that tells us that we’re not worth the eraser crumbs on our desk, that our writing is no good, that we will never make it. A mixture of insecurity and an extremely overactive inner critic, this voice gets very difficult to deal with.

I’ve been toting Wowbagger around for a while and I’ve gotten really sick of him lately. It’s because of him that I haven’t yet sent out any query letters to agents. I finished my book a year ago and, honestly, I could have started querying 8 months ago if I had been able to shake this feeling of not being ready, not being good enough. I have finally decided to shut Wowbagger down and go for it. I tell myself that my book is ready, my proposal is good, and that I am an epic writer. And, what’s more, I actually believe it.

How did I get to this point? And, more importantly, how can you get to this point? Let me show you some steps you can take to get rid of your own Wowbagger. Or, you know, if you’re not crazy enough to name your own insecurity and want to be boring about it, then here are some steps you can take to combat writer's insecurity and deal with your inner critic:
1. Recognize that it’s all up to you. Nobody but yourself can help you get rid of your insecurity. While it does make it worse to have people telling you that your writing sucks, and while it does help to have people telling you that you rock, it’s not up to them to fix this problem. I have tons of people telling me that I’m a good writer: both people that I know and complete strangers. And while it helps a bit, there’s still that part of me that tells me that they’re wrong or delusional. That’s what I had to fix first. If you stop believing that you have what it takes, then there is no way that you can make it out of this. It’s up to you to believe, not only that you are a good writer, but also that you can’t rely on other people to build you up or make you feel good about your craft. Forget support groups or avoiding harsh reviewers. That won’t fix anything because they’re not the problem: You are.

2. Stop comparing yourself to other writers. You will never be like other writers. You are unique. Your style is unique. Comparing yourself to others is always going to set you up for failure. Not because you’re not as good as them, but because you are not like them. One of my favorite quotes is this one by Albert Einstein:
If you judge yourself by your ability to write like somebody else, I can promise you that you will fail. Because you aren’t meant to write like anyone else. You are you, you are a writer, and you are unlike anyone else. You’re the only one of your kind, so embrace that. Don’t look at the other writers, just look forward at where you want to go and run for it.

3. Don’t be so sensitive. Writing is unlike most careers because it takes the very personal practice of penning stories and then holds it up for millions to see. Yes, our stories are personal to us, but if you want to become an author, these stories are no longer sacred. It’s time that we accept that. People will read them. Some will like them. Some will have their lives changed by them. Other will not like them, will laugh at and criticize them. Do not take this personally. When you decided to put your writing out in public, you decided put your heart out there for all to see. However, most people don’t see your heart, they see stories and a professional writer behind them. You may feel like you’re being attacked, but you’re not. You may feel like beating people up (maybe in an elevator?) because it kind of feels personal, but it’s not. If they criticize, you need to suck it up and move on. Just because some don’t like your writing doesn’t mean that you suck. However, remember to:

4. Use your insecurity to your advantage. It can be difficult to think rationally about your writing when you have a voice inside you telling you that you’re awful, I know. But try to focus on listening to what Wowbagger is saying to you. Sometimes he has valid points…if he says your characters are shallow, then go back and see if they are. If so, fix them. But, if you’ve already fixed them several times over, then it’s time to tell Wowbagger to shut up and mind his own business. Sometimes your insecurities can help point out real flaws, so it’s important not to shut that voice down completely. But it is important to be discerning about what is true and what is false. If it’s a vague insecurity, it’s probably not true. If it’s something very specific (and something that you haven’t already attempted to rectify), then it may be worth looking into.

5. Stop expecting your writing to be perfect. Honestly, you can write, rewrite, scream at, edit, cry, and edit some more and you still won’t be happy with parts of your story. That is normal. No artist is truly satisfied with their craft. You’ll never get it to look, or feel, exactly how you imagined, and that’s okay. After a certain point, you just have to let it go. No, stop it! Turn off the Elsa music and listen to me: your writing should be good, not perfect. You work hard to get it to a point where it’s good enough and then you just have to move on. Sometimes it’s hard to know when you’ve hit the ‘just move on’ point (I’m wrote a blog post about that here, if you're interested). You’ll just drag yourself down if you keep trying to strive for Legolas-like perfection. Personally, I’ve always found Legolas’s flawlessness disturbing. There’s something wrong with a guy who can fight orcs while keeping his hair perfect, his clothes clean, and his brow perspiration-free. It’s not natural. Same goes for writers. I have never read a book that couldn’t somehow  be improved…and I would be very surprised, if not disturbed, if I ever do.  

I know it's hard, but you can do this. If you have a voice inside of you telling you that you can't be a writer, then step up to the challenge. Prove it wrong. This is your dream, so get out there and fight for it. In the words of Christopher Robin: Always remember that you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. 

You don't have to feel insecure about your writing. It's your choice. And I hope you choose to believe in yourself, in your writing, in your dreams. Because you are a good you, a good writer, and it's a good dream. 

Do you believe me? If you struggle with writer's insecurity, how are you working to fix it? I'd love to hear how other artists work to fight off their insecurities! 

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  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks Legolas's perfection is not natural, lol :D Yes, you're right, it's all up to you. Managing insecurity is something everyone works on forever. It's normal, and it's okay if you can't control it 24/7, but there comes a time when enough is enough :) I struggle with it myself. It goes and comes in cycles! Excellent article :)

    1. Good point about insecurity being a continuous battle. We need to remember to give ourselves grace when we slip up and have a 'relapse.' =) Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. My favorite high school teacher, the person who encouraged me to pursue creative writing as more than just a hobby, once told me a line that I have never forgotten. "The only writer you should compare yourself to is the writer you were yesterday." I made it in to a sign and hung it in my writing spot. It really helped. Whenever I started hearing that voice saying, 'Your jokes aren't as funny as this famous writer,' or 'Your plot isn't as gripping as other famous writer,' I'd just look at that sign. As soon as I allowed my writing to just sound like me, I felt so much prouder of it.

    1. Wow. Tamara, that is one of the best and most helpful pieces of writing advice I have ever read. I love the idea of making it into a sign. I just wrote it on a sticky note and put it on my wall, but a sign would be much better. =) Thank you so much for sharing.

    2. I really like your idea and the quote from your teacher!

  3. If your inner critic looks like a pencil, keep a pencil sharpener in front of you as a reminder that you can cut it down to size. :D

    1. Lol! You crack me up. Off to buy a cool pencil sharpener as a reminder. =)

    2. I am going to get a sharpener out now and tell my voice to cut it out : )

  4. Very helpful 5 steps and the ensuing comments! Many thanks!

  5. Hi Hannah! I just found your website, and as someone who only recently started considering writing, I love it! I do have a question, though: once I've got an idea going, the words flow just fine, but how do you pinpoint an idea? I'd like to write Christian fiction or fantasy, but an actual topic is proving elusive... Any suggestions you may have would be greatly appreciated!


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