I’ve mentioned impostor syndrome more than once in the past year. It can be stressful, trying to do your best work but always shouldering self-doubt.
We’ve also gone over how to crush your self-doubt, because there’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to be proud of what you’re doing — even though it feels impossible.
All this makes it seem like second-guessing yourself and not being happy with your work are all negative reactions to your production as a writer. I suppose, technically, they are negative. But they don’t have to be. Not all the time, anyway.
Even I still have moments when I know (think?) I didn’t do my best, and feel deeply disappointed as a result. It’s always in those moments between finishing an article and submitting it to my editor. I find myself wondering, “Do I have time to go back? Could I polish this just a little more?”
Unfortunately, as I’ve learned over the past 6 months, there isn’t always time to polish a first draft. That’s why they call it a first draft. As much as you might want to do this one thing better — as disappointed as you may feel looking back on what you’ve just accomplished — now might not be the time to transform those feelings into actions.
But you can still make changes to the way you do things, to the quality of your work. And that’s why this voice in your head telling you that you should have done better is such an important asset.
That’s right — this sense of doubt, maybe even of failure, isn’t nearly as destructive as you thought.
Sometimes, you don’t get the kind of external feedback you wish you had — the kind that tells you straight up what you did well (hopefully) and what needs improvement (though not always phrased quite as nicely). Relying on that voice in your head even to recognize you didn’t do as well as you would have liked isn’t easy. I’ve found it comes with experience and time.
But once you can recognize the sound of that voice, once you’re better at knowing when you did your best and when you didn’t, something changes. You start looking at every task/assignment a little differently. Each time you begin something new, you remember the things from your last body of work that you weren’t happy with. And you begin making conscious efforts to do better as you go.
Looking back can be helpful — but it isn’t always productive. So it’s important, as you gain experience, to learn how to take that internal feedback (“I wish I would have done this better”) and transfer it to your next task, actively putting those changes into practice.
You can’t — shouldn’t — ignore that voice. It’s there for a reason. Sure, some of us hear a whisper; others, endless screaming. But it’s not there to torture you (most of the time). It’s there to remind you that part of being a writer is never forgetting to challenge yourself, to keep trying harder, to improve.
Doubt, in small doses, can be good for you. Use it to your advantage. Just don’t let it slow you down.
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.