I have struggled with serious writer’s block this year.
I’m not unique. I get that. At some point, it happens to nearly everyone who makes creative writing a serious undertaking.
This time felt different though. More severe, and a bit insidious.
I’ve written before about my struggles with my fantasy novel. I’m neck-deep in a 2nd draft/nearly full re-write, and the story will come out the other side looking nearly nothing like the 1st draft. Again, this is a relatively normal process, and lots of authors deal with that grind.
Somewhere along the way though, self-doubt started to creep in. Like a tiny seed sprouting and taking root in the deepest recesses of my brain, it grew under the right conditions (busy schedule, life changes, competing priorities) until it had flowered into what the French refer to as “Le Syndrome de Imposter” (not an actual translation) or, “Imposter Syndrome”. Honestly, no amount of writing podcasts or blogs can prepare you for that crippling self-doubt when it actually arrives. At least I was totally unprepared…
What the Internet didn’t tell me is that self-doubt doesn’t have to manifest as some sort of easily categorized fear. It’s not like you’ll panic, slam your laptop shut , and go curl up in the bathroom, when you see threads on Twitter asking to update on your current project. In fact, the cacophony of social media is a very comfortable place to hide, procrastinate, and “water the flower” so to speak. More on that later though.
My self-doubt manifested as apathy more than anything. Even with encouragement and responsibility to my writer’s group, every scene and chapter was a massive slog. I spent the better part of 2019 doing everything I could to avoid writing and I didn’t know why. It finally took some serious self-reflection and understanding of what the root of my insecurities were to address it and get back to really dissecting and writing my book.
I want to provide some advice in this post, rather than just anecdotally bemoaning my position, so here are some things that worked for me to start regularly putting words on the page again.
- Self-reflection/Meditation: I’m far from some new-age crystal collector, but time for quiet self-reflection seems to be at a huge premium these days. Probably why so many people are trying to make money off of it. For me, figuring out that I was scared of my book because it’s the first full-length novel I will actually attempt to publish solo (it’s even scary to admit that in writing here) was the first step in digging myself out of the hole. You cannot find proper solutions if you don’t understand the problem. Be honest with yourself. Really brutally honest. It might be scary and upsetting at first, but once that passes it should give you the confidence to start fixing things.
- Stay off Social Media: Seriously. I love #WritingCommunity on Twitter for its unending positivity and encouragement. It is wonderful when you’re doing well, but the flip side is when you’re in a dark place writing-wise, seeing everyone else shout about their accomplishments can create a sort of “negative feedback loop” and amplify the doubt. Take a break, focus on yourself and don’t compare your work to anyone else. Again, no comparisons, just head-down writing.
- Just Get It Done: I didn’t want a cease & desist from Nike so I re-worded that. Schedule writing time. Even if it is 15 minutes a day or 30 minutes a week. Re-discover that writing is WORK. It can be pleasurable, but often it is not. Then force yourself to write. No matter what, sit your butt in the chair and even if you put down zero words do nothing else.
- Focus just On Completion: Don’t worry about querying if the manuscript isn’t done (I did this). Don’t worry about finishing the book if the chapter isn’t done (I did this). Don’t worry about finishing the chapter if the scene isn’t done (it’s a terrible pattern, isn’t it?). The only way I fought back against that self-doubt was to literally focus just on the small pieces that were directly in front of me and complete them. I didn’t look forward or backward. That is for later in the next round of edits. For now it’s good enough.
- No Perfect. Just Done.: Perfection and the unrealistic expectations it instills are crippling. I’ve been working on this book for nearly five years on and off, and it needs to be done because it is actually beginning to stand in the way of other projects. The key (for me at least) is to not fear what will happen once it is sent out, but rather to just deal with that and tweak/adjust once it happens. It’s way safer to keep it to myself, but then it festers and will never be finished.
So what to take away from all of this?
Don’t be like me.
Whatever you want to call it. Imposter Syndrome, Self-Doubt, Writer’s Block even. I look back at all the time I wasted and procrastinated away that I easily could have used on writing. I probably could have written a whole other novel by now if I’d just buckled down and finished this one. But that is in the rear-view now. Sunk costs and all that.
If you are struggling with self-doubt in your writing, I feel for you because it’s a tougher nut than I ever expected it would be. I hope some of the things that helped me overcome it can assist you too.