Every week, I sit in front of a bunch of people and pitch article ideas. They’re either accepted, modified, or rejected — right there in real time. It doesn’t matter how much I prepare — no matter how much self-doubt I’m dealing with, I have to do my job.
Five, six years ago, I’m not sure I would have been able to do what I do now. I didn’t have the confidence. I didn’t believe I was good enough, so I only tried as hard as I thought was necessary. It was barely good enough then. It would not be enough now.
I’m not the only writer who has ever dealt with self-doubt. It keeps many writers from achieving their goals — whether it’s because they don’t think they’re good enough or because they don’t know who or how to ask for feedback, or something else entirely. Overcoming your doubt, and doing what scares you anyway, is a major hurdle — but everything changes once you clear it.
So how do you overcome doubt?
You do everything that scares you. On purpose. Over and over again, until you stop talking yourself out of doing things you need/want to do.
Not all at once. You don’t go from singing in the shower to auditioning for a Broadway musical in a day. Little by little. You take lessons, you explore different genres, you gain confidence by taking bigger and bigger steps until you’re ready to do the impossible.
I used to be afraid to show people what I wrote. I don’t know why — no one’s going to look at an 11-year-old’s short story and say it’s garbage to her face (hopefully). I started by showing my English teachers, who I trusted to give me legitimate feedback — because that’s what they did for a living. Then I started letting my friends into my secret world. (My family eventually followed, though honestly, it’s still weird when people who love me unconditionally compliment my work. Do they really like it? Who knows.)
Now pretty much the whole world can read what I publish if they really want to. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve learned to let criticism, good or bad, just wash over me. I email people I don’t know all the time telling them my ideas. It no longer scares me. They’ll either respond affirmatively or they won’t. It’s all a matter of business — it’s not personal.
You just have to keep doing the things that make you uncomfortable, until you’re so comfortable you could do them in your sleep.
Does this sometimes lead to overconfidence — which might make you think/say/do a dumb thing every once n awhile? Yeah, sure. But you’re not human if you’re perfect all the time. I would rather make a mistake and fall hard doing it than never have had the confidence to even try. Scars mean you’re not afraid to Do Things until it pays off. Embrace them. No matter how cringe-worthy.
“Just do it” may not sound like very helpful advice, but you may be over-complicating it. Literally just do it. You’re going to have more regrets never trying than you ever will trying and seeing things not work out the way you planned. Trust me.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.