Why We Continue to Doubt Ourselves, Even As We Improve

You are, and always will be, your harshest critic.

Have you ever just stared at a thing you just wrote and thought, “I’m not even good at this?”

Chances are, you’re probably pretty good at it. At least compared to your skill level when you first started writing.

We doubt ourselves way too often, and it inhibits our confidence – sometimes, even our success. But why? Why is it so easy to believe we’re bad at what we do, even if we’ve been doing it forever?

It’s hard to judge your own progress

Whether you realize it or not, you’re a better writer now than when you started. Even without formal training, writers learn how to write better – through reading, through watching and playing and doing – and yes, through the critiques and suggestions of others.

But it’s hard to notice you’re improving. You have a very limited perspective on your skill level. As your writing improves, it just seems like the same old writing to you – because better writing has gradually become your norm. Without anyone telling you how different your writing is now than it used to be, it’s easy to think, “Well, I haven’t made much progress, so what’s the point?”

This is why rereading your previous work – as much as it might make you cringe – is, in my opinion, an essential part of growing as a writer. Look back at where you’ve been. You may not be as good of a writer as your favorite author seems to be, but you’ve definitely moved at least a few steps up from that weird blog post you wrote back in high school.

We come to expect negative criticism

Many people don’t know how to give constructive criticism. At least, I didn’t, back in college when I marked up my roommate’s English paper with red pen (sorry, Olivia). When they’re told to critique someone’s writing, many people assume that means they have a free pass to be overly critical – and not necessarily in a kind and/or helpful way.

So when people do come around that know how to critique properly, we unknowingly jump to the conclusion that they’re out to try and bring us down. About a year ago, I submitted something for publication. When the editor came back basically suggesting I rewrite the entire article, I’ll admit it, I was kind of mad. I didn’t understand why they were being so mean to my starving artist heart.

Criticism is an important component of growth. In the real world – most of the time – those who professionally give feedback on your work aren’t doing it in the form of a personal attack. So you can’t approach every writing assignment afraid you’re going to fail. You might, and probably will at some point, fail. But that’s part of this complicated game we’re all playing. We try. We fail. We learn, and we keep learning until we stop making the same mistakes. Then we make new ones. And so on.

We’re told it’s bad to be proud of our accomplishments

I used to be embarrassed every time a teacher made a good example out of my essays in school. I know I’m not the only one. For one thing, I never understood why they were singling ME out. I just wrote a thing because they told me to – what’s the big deal? And for another, especially in that two years of hell sometimes referred to as Middle School, being singled out for being good in school – at least, back in the day – was SO NOT COOL. Hello – my reputation is at stake here. Leave me alone.

I can’t say for sure when all this stopped being embarrassing, but eventually somewhere along the way someone taught me it’s not a crime to be good at something – and share that something with the world. I’m not embarrassed to share my articles on Facebook or wherever – if I were, honestly, I wouldn’t have learned to be brave enough to pitch my ideas to TOTAL STRANGERS. GASP.

Even if you’re not at all confident about what you’re publishing – act like you are. Promote it like it’s the best thing anyone has ever written. The more confident you pretend to be, the easier it gets to actually believe in your ability to do something well. Who really cares what anyone else thinks?

You are good – as good as you can be, right now. Just because you’re not 100 percent sold on what you’ve just written doesn’t mean someone else won’t be. You are, and always will be, your harshest critic. Don’t let that hold you back. Strive to improve – but be proud of how far you’ve come, and where you stand now.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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