This is certainly true for me as a writer (and in my general life). Sometimes I wonder how I’ve ever managed to persuade anyone to publish my books. I can’t imagine that anyone would get anything from my writing. I’m just going ‘blah blah blah’ and expecting others to be interested. The audacity!
The usual effect of this self-doubt is to paralyse me. I can’t continue writing. Sometimes I can’t even imagine ever writing again.
What can we do when we’re suddenly swallowed up with fear and trembling like this? I’d like to share a few things that have worked for me over the years, and I’d love it if you added to this list by adding your own experiences to the comments section below.
1. Acknowledging that my feelings are understandable
When I feel overwhelmed by doubt (or any other emotion, for that matter) I begin by acknowledging the validity of what I’m feeling. It might feel out of proportion in terms of what has just happened, but I trust that my reaction will make some kind of sense when I take into account my emotional history. When I have a poem rejected, I’m not just reacting to the rejected poem, but I’m tapping in to a whole store-house of feelings about rejection – some going back to when I was very small. When we’re very small, rejection can be a life or death situation – if we’re not acceptable to our parents, then who will feed us? No wonder we can get stirred up by things!
2. Developing the ability to take a step back
I find it incredibly helpful to take a step back from my own process and look in at myself from a small distance. If I’m gnashing my teeth about what somebody said about my new book, I step outside myself, look in with curiosity, and notice what’s happening. ‘Ah, she seems to be very upset by this. I wonder why that is? What might it be reminding her of?’ Developing a curious, objective ‘observer’ can stop us from being completely drowned in our floods of emotion. This variety of mindfulness does get easier with practice.
3. Taking VERY SMALL STEPS
I said VERY SMALL. If I’ve just got three damning pages of feedback on my manuscript, could I read the first sentence again and look at the changes I might want to make? If I feel I can never type again, could I just read the last paragraph I wrote? If it still feels too much, then make the step even smaller.
4. Seeking the support of others
I might be the only person in the world who suffers from occasional crushing self-doubt, but I doubt it. In fact, I know it, because I speak with my writing colleagues and my friends and family about their own doubts and my own. It’s always good to remind ourselves that we’re not the only one who struggles with something. Also, other people might have tried things that have worked for them. Share your knowledge and seek it from others.
5. Having patience with our healing process
This one isn’t always easy. But sometimes, when we receive an emotional knock, it can take time to heal. We understand that broken bones take weeks or month to knit back together, but we usually feel much less patient with our emotional wounds. In my experience, we’re not always fully aware of why something has set us back, but seemingly trivial experiences can (and do) cut deep. If you’re not feeling better yet, it’s because you haven’t given yourself enough time.
I hope these suggestions have helped, and I look forward to reading your own experiences of dealing with crippling self-doubt.
If you'd like to spend time using writing to heal yourself during January, enrol for my ecourse Writing Towards Healing. It starts on Monday the 9th of January and is running in partnership with She Writes.
You'll receive themed essays, daily inspirational emails, writing exercises and a private group here with a lovely fellow She Writes members to share your journey with. The structure will help you find the space you need for yourself and for your writing.
Find out more and register here - once you're registered I'll get the pre-course material sent out to you. It'd be wonderful to have you along.
This blog is part of the 'Looking Back Looking Forwards' series edited by Fiona Robyn between the 1st and 7th of January. What did we learn about writing and about ourselves in 2011? How will we use this knowledge in 2012? What do we hope for? Do join us and write your own post, tagged with "Looking Back Looking Forwards" (don't forget the quotation marks). Read other's posts here (or by clicking on the tag). I'll be featuring a small selection of your blogs during the week. Enjoy.