I got to sit in on a panel this morning about the life of a writer. The moderator, the very classy editor Jerry Gordon, asked what we thought one of the biggest problems new writers face… And all of us ended up saying something about self doubt.
And it’s true. And it DOES NOT go away. It might diminish some, but it can come roaring back. I’ve been having some bouts with it myself over the last few weeks. There’s no real reason for me to feel this way – not an empirical one – but it’s happened.
The danger is this: when our feeling of self worth is diminished, when we are already feeling insecure, it becomes all too easy to interpret everything in the light of that insecurity. Story rejected? I must suck. Don’t get a reply to an email? I must suck. And so on.
And I think it’s worse for writers – because so much of what we do is put up for public consumption and review. Other people do judge our work – and as a result, we take it as judging us as people. It becomes a horrible habit. To quote my girlfriend:
A big part of the problem, I think, is that you derive so much of your self-concept from other people. The problem is that then your self-esteem becomes dependent on how others treat you–and they have their own stuff they’re dealing with and are rarely (if ever) know or care how their actions affect you. It’s a perilous system to set up for yourself.
And she’s right. Yes, you reflect on your own work and behaviors. You make sure you’re holding true to yourself. But once you HAVE to separate your sense of self and your worth as a person from your work and other people’s view of you. Understand that you don’t know what is going on in anyone else’s life. You never truly know what leads to another person’s reaction.
And you simply cannot control it.
What you CAN control are these things:
1. Keep doing the best you can.
2. Keep challenging yourself to do better.
3. Stay true to your own values and ideals.
And specifically for the writers: keep writing.
Stephen Pressfield talks a little about this when he talks about Turning Pro. The professional, he says, is self-validating.
Hard to do. I've been struggling with this same issue for a long time myself.
Sure, it lessens. But I don't think it goes away.
I'm still undecided whether or not that's a bad thing.
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