Waded up papers from writing stress

Defying the #1 Stress for Writers: Doubt

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Stress. Writing. They go hand in hand, don’t they? This post is part of a multi-author blog hop from the Insecure Writers Support Group. This month we are exploring the stresses of being a writer. We hope it helps all authors realize they are not alone! We are all in this together.

To answer this month’s question, I took a Twitter poll to find out what authors find most stressful about writing. Their number one answer?

#1 Answer: Doubts About My Writing

54% of authors answered that doubts about their writing stressed them the most. This probably doesn’t surprise you. For many authors, doubts about our writing ability are painfully obvious. I mean, just ask one of us to hand our manuscript over to a stranger and see what happens. Did your stomach just tighten up? Mine too! In that brief instant, a flurry of questions shot through my head: What if they hate it? What if they laugh?

Worse…what if they say…nothing?

If you’re like me, that manuscript is cradled in your arms firmly against your chest as you run to hide it. Or edit.  

Doubts can also be more subtle, though. It can be tucked way inside, hampering our writing progress in ways we don’t even recognize.

Want to get control of your doubt and regain progress in your writing? Keep reading for tips to:

  • Identify your inner critic creating those doubts
  • Identify adaptive behaviors to doubt that are actually hampering your writing progress
  • Identify adaptive behaviors that will help you overcome doubt and meet your writing goals

First Things First: Identify the Inner Critic

Your inner critic is wreaking havoc with your psyche, making you insecure about your writing ability. After all, why should your book be able to stand amongst the talented shelves of authors? (See what I did there? If you nodded, that’s one of your own little critics, right there.)

Who is the Inner Critic?

This little demon is all you.

You are literally putting yourself down by picking on yourself, either alone or in comparison to others. Do you catch yourself saying, “I’m not good enough” or “My writing sucks?” Some of this is caused by inner insecurities, borne of a complex combination of your past, your persona, and your current experiences. But you can begin to rope in those insecurities, if you know what to look for.

Personal Behaviors Strengthening Your Inner Critic:

  • Affirmation by Negativity
    • This simply means that your inner critic takes negative feedback to heart, shoving it into the little insecurity attic to pull out later, like when you want to submit a manuscript.
    • This can be from any kind of negative feedback, real or imagined, such as:
      • You got zero likes on your pitch post for the contest (lots of other people got likes…what is wrong with my idea?)
      • Another rejection letter arrived. Worse, it was a form letter. And they got your name wrong…
      • The few people you entrusted your manuscript to didn’t like it
      • Negative feedback from your critique group
  • Affirmation by Absence
    • When everyone else is getting writerly attention, it can start to feel very lonely out there. A few examples here are:
      • Posts announcing someone is now represented by such-and-such agent
      • The multitude of “likes” and retweets on someone’s pitch in a contest, while yours seems to fall into oblivion
      • Everyone else seems to be getting requests for more pages by agents, mentors, etc.
      • Your Tweets go out into the dark hole of the Twittersphere, never to be seen again, but other writers’ tweets seem to go viral
  • Perfectionism- the enemy of good
    • This is the part of you that won’t let you finish the rest of the book, because you keep editing, and editing the same page. It’s worse when you come back to write after a break and reread that page to get back into the feel of the story. It just needs…a bit more editing…before you can move on, right?
    • Perfectionism hampers creativity, if all you expect out of yourself is a perfect final draft from the beginning. It stifles the creative mind. Brain Andrews does a great job discussing how to tackle the perfectionist streak in writing (here).
  • Shame
    • Are you able to stand out on a street corner and yell, “I am an author,” without cringing? What about telling folks at your neighborhood holiday party? Or…gasp…your family? Whether it’s from past feedback from people or just your own inner worth bubbling up, the idea of being an author can sound embarrassing. Would-be authors are often thought of having an illegitimate, time-wasting “career” or accused of having fantastical ideas of becoming the next best-selling author. Our society is pretty rough on writers, until they are, actually, you know, best sellers. Lots of authors internalize this societal view as shame. 
Woman with doubts symbolized by a large question mark in the air as she thinks

Did any of the above have you nodding your head? Good. You’ve taken the first step to regaining control over your doubts. Now, let’s identify how that little inner critic has impacted your writing.

Step #2: Identifying How Doubts Hamper your Writing

It’s time to start being more aware of how doubt may be hurting your writing. Doubt can cause the following:

  • Stifled creativity– letting go to develop ideas is hard, if you don’t trust your ideas.
  • Writers Block– who can write with all those underlying negative thoughts? You can find my previous post on dealing with writer’s block here.
  • Avoidance Behaviors- things you do instead of writing:
    • Social Media Click Happy- the number one way to avoid writing is to open up that social media app. It’s easy to convince yourself you’re working on building a following, but find yourself 2 hours later clicking on a video that has absolutely nothing to do with your manuscript.
    • Edit Pass Number 16…and counting- editing can be a comfortable fallback plan that feels much safer than clicking a submit button for an agent.
    • Hours and hours of certification/webinar courses on the writing craft, but no actual finished manuscript.
    • A very clean home- or any number of other chores used to fill writing time. Some are genuine, some are avoidance.  

Step #3: Filtering Doubt

Now that you are more sensitive to identifying when doubt is hurting your writing, it’s time to do something about it. This may be your hardest step of all, because you need to realize there are some causes of doubt you can not control, like what other’s say about your writing.

What can you control? How you internalize the doubt.

  • First, acknowledge you have an inner critic, and that sometimes, if not often, it is wrong.
  • Second, listen to the critics, but then filter everything through the question: Does this help my writing. If it doesn’t, let it go. Sound smart? Read more about this approach https://careerauthors.com/carol-goodman-writing-process/  where Carol Goodman walks through dealing with criticism from within.
  • Third, remember your achievements. Sometimes they may seem small, but any achievement in writing, from making today’s word count to getting past writer’s block IS an achievement. Brian Hutchinson adds this step to combating his inner critic here.
  • Fourth, when the criticism won’t stay silent, write it down, and put it aside. Tell yourself you can come back to it later. That allows you to keep writing for now, and know you can go look at the issue later, when it won’t kill your daily word count.  Carol Goodman calls this separating out the inner editor from your writing mind.

Finally, reward yourself!

You’re writing, fighting the inner critic, sidestepping doubts, working through plots, and writing that novel, all in the middle of a hectic, full life. In this cute discussion of a what living with dogs teach us about writing, Paula Munier points out (here) how reward systems can be used to help keep your writing on track.

Do you fight with your inner critic? Do you have methods that help you get past the negativity and keep writing? Share with us in the comments below!


  1. That’s a very nice post and such a wonderful way of tackling the question. I was laughing through the first bit about trying to hide the first draft. Well done!

  2. Hi Miffie.
    That critical inner voice is a nuisance! It increases our nervousness and interferes with our performance.
    Thanks for the great advice and thank you for popping in to visit at my blog.

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