Sometimes being a writer is the easiest thing in the world. Those times when ideas are clear and words seem to flow without effort—when the act of writing itself is pure joy—those times are awesome and they make you glad you chose to be a writer.
Other times being a writer is the hardest thing in the world. Those times when ideas are few and far between and what ideas you do have are woefully inadequate. Those times when the words refuse to come, when it appears you are suffering from a mental block that stifles your creativity.
While I can’t comment on which one of these scenarios you most find yourself in, it’s a pretty sure bet that all writers find themselves in the latter scenario more times than they care to mention.
But what causes this negative downturn? How do things go from good to bad seemingly overnight without any logical cause?
The answer to that lies in writer’s doubt.
Writer’s doubt is like a malaise that creeps into you from time to time. The longer it lasts, the worse it can end up feeling.
It can make you want to give up being a writer, regardless of how much success you’ve had.
As bad as it can feel at the time, writer’s doubt is one of those things that you will likely always have to deal with. Like fear, which also never goes away.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to ease the pain and stave the doubt away for as long as possible. Before we look at those things, first let’s familiarize ourselves with writers doubt and some of its main symptoms.
Writer’s Doubt: The Symptoms
This crisis of confidence can manifest itself in different ways, and often does with individual writers.
You may experience this doubt and uncertainty differently to someone else.
In general though, writer’s doubt can be diagnosed by checking for the following symptoms:
- An unwillingness to sit down and write. The biggest symptom. When things are going good you should be chomping at the bit to get writing, not doing all you can to avoid getting your butt in the chair.
- Lack of faith in abilities. Lots of self-doubt, uncertainty of your identity as a writer, feeling like you are useless and/or worthless.
- Easily distracted. You spend more time on social media and other things when you should be writing.
- The words stop flowing. The act of writing feels hard and it seems like your muse or subconscious has abandoned you.
Those are some of the main symptoms of writer’s doubt. I’m sure you’ve suffered from them all at one time or another.
Most writer’s I know suffer from these things all too often. The danger is that it can be all too easy to quit being a writer if these symptoms aren’t kept in check and handled properly.
So how do you deal with it?
Before we answer that question, we first have to look at the root causes of writer’s doubt. Sometimes, by tackling the root causes, we can stop writers doubt from manifesting in the first place.
Writer’s Doubt: The Main Causes
Let’s work from the outside in:
- Not looking after yourself properly. It’s surprising how much of an effect your lifestyle can have on your ability to write. If you suffer constantly from lack of sleep, bad diet, no physical exercise or undue stress in your life, it’s a safe bet that you will struggle when it comes to writing. Human beings are machines and the machine must be kept in good working order, otherwise it will start to malfunction.
- Lacking in discipline. You need discipline to write every day. Writing every day or on a regular basis makes writing easier, it helps with the word flow. Writing only when you feel like it or irregularly will prevent you from settling into a groove. Because you don’t write enough you aren’t giving yourself a chance and there is too much time for doubt to set in.
- Giving in to negativity. You listen to your inner-critic and believe everything that it says about you being useless, a bad writer etc.
- Fear. Fear of failure, failure of looking stupid, fear of being wrong…the list goes on.
- Not being clear on your message, subject, story etc.
Those are some of the main causes of writers doubt. Now lets look at how we can fix them.
Writer’s Doubt: Dealing With The Causes
1. Not looking after yourself properly.
Often when we look for the cause of writers doubt we forget to examine our lifestyles, which can have a great affect on our ability to write.
As stated, human beings are machines and the machine must be kept in good working order so we can remain productive and inspired.
Things like lack of sleep, bad diet, lack of physical exercise, too much stress and a host of other bad habits can knock your system and make it difficult to get any writing done.
Don’t underestimate the potential affect that these habits can have on you as a writer. All of the above can make it difficult for you to focus and concentrate properly, not to mention make you feel like shit about yourself.
Writing is difficult enough without making it harder.
In my experience, simply getting more sleep or exercise can have a dramatic effect on you when it comes to being more productive as a writer.
When your mind and body aren’t functioning at full capacity, this is fertile ground for all the other stuff to push its way in, like fear, doubt, lack of confidence, procrastination etc.
These things make you feel worse, which cause you to fall deeper into bad habits, which in turn further affects your ability to write and thus the fear, doubt etc. increases.
Can you see what a vicious cycle this can become?
Just by better maintaining the machine, by giving your mind and body what it needs, you can potentially lessen or stamp out almost all of the main causes of writers doubt in one fell swoop.
So before you look anywhere else for the source of your writers doubt, check your lifestyle first.
2. Lacking in discipline.
Discipline is essential to writing success.
No matter how much you want to be a writer, if you can’t get your butt in the chair to write, you will never make it.
Everyone knows the benefits of having a writing routine. A routine will keep you churning out the words, keep you productive.
Keeping productive will keep most of your writer’s doubt at bay.
Writer’s doubt is more likely to strike when you sit around for long periods not writing.
If you go days without writing anything, you’ve nothing else to do but doubt yourself. The very fact that you aren’t writing will be used as a justification for your writers doubt.
Your lack of productivity and discipline will be held up in your mind as a shining example of how useless you are and how you are not a real writer.
Writing is hard enough without creating fertile ground for doubt to grow by not writing.
Get disciplined and don’t give writers doubt a chance to take hold.
3. Giving in to negativity.
Everyone suffers from bouts of negativity.
It’s how you deal with that negativity that really matters.
If things aren’t going well for you or if you are struggling with writing, it can be easy to start listening to that inner voice that delights in telling us how useless we are and how we should just give up everything.
This often happens when we make mistakes of some kind. We come down on ourselves hard.
You can’t let negativity stop you from reaching your goals.
Acknowledge it is there, feel bad for a while, but make sure you get back in the saddle as soon as possible.
Continuing to write and be productive is the best way to counter negativity in all its forms.
Give the inner-critic the biggest fuck you possible by carrying on regardless.
4. Giving in to fear.
Much has been written on the subject of fear. At the end of the day, fear boils down to one thing: being afraid to move forward.
If you want to be a writer you can’t be afraid to move forward and take risks.
The second you allow fear to dictate your actions, writers doubt won’t be far behind.
If you fear failure or success or ridicule or criticism or whatever other kind of fear you can think off, the inner-critic will see this as a validation of your doubt.
Very quickly you will begin to question yourself as a writer and worst case scenario, you will quit.
We all feel fear of some kind.
The trick to dealing with it is to simply accept it and push ahead anyway.
In doing this you will also be lessening your doubt by displaying strength of character, showing that you are meant to be a writer because you don’t let fear get to you.
5. Not being clear enough in what you want to say.
When we write we are trying to convey a particular message or story. When that message is murky or unclear we can run into problems.
If you don’t know what you are supposed to be saying or who you are supposed to be saying it to, you will struggle writing anything.
To be really focused as a writer you need to know what your message is and who your audience is.
When you know these two things you will never have any problem writing.
It’s when you don’t know these two things that your writing can stall.
Once again, doubt will set in.
So make sure you know what you are trying to say when you write and who you are writing for.
In non-fiction, be clear on your message or the problems you want to solve.
In fiction, be clear on the story you are trying to put across.
Know your audience for both.
Having that focus will keep most of your doubt at bay, when combined with the other tactics we have discussed in this article.
Writers Doubt Can Be Managed
Writers doubt will always be there lurking in the background, just like fear.
But also like fear, writers doubt can be managed if you know how.
Acknowledge its existence, don’t panic when it strikes.
Apply the strategies outlined in this article to keep it under control.
Most importantly, keep writing no matter what.
Writer’s doubt or not.
Do this and your productivity levels will double easily.