Is Self-Doubt Ruining Your Writing Career Before It Ever Gets Off the Ground?

If you haven’t written your novel yet, chances are self-doubt is one of the culprits holding you back. Sure, you might be limited on time because you work full-time or are raising kids, taking care of a sick parent, or managing your cat’s 18-pill daily medicine regime. But, let’s call a spade a spade. Without identifying the underlying reason(s) you can’t finish your manuscript (or for some of us, even get a good start on it) we’ll never change the outcome.

Nora Ephron said, “I don’t care who you are. When you sit down to write the first page of your screenplay, in your head, you’re also writing your Oscar acceptance speech.”

Now, sure, we’re here to write a novel (which Nora did as well, and you can find it here) and not a screenplay, but we could adjust the wording a little to relate to our goals and motivations.

For example, I could say that “I don’t care who you are. When you sit down to write the first page of your novel, in your head, you’re also picturing what you’ll look like during your interview on national TV.”

Or, how about, “I don’t care who you are. When you sit down to write the first page of your novel, in your head, you’re also imagining becoming so successful that you can’t enjoy a trip to McDonald’s or an amusement park anymore.”

What about this? “I don’t care who you are. When you sit down to write the first page of your novel, in your head, you’re also picturing walking the red carpet at the movie premiere of the film adaptation of your book.”

You get the point. We all want to be humble and say, “Oh, I don’t write for the money. I write for the love of the craft.” Uh-huh. In the meantime, every single one of us is wondering how big our book will get. Will we make it onto the New York Times’ Best sellers list? Will we have our novel adapted into a film with only the cream of the crop Hollywood stars involved? Heck, will we earn back our advance? If we’re willing to get naked here, isn’t it true that we rarely just sit down and write without having any bigger expectations?

Here are 5 Reasons to Stop Doubting Yourself as a Writer

  1. Glamour schmamour: If you’re worried you don’t look thin enough, pretty enough, young enough, tall enough, or whatever enough, then I have great news for you! Stop what you’re doing and look up “the most successful writers of all time” or “richest authors of all time” and see who pops up. How many of them are sexy? How many are young and beautiful? How many are glamorous? Seriously, come on! Physical appearance is NOT a prerequisite to getting published, being successful as a writer, or quite frankly, as a human. So, do yourself a favor and get over it already! This fear is only an excuse (and I’m not beating you up! I’m mostly talking to myself here).
  1. Many writers remain private, despite their level of success: I can remember thinking, “What if my book (the one that decades later still isn’t written) gets so big that I won’t be able to remain private? What if I can no longer take the kids to Chuck E. Cheese without people approaching me to discuss this wonderful book. How will I maintain a normal life when I never wanted to be recognized? Whoa Nelly! I discuss this fear in another post but the gist is, of the thousands, millions of books you’ve ever seen in bookstores, how many of those authors would you recognize if they came up and asked you for the time? I’m going to guess less than a fraction of one percent. On a personal note, those kids I mentioned? The ones that would be heartbroken to never play in the balls at Chuck E. Cheese again? They’re grown with kids of their own now. Point? The fear of massive success is just another excuse. Toss it in the trash bin and move on.
  1. Your first manuscript might not get published, and that is ok: Your second one might not get published either. But the only way you’ll know is if you write it. A lot of authors’ first manuscripts don’t get published. Nicholas Sparks was a pharmaceutical salesman whose first manuscript didn’t get published. But you know what? His second one earned him a 1 million dollar cash advance. You might have heard of it. Does The Notebook ring a bell? Agatha Christie’s first novel didn’t get published and the second one only did when they forced her to change the ending. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Christie remains the best-selling fiction writer of all time, with total global sales exceeding 2 billion books in more than 100 languages. Whether you get your first manuscript published or not, you’ll learn a lot from the experience. You’ll then take that and go on to write something even better.
  1. You probably won’t have to go on a global book tour, so you can scratch that off your list of fears: Today, most publishing companies can’t afford to send their authors on global (or even national) book tours. Also, book tours don’t necessarily result in increased book sales, making publishers even less likely to pressure you to pack your bags. Maybe you never considered this one, but for me, it was always a nagging concern. I hate to fly, and certainly didn’t want to leave my husband or kids behind while I went to Kathmandu to promote my book.
  1. Your book might get dragged over the coals. Bad. By lots of people. And you’ll still be able to show your face at family gatherings and at the supermarket : Go check out some of your favorite authors’ book reviews on Amazon. Some of the most influential, prolific writers in history (living and dead) have some horrifyingly bad reviews. Reviews that call their writing drivel, immature, boring, and much, much worse. So what! They wrote a book and the reviewer sure as hell didn’t. You know how I know? Because a fellow author would never sink to the level of chastising someone else’s work in such a public, crucifying way. If you write a book, it’s going to get panned. At least on some level. To put it in perspective, read this review by some windbag on Amazon: “Book is trash, don’t know why it’s a classic.” Any guesses as to which book/which author is being dragged here? The book is Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, and is one of the best-selling books of all time. It’s sold over 500  million copies to date (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone sold 107 million) but I guess there’s no accounting for taste. Write your story. Some people won’t like it, but some will.

I could go on and on, but the truth is that most of our self-doubt when it comes to writing is merely an avoidance tactic. We like talking about becoming novelist. We like daydreaming about it, too. That’s the fun part. That’s what motivational speaker Lisa Nichols would call “the sexy part” but it’s not the part that matters. What matters in the end, is picking up that pen or pencil or opening that laptop and getting started. Put one word down, then another, then another. Just do it. That adage is now cliché for a reason! Everyone uses it, because it’s so simple and so true. JUST. DO. IT.