When you were small, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My answer to this question is multi-layered because I have always wanted to do and be everything all at once — and I still do. At one point I wanted to be an artist, then a dancer, a musician, and I don’t know, at some point the idea of writing for a living came along and I just couldn’t let it go.
But just because I have held onto that dream for a very long time does not mean I am immune to the “what if” moments. You know the ones. The “what if I fail and embarrass myself” moments. The moments when you start to wonder if this dream everyone seems to think you will never reach is nothing more than a total waste of your time.
The good news is, we all experience moments like these.
The bad news is, even the slightest belief that our dreams aren’t worth pursuing is really, really hard to overcome.
The great news? You still can. With a little help (if you want it).
Why do so many writers believe their dreams don’t matter?
- People they trust tell them so.
- They haven’t learned how to make a dream into a goal.
- They don’t believe they’re capable of reaching their own potential.
There are plenty more reasons like this, and many more specific to each individual who might be reading this. The point is, we doubt our dreams — and ourselves — because we are human, and humans aren’t always the best at being cautiously optimistic.
It’s easier to believe we will never get where we want to be and quit then it is to believe we will get there someday and work harder.
And that’s because when we hear things like “writing is an impossible field to break into,” we believe it. Every time we fail or we get feedback that suggests we might be on the verge of failing, that simply solidifies this idea of “impossible.”
It’s all in your head. You know that. But you might not know what to do ABOUT it.
When you start to wonder if your writing dreams are still worth pursuing, there’s typically a lot of negativity that comes along with that. Not all of it has to be negative — we’ll get to that — but for the most part, something like a manuscript rejection or a bad performance review at your day job will trigger all kinds of feelings that just make you want to lie down and never try to write another word again.
This has very little to do with your skills or experience as a writer and much more to do with how you feel about yourself and how much of your worth you have invested in your work (and success). For some writers — I include myself in this group — satisfaction in work is too often tied to success rate. If your work is performing well, you’re happy with it, and if it isn’t, you aren’t.
This often bleeds into our own feelings about ourselves, which is where so many problems arise. When you’re satisfied with your work and you are therefore happy, you feel good about yourself and are motivated to pursue more goals and do more good and/or healthy things for yourself. But when you aren’t satisfied with your work and you aren’t happy, you are much more likely to consider yourself a “bad writer” or a “failure,” and you will struggle more to get your work done and pursue your goals big and small as a result.
That issue is too big to tackle in this post, or even in a blog post at all — I’m not a therapist and I’m not qualified to tell you how to work on your self-esteem beyond the basic and general self help-level advice. But it’s important to know that sometimes we doubt our abilities as writers because we doubt ourselves, and overcoming self doubt is a challenging yet necessary process if you want to succeed in writing.
What you might really need to hear right now is this: It’s OK to doubt yourself and wonder if you are heading in the right direction. But you shouldn’t let that stop you from achieving your dreams, or at the very least taking small steps toward doing so.
If you are struggling to remember how important your writing dreams really are, know that first and foremost you are not alone. Your feelings are not abnormal and you have every right to experience them. Everyone doubts. Everyone wonders if they should just give up and forget it. Everyone questions “the point” of their ambitions.
I don’t say this to minimize your struggle. Your doubts are just as big and important as everyone else’s. This is just a reminder that you are following a path not unlike one many have followed before. You are in a state of questioning and you are being faced with a challenge.
How you handle that challenge is what sets your personal story apart.
Another thing you should know is that just because it is normal to struggle does not mean you have to stay struggling. I’m not just talking about your attitude here, though finding the bright spots in the darkness can and will help you get through even the worst spells of doubt and despair throughout your life as a creator.
I’m also talking about actively making attempts to tackle the parts of your goal setting and achieving that are causing you the most agony. If you’re not even at the point of setting a goal or figuring out how to achieve it, go read my post about making a goal out of a dream.
First comes the dream, then comes the goal. THEN you can start to work toward making it happen.
Moving forward is the only way to avoid letting your negative emotions stop you from doing what you want to do — in this particular case, write whatever it is you want to write. I know sometimes it can feel like taking even one step in any direction is the hardest thing you have ever done. But I can guarantee that nine times out of ten, when you accomplish even the smallest thing after thinking you couldn’t, you will feel not just better, but perhaps even motivated to do another small thing. And maybe another after that.
Every writer deals with self-doubt. We all question our worth and our purposes. But it’s so important to stop and ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing and whether or not it aligns with our own personal “big picture.” It’s not necessarily healthy to worry yourself dizzy over every writing and creative-related decision, but sometimes when you look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Do I really want to accept this writing job? Is this really what I want to do?” You’re not on the verge of giving up on a dream. You’re simply checking in with yourself and making sure that the decision you are making is truly the right one for you.
And if every once in a while you do ask yourself if you’re going the “right” way and the answer you come up with is “no,” that’s still not technically giving up. Giving up implies that you throw down your hopes and ambitions in the face of a challenge. Changing direction and growing as a person and as a creator? That’s not quitting. That’s, in it’s own way, leveling up, and giving yourself the freedom to go after what will truly satisfy you in the end.
Whatever your writing dreams are, even if they happen to change every now and then, don’t hesitate to go after them with all the strength and passion you have. It’s going to be hard work. You’re going to have plenty of ups and downs along the way. You will meet people who don’t believe in you and who are better than you, people who think they’re better than you and those who don’t want you to succeed even though you are fully capable of doing so. You will encounter roadblocks. You will get rejected, you will be given false hope. You will struggle.
But at some point along the way, as long as you keep showing up and doing your best and seeking to improve, you will encounter more success and reward than you can imagine.
It almost never turns out the way we dream it will. But good things will happen to you professionally at the right place at the right time. You just have to make sure you’re ready. You just have to give yourself the chance to land the opportunities you deserve. And that chance will never come along if you don’t keep trying.
Don’t give up.
Your dreams matter, and so do you.
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.