The Writer’s Guide to Managing Self-Doubt

It’s okay to doubt yourself. But don’t let it hold you back.

From all the years I have spent writing about writing and interacting with other writers about productivity and the creative process, I have come to believe the thing that holds most writers back is self-doubt.

People are afraid of not doing well. Of being called out, of being rejected. People want their work to be praised, to be noticed, to be loved. And the second anything threatens to stand in the way of any of that, they freeze up. They make themselves smaller. They say, “No. Okay. Maybe this whole writing thing isn’t for me.”

They are so concerned and preoccupied with being “the best” or “as good as [famous writer]” that they stop believing in themselves. They criticize their own effort. They wonder if they should even keep trying. Because who would ever want to read what they have to say, anyway?

This is not an uncommon problem. But it is one that can be dealt with, if you’re willing to make the attempt.

Self-doubt doesn’t have to be a roadblock. It might make your life as a writer harder. It shouldn’t make it impossible.

Here’s how to deal.

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How to Be a More Productive Writer: A Quick Guide

Want to be a more productive writer? Here’s where to start.

So. You want to write more, huh?

I totally get it. Writing is the thing you desperately want to do more of but can never seem to find the time to do as much of it as you would like. Because no one tells you how time-consuming writing is. And they don’t tell you how exhausting it is.

And they definitely don’t tell you how much people who aren’t writers do not understand any of this. Which makes getting writing done a thousand times harder, since “aren’t you done writing yet” and “why are you still writing” are common grumbles among the loved ones of even the most ambitious aspiring writers.

Life is busy, most of us are tired, and this is not a world designed with creators — especially writers — in mind.

So how are you supposed to write more when trying to write more just makes everything else that much harder to manage?

Here are a few tips that have helped me write and more with the same 24-hour blocks of time as everyone else. Hopefully they will help you, too.

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You Have Exactly 15 Minutes Free. Will You Use It To Write?

Are you making the best use of your time? Are you sure?

I am writing this blog post during my normal working hours (at my day job). I am writing thi s blog post during my normal working hours (at my day job) because I have about 15 minutes before I can move on to my next project (long story). And I don’t have time to just sit around and wait.

Okay, well, technically I DO have time. Minutes are minutes, and no one would fault me if I spent 15 of them browsing the internet for story ideas while I waited to be able to move on to the next thing.

But if there is one thing I have learned about productivity over the past eleven months, it is that if you want to get as much writing done as possible, you can’t just wait until it’s most convenient. You can’t wait around until you’re “in the right mindset” to do what needs to be done.

I have 15 minutes. So I am going to spend 15 minutes working on a blog post — a blog post I would have taken the time to sit down and write at some point before sundown today anyway.

It’s only 15 minutes. But you’d be surprised how many words you can write in a short amount of time when you really set your mind to the task.

Most writers aren’t trained to make good use of the free spaces in their days. But that can change.

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12 Things Everyone Tells You About Writing But Maybe You Need to Hear Them Again

You probably need to hear at least one of these today.

1. Most people don’t get anything they write published on the first try.

2. All writers start out writing terribly. There is plenty of room (and time) to grow.

3. You don’t “get good” at writing ONLY by reading books about writing.

4. You don’t have to have a book published to be considered a writer.

Continue reading “12 Things Everyone Tells You About Writing But Maybe You Need to Hear Them Again”

Don’t Write ‘Perfect,’ Write Better

Not writing and writing perfectly are the extremes. What’s in the middle?

Perfectionism is overrated.

You probably already know this. You probably know someone who sometimes focuses so much on doing things perfectly that they end up doing worse than they would have otherwise.

Maybe that person is you.

The problem with perfectionism in writing is that there is plenty of room for making mistakes, and not much for trying to avoid them. There is a difference between carefully combing through a finished piece for errors and avoiding writing at all because you’re afraid of “doing it wrong.”

But if you can’t write perfectly, what CAN you do?

You can aim to always do better.

One of many things successful writers have in common is that they are not afraid of imperfection. In fact, they almost deliberately seek it out.

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Can You Still Write When the Words Won’t Come?

Should you? And how?

When I’m feeling stuck and don’t feel “in the mood” to work on anything that’s on my to-do list (or none of the ideas I have to choose from seem all that appealing), it would be very easy to just give up.

And many people who find themselves in this situation do give up. They spend five minutes or less (okay, maybe sometimes more) struggling to Make Words Happen and then they close their laptops and go off to do something that doesn’t involve writing … because it’s easier? Because not writing when they want to write is stressful? Because an all or nothing mindset just naturally makes people quit when one thing isn’t working?

Before I wrote the two paragraphs above, I started at a blank blog post draft for a good six or seven minutes. I checked my email, I fed my dog, I made another cup of coffee. I checked my email again. I had already opened two drafts I’d previously saved hoping inspiration on another topic would strike, but it didn’t. So there I sat.

What was I supposed to say about writing when you can’t write when I couldn’t write? More importantly, should I even keep trying when my brain was busy trying to focus on a dozen other things? What if I tried to write and what I ended up creating was total garbage?

And yet here I am, still writing. And while this isn’t necessarily proof that anyone who feels blocked (you might know it as writer’s block) can overcome it through writing, I’ve personally come to believe that in many (though not all) situations, the inability to find the right words has a very simple solution: Write. Right?

Here’s what you need to know.

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You Might Be Craving Feedback You Don’t Actually Need

What are you doing wrong? Maybe you already have the answer.

One of the most frustrating things about being a “small” creator is that even when you aren’t getting any feedback on your work, you have to keep working.

Sometimes I will publish a blog post that will absolutely tank, and other than low numbers and a lack of engagement, I have absolutely no way of knowing that this is the case — but I especially don’t have any clue whatsoever as to why that particular post performed terribly in comparison to others.

I never know if it’s a weird glitch in the system, a bad headline, or uninteresting content. I never know if it’s my writing or meta data or the photo I chose to appear as the featured preview image.

It could be all of these things. It could be none of these things. It could just be people chose that particular day not to click on my blog post for no reason other than they had other things to do (which, for the record, I totally understand — I, too, am familiar with busyness).

Not knowing exactly what went wrong — and this does happen at least once per month at this point, if not more — doesn’t feel great. It doesn’t make me want to stop blogging or consider rethinking my entire model for how I run things here, but it does make me question, in more detail, what I could have done differently — if I could have done something differently at all.

As a small creator, you don’t get hundreds of thousands of comments on your posts complaining about a misstep or praising what has been done well. Most of the people who do read and find your content helpful don’t let you know — not because they don’t want to be helpful, but because some people just aren’t interested in engaging with online content — and this is totally fine. I don’t blame them. The internet is … quite something sometimes.

But there is actually an extremely important reason why I don’t push harder to get more specific feedback from all of you reading this blog. I could send out surveys, I could call for suggestions, I could straight up ask you all what you want to see more or less of from these posts.

I won’t, though — not extensively. Because as much as I often feel like I need more feedback in order to continue moving forward, that’s not always the best or most effective way to shift and improve the work that I am doing.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting or even asking for feedback — I want to be clear about that. Feedback is something all writers do need on an individual level at some point. In the earliest stages of your hobby and/or career, however, that’s not always going to be an option for you.

And maybe — just hear me out here — maybe that’s actually for the best.

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When Your Day Job ‘Gets In the Way’ Of Your Writing Time

It’s not easy, but it’s possible.

At some point we all have about the same picture in our heads of what being a successful, full-time writer will be like.

For me, this picture for some reason involved sitting at a desk in the middle of a room with floor-to-ceiling glass windows on all three sides, sitting with my laptop and writing for 12 hours straight every day while looking out at the ocean or a forest or whatever I wanted my future outdoor scenery to look like.

This setup is, unfortunately, not realistic for most writers. It turns out most writers still have to (sigh) go to work. In a real or virtual office. With office hours. And meetings.

(Ugh.)

Though it might seem like most writers — especially the “successful” ones — spend all day every day writing and are lucky enough to call it a job, the reality is that many writers, even published authors, still have day jobs. Some of them involve writing. But not always.

It’s so tempting to think that all you have to do is tolerate the tiresome job(s) that pay(s) the bills until you make enough money as a writer to be able to afford to quit. But it doesn’t always work that way.

Because of the way writers are generally paid — not usually on a consistent basis, and not usually as much as you would think — most writers decide to keep their day jobs even after they’ve started to gain recognition for their work. At the very least, many take up freelancing to make ends meet between paychecks.

In fact, many writing experts actually recommend that aspiring creators keep their day jobs even when their careers start taking off.

Why? Because you never know what’s going to happen. You could suddenly lose half your client base in the span of one week (this happened to me in 2017) and therefore a large chunk of your monthly income. Also, health insurance (if you’re in the United States). Factor in, too, inconsistent pay (it’s not always on a regular cycle depending on the job) and there not always being available work (depending on your level of experience, your niche, and how productive you typically are — among other things).

This is all very frustrating. Because as a writer, obviously all you want to do is write. All day every day, if you can. It’s what you’re good at! People are paying you to do it now! So shouldn’t you be able to get paid for what you want to do and stop doing what you don’t want to do just because you need the cash?

The biggest frustration of all — even if your day job does involve some kind of writing — is that working an eight hour day (or more) means you have less time and mental/physical energy to work on your own writing projects. You know, the ones you actually care about that are starting to (or will hopefully soon) bring in the bucks.

What do you do when your day job starts interfering with that time, and your ability to work on those projects? How do you make time? Do you have to give something up? What’s the “right” thing to do?

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In Defense of Writing Nonsense

What you write matters. But sometimes, it’s OK to set your mind free.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to write purposefully.

In my quest to write as many words as possible in 2019 (more on that eventually), I’ve spent a lot of time writing random things I’m not sure will ever turn into anything I could send off for publication.

However, doing this more and more has made me realize how beneficial this can be — not just for my own process and sanity but for other writers’ ambitions as well.

Think of how hard you always try to write something as close to perfect as you can make it. It’s almost never exactly what you want it to be, is it?

Well what if it could be?

What if you could just sit down, open a blank document, and start writing whatever you wanted? What if sentence structure didn’t matter? What if plot devices and grammar and coherent sentences just didn’t matter?

You want to know a secret?

You can write things where none of this matters.

I call it free writing. Some call it stream of consciousness writing. Basically what it means is that you sit down in front of a blank page and just start writing. Not worrying about whether or not it’s good. Not caring if any of it makes any sense at all. Not focusing on all the details. Just writing.

Doing this could change your life. It has certainly changed mine.

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12 Things to Do When the Words Just Won’t Come

There are things you can do to get through it.

1. Do something else that stimulates creativity — like playing an instrument or drawing a picture or building something with Lego. Get creative with your creativity. Sometimes it’s easier to dive into writing after you’ve spent some time, you know … not writing.

2. If something is clouding your creativity — like a task you’ve been putting off but keep thinking about — do the thing that’s taking up space in your brain. Free up the space you need to write.

3. Move to a new location — such as migrating from your office to a cozy corner somewhere else. If that’s not possible, switch word processors. That sounds weird, but you’d be surprised the small things that convince our brains we’re doing something new. Same work, different layout.

4. Get a snack. A hungry brain is deprived, not creative.

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