Why We Continue to Doubt Ourselves, Even As We Improve

You are, and always will be, your harshest critic.

Have you ever just stared at a thing you just wrote and thought, “I’m not even good at this?”

Chances are, you’re probably pretty good at it. At least compared to your skill level when you first started writing.

We doubt ourselves way too often, and it inhibits our confidence – sometimes, even our success. But why? Why is it so easy to believe we’re bad at what we do, even if we’ve been doing it forever?

It’s hard to judge your own progress

Whether you realize it or not, you’re a better writer now than when you started. Even without formal training, writers learn how to write better – through reading, through watching and playing and doing – and yes, through the critiques and suggestions of others.

But it’s hard to notice you’re improving. You have a very limited perspective on your skill level. As your writing improves, it just seems like the same old writing to you – because better writing has gradually become your norm. Without anyone telling you how different your writing is now than it used to be, it’s easy to think, “Well, I haven’t made much progress, so what’s the point?”

This is why rereading your previous work – as much as it might make you cringe – is, in my opinion, an essential part of growing as a writer. Look back at where you’ve been. You may not be as good of a writer as your favorite author seems to be, but you’ve definitely moved at least a few steps up from that weird blog post you wrote back in high school.

We come to expect negative criticism

Many people don’t know how to give constructive criticism. At least, I didn’t, back in college when I marked up my roommate’s English paper with red pen (sorry, Olivia). When they’re told to critique someone’s writing, many people assume that means they have a free pass to be overly critical – and not necessarily in a kind and/or helpful way.

So when people do come around that know how to critique properly, we unknowingly jump to the conclusion that they’re out to try and bring us down. About a year ago, I submitted something for publication. When the editor came back basically suggesting I rewrite the entire article, I’ll admit it, I was kind of mad. I didn’t understand why they were being so mean to my starving artist heart.

Criticism is an important component of growth. In the real world – most of the time – those who professionally give feedback on your work aren’t doing it in the form of a personal attack. So you can’t approach every writing assignment afraid you’re going to fail. You might, and probably will at some point, fail. But that’s part of this complicated game we’re all playing. We try. We fail. We learn, and we keep learning until we stop making the same mistakes. Then we make new ones. And so on.

We’re told it’s bad to be proud of our accomplishments

I used to be embarrassed every time a teacher made a good example out of my essays in school. I know I’m not the only one. For one thing, I never understood why they were singling ME out. I just wrote a thing because they told me to – what’s the big deal? And for another, especially in that two years of hell sometimes referred to as Middle School, being singled out for being good in school – at least, back in the day – was SO NOT COOL. Hello – my reputation is at stake here. Leave me alone.

I can’t say for sure when all this stopped being embarrassing, but eventually somewhere along the way someone taught me it’s not a crime to be good at something – and share that something with the world. I’m not embarrassed to share my articles on Facebook or wherever – if I were, honestly, I wouldn’t have learned to be brave enough to pitch my ideas to TOTAL STRANGERS. GASP.

Even if you’re not at all confident about what you’re publishing – act like you are. Promote it like it’s the best thing anyone has ever written. The more confident you pretend to be, the easier it gets to actually believe in your ability to do something well. Who really cares what anyone else thinks?

You are good – as good as you can be, right now. Just because you’re not 100 percent sold on what you’ve just written doesn’t mean someone else won’t be. You are, and always will be, your harshest critic. Don’t let that hold you back. Strive to improve – but be proud of how far you’ve come, and where you stand now.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Why Comparing Yourself to Other Writers Doesn’t Make Sense

So you want to write like so and so … but why?


I have a favorite author. John Green is the kind of writer I would love to be. He is clever and cultured and knows his young adult audience so well you sometimes forget he’s almost 40 (sorry, John).

I admire him on a deep, creative level, as I’m sure many writers do. But that’s sort of where it ends. A long time ago, I’m sure I compared myself to other writers all the time. “I wish I could write like …” or, “I can’t believe she has so many fans.” I think we all do that, for a little while. But as a writer, at some point you realize how pointless this is. Trying to stand up and measure yourself against another writer just doesn’t make sense.

Why is comparing yourself to other writers such a waste of time?

Everyone progresses differently along different paths

Let’s say your end goal is to self-publish a science fiction novel. Plenty of writers have come before you and have self-published science fiction novels. They have reached the finish line you eventually want to reach. But the roads they take to get there will likely not be the same as yours. You will have different experiences. You will take less or more time to write the first draft or go through the editing process. There are 100 different ways to reach your finish line. Everyone, including you, will get there a different way.

To think you can know exactly what someone else did to get to where they are, and follow their exact footsteps, doesn’t really make sense. Why would you want to do that? Becoming a writer, in the most generic sense of the idea, is a journey. The experience is almost more significant than the end product. The same way you don’t want your book’s plot to be identical to someone else’s, you don’t want your story – your growth from aspiring writer to professional master of the words – to mirror one that’s already happened. Would I love to be as successful as John Green? Uh, sure. But He followed a very specific path that at one point involved lots of data entry for a publisher. Yeah … no thanks. :)

There is no set way to measure every single person’s success

It’s hard to see writers with more blog followers than you, or more book ratings and reviews than you … or however you tend to measure “success” as a writer. It’s not fun to feel inferior. But back to John Green for a second. He’s sold over 10 million copies of TFIOS. To him, a previously published author with a YouTube channel and a strong young adult following, that’s a metric of success. Now look at me. I’m lucky if I sell one copy of my ebook this year. If I sell one, or five, or 10 – to me, that’s success.

Your success early on honestly has nothing to do (IMO) with how good of a writer you are. Really. TFIOS is a good book, don’t get me wrong. But I’m going to give an unpopular opinion here and say it’s not amazing. If it had been JG’s first book, we don’t know how well it might have sold. Success is different for every single writer in their own individual situations. You have to tailor your level of success to fit the circumstances. So you don’t get thousands of views on your blog daily. I sure don’t. But you likely get more now than when you started. That’s better than nothing. That’s still growth. Count it as a success. Don’t worry about where other people are at. Focus on you.

There are lessons to be learned

Along your journey, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes, and do things “wrong,” and you’re going to feel disappointed and discouraged. In some way or another, every writer experiences all this. But everyone gets something different out of it. That’s your journey to make, not someone else’s. Enjoy the steps. Embrace the good times and the bad. Learn what you need to learn from every outcome. You’re only human: you can only focus on so many things at one time. Focus on growing, and learning … at your own pace.

In school, were you ever taught to take your time learning a new way to do math? My teachers finally had to sit me down at some point and tell me to stop worrying about what everyone else already knew and focus on learning it on my own. Just because you’re “behind” or “not as good” at something doesn’t mean you should feel bad about it. That’s easier said than done. I know. But in the beginning, you have to focus on you. And your “beginning” might last years. Mine did. That’s okay. Everyone learns the best way to do certain things in time. It’s not about how fast you get there. It’s about the climb the progression. YOUR progression.

I appreciate other writers’ work. I love to read and I love seeing people grow. I’m a writer, too. I’m aware that there are many, many people out there who are better than me at what I do. More successful, maybe. There are people younger than me who have published novels. Big-name blogs. YouTube channels. Does that mean I’m not good at what I do? No. It means I’m on a different path. That’s how it should be. You have to accept that growing as a writer is slow, and most of the time, you have no idea whether you’re doing the right thing or not. All that matters is what you keep going. Really.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say, “I Am a Good Writer”

eing good at something does not make you better, smarter or more important than anyone else.


Sometimes we doubt ourselves. We give in to the lies imposter syndrome flashes into our faces. We’re not that great. We’re just trying our best. I’ve been struggling with this lately, thinking I’m not really that great of a writer regardless of how many clients have voiced opinions that differ.

And no, I am not the best, either. (Is there a best writer? That’s a question for another post.) But I spent a few hours editing this evening for a client, something I have not done in almost a year (how time flies!). Something happens when you proofread unpublished writings. It’s nothing personal and these were fairly well written articles. But they reminded me that I know what I’m doing … I’m not that bad of a writer after all.

In fact, I might even be a good one.

This is something that is very hard for me to say. It makes me feel icky. Or it did. Until I realized there isn’t anything wrong with saying you are good at something. We often mistake confidence for arrogance, which we really need to be careful about. Because here’s the thing: if you are good at writing, you are going to have to prove that to an employer or a client or an agent. And self-confidence is part of that. A portfolio filled with sample work means nothing if you pour gallons of doubt all over it.

What I think you may need to hear today is this.

Being good at something does not make you better, smarter or more important than anyone else. It just makes you more skilled and more experienced – skills and experience you have earned through long, tiring hours of storytelling. Saying you are a good writer acknowledges that you have taken the time and put in the effort to work your way up from nothing. You know how to make words flow like brush strokes, or music notes. You know not because it makes you superior, but because it is the truth.

There are ways to be classy about casually mentioning this, of course. Highlighting your accomplishments, at the appropriate times in the appropriate places, is the safe and far more traveled route. Confidence is striking, but it is something you need to build up if you want to use your skills professionally or turn writing into a fulfilling and successful hobby.

So go ahead. Say it out loud. “I am a good writer.” Say it until you mean it.

And if you are struggling to believe you are a ‘good’ writer – or even a writer at all – stay tuned. I have another post coming for you. Until then, get back to writing!

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Image courtesy of pixabay.com.