My particular “brand” of anxiety makes being a creator and performer its own level of challenging.
Basically, my brain just automatically assumes that everyone I interact with instantly hates me. And some days, it tries to tell me everyone who knows me and interacts with me on a regular basis doesn’t actually like me and is just pretending.
I do my best to ignore these feelings, of course. I’m a 27-year-old woman with a job and responsibilities and ambitions. I can’t afford to curl up into a ball and hide from the world every time I start to worry that everyone is lying to me about everything.
And I definitely can’t afford not to publish everything I write because I’m afraid it’s bad and no one will tell me — or worse, that everyone will say it’s good even though it isn’t and I won’t know the difference.
Because of the nature of my work, I have to keep writing and publishing even on the days it terrifies me. Which is, I think it’s safe to guess, most of the days.
Sometimes I just feel like I need someone to tell me the truth — ideally with some kind of “proof” that they’re being honest with me.
Some days I just want to tell everyone I know that if what I’m writing isn’t good, they can tell me.
Usually, I don’t do this.
I’m not going to beg for feedback because feedback is not easy to give. I’m not going to let my Impostor Syndrome affect other people or constantly talk about my insecurities as a human being and as a writer.
But that does not mean the worry and fear isn’t there. It does not mean I don’t experience it every day, if not multiple times per day.
What scares me most about practicing total honesty in this regard is that people will think I’m hunting for compliments. I’m not.
When I say I want people to be honest about the quality of my writing, I don’t mean I want every person who reads it to praise me endlessly for a job well done. Actually, I very rarely get discouraged when I don’t get good feedback because I understand people are more inclined to give negative feedback than they are positive feedback.
Think of it this way: You go to a restaurant that has great service, nice staff, and good food. When you leave that restaurant, you don’t think to leave a review on Yelp because you generally expect most restaurants to have great service, nice staff, and good food. They don’t need to know they’re doing a good job because doing a good job should be their default.
But when you go to a restaurant that has bad service, rude staff, and terrible food, you’re much more likely to be on Yelp writing your one-star review before you have even left the table. You have feelings — you have been wronged in some way — and you desperately need everyone to know it.
It’s the same thing with books or articles or anything written semi-formally on the internet. It’s a slightly different in that people have more of an outlet to talk about their personal experiences whether they agree with an article’s points or not, for example. But in general, when people agree, they pretty much just say they agree at most. When something is disagreeable or poorly written or just doesn’t make sense, EVERYONE feels the need to comment on it and share their opinions.
So knowing this, you would think that logically I — and most writers like myself — would understand that most of the time, no feedback is nothing more than a passive “great work, keep it up.”
But no. I can’t speak for your brain of course, but mine starts screaming “THEY DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING AH THAT MEANS THEY HATED IT WOW NICE WORK YOU FAILED LOSER.”
So here’s the question that typically results from thought spirals like these.
How the heck do you know if what you’re writing is good or not when no one is telling you so one way or the other?
When there is complete silence on the other end of the line, how do you know if you should keep writing?
The answer isn’t nearly as complicated as it might seem. You probably already know what it is.
You have to keep taking small steps forward … which means writing. Even if it’s terrible.
You have to do what I do. Not that I know everything about this, because I’m just one person who happens to write a lot of words despite being terrified every moment of the process that I’m going to fail or say something stupid and embarrass myself in front of everyone.
Keep writing even when you’re not sure if you’re doing it right.
Why? Because you are never going to learn the quality of your own work, or form the relationships necessary to get the feedback you feel you need as naturally and honestly as possible, if you don’t publish — and you’re DEFINITELY not going to make any progress if you don’t write.
So yes! You have to write! Even when it’s scary. Even when you have no idea if anything is ever going to come of it someday, good or bad. This isn’t always easy, and it’s definitely not fun. Learning to write despite self-doubt and related feelings has taken me years to even remotely grasp. I’m in no way a master of this particular craft. But I might still be able to help you.
How do you still write when you know you’re not going to get feedback?
- At first, you just have to write. And you have to write as much and as often as you possibly can — all the while knowing that some of it, if not most of it, isn’t going to turn out great. “Just write anyway” has become my personal mantra for the year, but it can really apply to everyone regardless of the kind or volume of writing you are doing. Just write. Even when it feels like it’s the hardest thing you have ever done. I won’t say it gets easier. But the fear and doubt do get slightly easier to overcome … sometimes.
- Start collecting any feedback you do receive. I have a folder on my desktop, for example, that contains screenshots of nice things people have said about my writing. It doesn’t matter if I don’t always believe the words. When I’m feeling discouraged and I’m convinced my words aren’t good enough, I look at those screenshots and it gives me hope.
- If you’re still doubtful, start looking for trusted sources of feedback. Some aspiring writers hire editors and writing coaches. Others join critique groups. Some recruit beta readers for specific projects, though I’m not at all up to speed on how this works and won’t comment on that any further at the moment. If you really feel like you’ve lost your sense of direction, it’s OK to ask for help. Just know that if you want honest, high-quality and specific feedback, it’s probably not going to be free. This might mean you have to wait a while, save up, and keep writing in the meantime. At least you have something to work toward, right?
Especially in your early days as a writer, you probably aren’t going to get the feedback you’re hoping for. There aren’t going to be people all around you who are willing to give you open and honest feedback that’s both helpful and targeted. There are just too many writers writing about too many things, and too many people buzzing with opinions and the need to feel knowledgeable (feedback-wise).
The best advice I have for anyone in this situation — because I’ve been there many times — is to just take this one day at a time. Sometimes as you’re writing something you think it’s the worst story that has ever been written. But then you leave it for a while and come back to it, and you realize … it’s not nearly as bad as you thought it was.
Or maybe it is. Who knows. You always have the option to close the document, open a new one, and try again.
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.