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How to Deal With Self Doubt


by Tom Ashford

Many authors experience self-doubt throughout their career, regardless of whether they’re traditionally or self-published. It’s hardly something unique to writers, either – plenty of my friends are talented musicians and directors, yet they all have moments of believing that what they’re working on has no merit. Nor does it plague only artists. No matter what your profession – be it as a scientist, a teacher or anything else – at some point, self-doubt is likely to rear its ugly head at some point or another.

Success don’t change anything. Here are a couple of quotes from some of the best and most popular writers, who still doubt(ed) their abilities.

“I’m afraid of failing at whatever story I’m writing – that it won’t come up for me, or that I won’t be able to finish it.” – Stephen King

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” – Maya Angelou

So if self-doubt affects all of us, how can we get past it? Well some people claim that self-doubt is so prevalent that it’s best to accept uncertainty and utilise it, rather than attempt to overcome it completely. Here are some suggestions on how to deal with imposter syndrome.

1.) Break Away From Negative Thought Patterns

You might find yourself repeatedly telling yourself that you aren’t good enough, or that your writing isn’t good enough. Realistic criticism is good (if you think your characters need to be better developed, you might want to listen to yourself) but if you find yourself making a lot of exaggerated or overly-critical observations about yourself or your work, identify those moments and try to avoid repeating them. Once you know you’re doing it, it’s easier to stop.

2.) Don’t Tell People What You’re Writing

It’s tempting to tell everyone who’ll listen what your next story is going to be about, but if you suffer from self-doubt it may not be the best thing to do. There are studies that show that the gratification of telling somebody a goal is similar to that we get from actually completing a goal, making us less likely to fulfil that goal as a result. It also puts unnecessary pressure on us to deliver an unreasonably fantastic end product. If we surprised our friends with a book, they’ll be impressed. If we hype it up beforehand, we feel like we have to deliver even more. Keep it to yourself – we tend to feel less doubt when we think nobody’s going to see/ read/ listen to what we’re doing.

3.) Just Do It

If you don’t put yourself out there, you’ll never prove to yourself whether you are or aren’t any good. Surprise, surprise – you’ll still be plagued with self-doubt after you click publish. You may even find that you have more doubt – it’s all well and good thinking you’re rubbish when nobody’s read your work, but what about when it’s out there for all to see? But the only way to get past that hurdle – even if it’s only a little bit – is to put yourself out there and try not to care. For one: if you’ve written a book, you’ve accomplished what most people will never do. For another: each time you put yourself out there, it gets a little bit easier. Even if the self-doubt never goes away (it hasn’t for Stephen King, remember), dealing with it will be a walk in the park.

In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that if somebody says they’ve never experienced self-doubt, maybe you should be the one to doubt them. There’s a psychological phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which people of low ability lack the very ability to judge whether they’re competent or incompetent at something.

Of course, there are many artists who think they’re great and are, and plenty of people who think they’re rubbish and, unfortunately, are also correct. But as those who are particularly talented are likely to regularly question their abilities (because of their greater understanding of the scope of their field and their limitations (however minor) within it), it’s possible that anyone so confident in their work that they’ve never experienced imposter syndrome is simply not as talented as they think.

Either way – if you start to doubt your abilities, take solace that you’re (mostly) not alone. Maybe you’re just too talented for your own good. Keep writing – it’s the only way to know for sure.

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford is a professional copywriter, author of numerous dark fantasy and sci-fi novels, and the Head of Content at the Self Publishing Formula Blog. His books include the Blackwater trilogy and the Checking Out series.

He lives in London with his wife, in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. Find out more about Tom here.