Confession: Sometimes I Still Think My Writing Is Trash

Doubt is normal. But don’t let it derail you.

Yesterday I was working on an article for one of the websites I contribute to. This was an opinion-based piece that allowed me to take something a celebrity had recently said and expand upon his argument, in this case supporting the message he was trying to get across with the one-sentence quote being passed around various media outlets.

I was excited to write this piece and ended up doing so fairly quickly — well, the first draft of it, anyway. But as I read over what I’d written, I started to get nervous.

I’d published hundreds of articles before this one. And I was nervous.

Here’s the truth: It’s completely normal to feel this way. It means you care.

This was a post I knew thousands of people were going to see. Not for the first time, I wrote a first draft and then sat with it for far too long. Tweaking. Deleting. Rewriting. I read it over several times in my head. I read it many more times out loud. I worried. I stalled.

It finally got to the point where I either had to submit it or forget the whole thing — and the latter wasn’t actually an option, it turned out.

So I sent it off. Waited impatiently as it went through the publishing process and entered the world, no longer under my control. No longer mine.

The story took off. No one criticized my writing. No one told me I was stupid or delusional or wrong. People were angry about the subject matter, but that’s beside the point. There happened to be at least several readers who pulled quotes from the article that resonated with them and commented their own arguments in support of mine.

In other words, everything turned out fine, I’d overreacted (as usual), and I did not have my name forever attached to a poorly written dumpster fire that would live on the internet for all time.

However, I did end up taking the time — more time than I needed to, but still — to carefully review my work and make sure it was exactly what I wanted to send out. I didn’t rush. I didn’t take a chance on something I figured wouldn’t land. My doubt made me work just a little harder, and it paid off.

It doesn’t always work out this way, however. Plenty of writers end up spending so much time and energy obsessing over making their work “perfect” that they end up not bothering to give the world a chance to even see it before they lock it away forever.

All because it’s not “good enough.”

Even though it very well may have been.

They simply rely on their own harsh judgments of their own work — we all do it, we’re our own worst critics, it’s why we need other people to read our stuff — and don’t even think to take into consideration that they may think it’s “bad” but others may think it’s amazing.

This is imposter syndrome at its most intense — a psychological phenomenon in which a person still thinks they’re not good at something despite massive piles of evidence that they are.

My favorite example of this is the ever-fabulous Viola Davis admitting she doesn’t feel she deserves an Oscar during her acceptance speech at the Academy Awards while holding her Oscar.

It can — and does — happen to anyone, regardless of age, experience, or level of success.

Sometimes, we all worry we’re doing a bad job.

That doesn’t mean we should stop doing our jobs.

Even when you don’t feel like the work you’re doing is excellent — and heck, even if it really isn’t — you can’t let the fear and doubt and disbelief stop you from doing it anyway. You shouldn’t let that voice in your head saying “it’s bad” hold you back. Because there’s a very good chance it’s lying to you.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should quickly publish the first draft of everything you write and release it into the world whether it’s good or not “just to get it out there.”

There’s a big difference between something that isn’t ready to be published yet and something that you’ve worked tirelessly on and are just scared to let go of. There comes a point where there is nothing more you can possibly do to improve something you have written, and you just have to take a deep breath and hit the right button.

No matter how many things you write and publish, you are always going to have moments in which you don’t think you’re good enough. Even in the face of success, you’re going to doubt you deserve to have gotten as far as you have. But you also have to learn not to listen to those lies, because they just aren’t true.

If you work hard, you deserve to be rewarded for that. The publishing world in its many forms is hectic and complicated and things aren’t always going to turn out the way you’ve always imagined they would. That does not mean good things will not happen for you.

And when these good things do come along … celebrate the heck out of them.

There’s half a bottle of wine waiting for me upstairs as I’m writing this. Not because I need to unwind, but because I wrote something I wasn’t sure I was confident enough to release, and I did it anyway, and good things happened.

I am celebrating.

What small, big, or medium-sized accomplishments are you celebrating today?

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 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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5 thoughts on “Confession: Sometimes I Still Think My Writing Is Trash

  1. Oooh this is so appropriate for me right now! I’ve finished my first ever book, but of course I haven’t really. I’ve only just started editing it. And when you google how to edit something, you discover that actually it’s harder work than writing the darn thing in the first place! I alternate between thinking what I’ve done is brilliant and utterly awful and only worthy of a place in the nearest bin. Thanks for this post …. sorry, I’ve rambled! Katie

  2. Meg, I appreciate your honesty because it is refreshing and genuine. I liked your statement about being nervous about a piece of writing because you care. I can identify with that quality as well.

    In my writing world, I am submitting some of my unpublished poetry to other sites for publication.

  3. Thank you for this honest and very resonating post. I struggle with this with pretty much anything: stories, blog posts, even comments… It’s good to know there are others are like me and it’s even better to hear you overcame your worry about the article. Definitely worth celebrating!

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