A Journey Through Self-Doubt

Never giving up means taking the pain with the glory.

I am participating in the Writing Contest: You Deserve to be Inspired. Hosted by Positive Writer.

It’s been my experience that writers (or artists in general) are often cursed with heightened self-doubt. Constructive criticism, or any criticism, from the world hardly stands a chance against the ugly voice in our heads.

My latest bout with self-doubt had me sitting on the floor for thirty minutes, staring at the rug while contemplating quitting writing, tears pouring unchecked down my face. I couldn’t see anymore why I should continue to put myself through all the torture of trying to make it in the biz. But, the thought of giving up as a writer opened a hole of despair so deep, it was frightening.

I felt trapped. It was tortuous to continue writing, yet impossible to quit. The problem is, I love to write, to create fictional people and situations. But I also want to entertain others with that writing, give them something to enjoy, that touches their life in some way. Yes, I love to write, but I don’t love to spend hours upon hours, sweating over my creations purely for my own reading entertainment.

A couple of weeks earlier, I’d received a note from an e-zine (on-line magazine) editor about a short story I’d submitted. It was a rejection letter with a piece of advice. Pure gold! It’s rare to receive feedback on a submission outside of a form rejection, and I was thrilled with the opportunity to learn anything that will help me advance in my craft.

The note read: “This was a near miss with us. You have a great knack for detail and expressiveness, and you have a very natural style. But I was hoping for more story decisions from your main character.”

With the proverbial lightbulb lit, I embraced the message, took the advice and got to work restructuring my piece with confidence and renewed vigor.

Everything would be perfect now, right? Every piece of short fiction I sent off from now on would be flawless.


Knowledge is power, yes, but so is practice. I knew how to write and how to write well, but putting all the working parts into their perfect place took practice and lots of patience. I needed more practice.

Even with all my knowledge, I still committed what some in the writing community view as a sin. While I had explained better the “why” of it all, I had done it in such a way that I was telling rather than showing. Come on! That’s writing 101. We all know about showing vs. telling. Right? So how could I have made such a rooky mistake? My reader was wrong; that had to be it.

So I pointed my chin northward, ignoring the gut feeling I was making the wrong decision, and sent the revised piece off, as is, to another e-zine. (Cue cringe)

Yep. You guessed it. It was again rejected, this time with a message that I’d done too much telling, not enough showing. Duh.

I was devastated. Not because of the rejection specifically, but because of the self-doubt that sprouted immediately, like a weed on crack. I doubted my talent as a writer and my ability to ever find success in spite of having a completed, published novel and a growing strength in short story writing.

The ugly, negative voice in my head went nuts, telling me I should quit, give up my dream, I was never going to get it right. I mean, come on, I should have known better, right? I’ve been writing for a long time, studying the craft for years. I do know better! How could I have been so blind to my mistake, or even made a mistake? Mistakes are not allowed. Ever, according to the perfectionist’s handbook.

Doubt had a stronger right hook and it was winning. I was slipping into a dark pool of despair with every passing minute, every self-pitying tear.

I wanted to quit so badly in that moment, but the idea of not being a writer killed me. It felt physically impossible for me to quit my craft. I mean, what else would I do? Nothing else makes me feel alive like writing, creating stories. To quit writing is tantamount, for me, to tearing off my right arm. Maybe not quite as gory, but just as painful and debilitating since I’m right handed.

The tears had stopped, but I still felt wounded, sad. Then something strange happened. My subconscious, I realized, had already begun editing that original short story. It was moving forward, finished with all the drama while I still sat on the floor, whimpering.

Once again, quitting proved not to be an option for me. As frustrating as that is at times, it’s also my saving grace.

Perseverance isn’t just a word to toss around, it’s an absolute necessity for anyone who is following their passion.

Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance. -Samuel Johnson.

I may always carry a certain amount of self-doubt, but that’s okay, probably even healthy. The challenge is not to let it get too big. Feeling discouraged, heartbroken, frustrated and defeated, along with many more unsavory emotions, goes with the territory. To be creative is to be vulnerable, sensitive. And as painful as that can be, it’s also the pressure that creates the diamond. We just can’t let those feelings or insecurities shatter us.

Something else came out of my last session with self-doubt. I realized I was focusing far too much on reaching my end goals, or the point of so-called success, while ignoring the beauty in the journey. I love to write and I love to learn, so every minute I’m doing either of those things is valuable.

I’m consciously slowing down, savoring the process, the journey. It’s not easy keeping impatience or demand for “perfection” in check, but it’s necessary. There’s a certain fulfillment only trials, time and persistence can provide.

I’m keeping my eye out for all the success I’ll encounter on my way to success.

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