I’m almost absolutely certain I’m not the only person who writes who also feels tremendous bouts of self-consciousness and insecurity. In fact, I Googled “being insecure as a writer” and found lists of affirming articles that give my hypothesis a nod.
I think insecurity is natural in creative and introverted types. Creative people put a lot of effort into, well, the things they create, and of course they want their products to be perfect. Creating art is different than, say, creating expense reports for your boss. To create is to cut a slice of yourself out and feed it to a world of mauling, angry dogs eager to criticize and judge you.
So I think the first step is realizing that feeling insecure is totes normal. In fact, it should be a good thing. It means you have high standards of achievement for yourself. It means you’re not a loser!
But why, exactly, do we feel insecure about our abilities? Here’s what I think:
1. We set a perfectionist’s goal. Like I said, it’s a good thing to set high goals and be ambitious, but sometimes it also helps to be a little realistic. I think goals should be set in ranges: minimums and maximums. So you can say: at a minimum, I want to write one good short story by this year; but ideally, I want to finish writing my novel this year. That way, you can still feel proud of yourself for hitting the range but not the exact top goal.
2. We compare ourselves to people who have accomplished more. I hate comparing, but it’s human nature. Everyone does this. We compare ourselves to our peers who are top 20 under 20. We compare ourselves to child geniuses who can solve Rubik’s cubes in 20 moves. It’s a disease, I tell you, a DISEASE!
It’s important to remember that everyone’s running on a different path, and what you see in other people’s accomplishments is just that: their accomplishment. Their result. Their path leading up to it may have been completely different than yours, yielding different opportunities, events, people, settings, instances of pure luck that you didn’t have.
I’m not saying you should dismiss other people’s accomplishments as “Oh, they were just at the right place at the right time” but do recognize that playing fields aren’t all created equal. Instead, try to make someone’s success productive for yourself. Ask them how they go to their position, what opportunities they used that you may have missed. What their attitude to work is.
3. We underestimate our accomplishments. You may be behind the person you’re comparing yourself to because you were distracted by other things, such as getting a black belt in karate or whatever. Hey, that’s an accomplishment that your comparee doesn’t have.
Yes, it might not be in the same industry (but you should be proud anyway!). As for succeeding in your industry, remember that every little thing along the way counts. You’re building your career, lego block by lego block. And there has to be setbacks.
4. Setbacks count. You can’t expect your career to be a steadily-rising tower of success growing in a crescendo towards superstardom. You need to fail once in a while, in order to learn and make your next success a real good one. I always say: you gotta write horrid, tepid, shitastic, kerflopping writhing bundles of sloppy mess before you can write good. You need to know what doesn’t work to figure out what does.
5. Your only failure is not writing. You can’t be good at something if you don’t do it, so by golly just do it. Now for some of us (including yours truly), this is exactly what drives our guilt and insecurity. We’re so insecure we don’t even try, and then we feel bad for not trying. It’s a difficult cycle to break, but hey, it doesn’t have to be broken with grace.
In fact, go now. Write, like, 10 words. Not even 10. Write three. Write three words and it can be complete utter crap.
And then go from there.
6. Oh, one more thing: just because you’re an award-winning uber-author, doesn’t really mean you’re “good.” Writing is a subjective, icky business. Some of us worship Twilight like it’s the blood that keeps us alive (see what I did there?). Others question what insane intoxicated editor allowed it to be published. So what makes some authors good and others not?
“Good” is however you define it. Good can mean selling well to your target audience. Good can mean getting someone to actually finish your manuscript without falling asleep. For me, good simply means convincing someone to continue reading without feeling it’s a thing they owe me as a friend.
Now, I’m not a professional writer (not yet!), just another sympathizing soul 🙂 But I found some pretty neat resources for fellow stragglers in the writing game:
“The Writer’s Guide to Overcoming Insecurity” by Henri Juntilla
“3 Easy Steps to Turn Your Writing Insecurities into Strengths” by Lynda R. Young Yes there’s a support group for insecure writers…
“Get a Handle on Writer Insecurity” by Alex Cavanaugh One of the things I forgot to mention in Cavanaugh’s post is recalling past praise!