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Writer’s Doubt: 3 Symptoms & 4 Treatments

The St. Augustine Beach Pier as Tropical Storm Beryl approached on Sunday.

As Tropical Storm Beryl barreled toward my tiny hometown on Sunday, I had to make a decision: Bravely ride out the storm at home alone  (well, save for the supportive company of my terrier mix, Bucky) or shamefully admit my cowardice and impose on a friend for the night.

All day, I tried to build my confidence by facing the storm head on. Toni and I went over to the pier to ogle at the churning ocean and looming clouds on the horizon. Back at home, I gathered my flashlights, batteries, candles, weather radio and bottled water. I told myself it was just a tropical storm, certainly in my twenty-seven years as a Floridian I have been through worse. Not a big deal.

But slowly, fear crept in and I began to doubt my ability to stay calm, cool and collected.

How much could I really handle? What if the power went out? What if there was a tornado? What if a tree fell on the house? What if it flooded? WHAT IF THE BATTERY IN MY iPHONE DIED?

By the 5pm update, when the storm’s sustained winds were just 4 mph short of a hurricane, I waved the white flag of defeat, packed up Bucky, hung my head, and spent a sleepless night in a friend’s guest room when I could have been home in my own bed.

The power never went out, no trees fell in my area, there were no tornadoes and the ground soaked up every drop of rain.

Lesson learned: Don’t let your doubts be your guide.

Symptoms: Just in case you thought you were immune.

Writing doubts are no different. We’ve all experienced the frustration that comes with unanswered questions about our abilities. We’ve scrapped hours of hard work, wondered if we should be pursuing something else, or

If you somehow think you’ve avoided it, check yourself for any of these telling symptoms:

1. You’ve spent more than three Christmases explaining to your family that yes, you’re still working on the same novel.

2. You seem to have come down with a chronic case of writer’s block.

3. You’ve worn all of the letters off your backspace button.

Treatments: Your apple-a-day cure.

Don’t fret — even if you suffer from a painful case of the writing doubts, it’s not an incurable condition. We have a few treatment options for you (feel free to use them individually or in collaboration with each other!)

Install a soundboard.

Find at least one person who can help you stay confident when you start to doubt your abilities. It’s best to find another writer, someone who understands your feels and therefore has the empathy and credibility to make you feel better when times get tough. Don’t be afraid to confide in them, and then return the favor. You’d be amazed how much better you’ll feel when you find out someone else is in the same boat.

Tell your inner monologue to shut it.

One of the biggest hazards of writing is that it’s often done alone, with a lot of caffeine, and painfully loud silence. Sometimes this leads your inner Debbie Downer to get on her soap box. When you start feeling that voice inside messing with your confidence, turn on some music and put your focus on the task at hand. Debbie will get the hint and find another way to entertain herself.

(This treatment applies to outside voices as well — if there’s someone in your life who feeds your doubt, tune them out or tell them to take a hike, this is your journey and you choose your passengers!)

Get a bigger frame.

When doubt creeps in, take a step back and look at the big picture. What’s the worst case scenario? If your first piece of writing isn’t a success, will you have the chance to write again? Of course! Just like any other art, with experience and patience your craft will improve. So even if, Heaven forbid, things don’t turn out perfectly, the entire world will not crash down upon you.

Find the source.

If you really can’t shake your doubts, do a little investigative research. Find out what lies at the core of your troubles and fix it. Do you need to tweak your plot? Build on your writing technique? Brush up on your marketing skills? There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. You’ll be a better person and a better writer for admitting your weaknesses and working on them.

We want your advice, too!

So what do you think — do you feel better? Do you have any other home remedies for writing doubts? Are you looking for someone to join your soundboard? Jump into the conversation by leaving a comment below! We’re all here to help each other kick that Debbie Downer chick to the curb.

  • Glad you made it through the storm & it inspired this article.  Growing up in Florida I’ve seen my share of storms & I actually enjoy them.  

    • Thanks Rebekah! Some people do enjoy it (Toni is one of them!) but I’m a big weenie so even a little tropical storm freaks me out.

  • Victor White

    This is awesome. I have a rough draft I finished a few years ago and another project I tried recently, but my Negative Nancy has been getting in the way. Hopefully this helps me out a little. Thanks Shannon!

    • Pshaw — tell that Negative Nancy to take a hike! Good luck, Victor! :-)

  • This is really helpful…as I’m only 6 chapters from being finished my 1st historical romance and really doubting that I can actually do this writing and indie publishing thing:(  Needed the ‘apple-a-day treatment’ today…so thanks :-) Look forward to reading your Self-Publishing Basic Training book…I know I need it!

    • We hope you enjoy it, Lorna. Give us a shout if you have any questions (or even just need a little encouragement). You can do it!

  • Kate Papas

    I enjoyed 
    everything you offered me to read very much . Your story about the storm apart from being well described   was really humorous. It made me laugh loudly. So did the rest: symptoms and treatments. But what made me feel really good was the fact that after reading what you’ve written I’m feeling already much better (by realizing that I am not alone to suffer and that there are people “out there” to help me…)
    Thank you for everything!

  • I’d add another symptom: fear that what you’ve written is really garbage, but you’re too delusional to know it. I hired a professional editor and it’s helped, but the fear keeps sneaking back!

    • That’s another excellent doubt, Kirsten! I admit to suffering from that one myself…maybe if you had a whole panel of editors to continually reassure you whenever the doubt crept back in? 😉

  • What a great, inspiring post. Thanks!

  • I suffer from the 3rd. My expectations were not as modest as the results when it came to the sales of my book. Thankfully, I have two others going so I can see how the story ends. That’s my motivation.

  • Deez

    I don’t sleep on a rejected article-meaning, before doubt creeps into my being, I do anything and show to the world I have the talent and I am proving it to them! I always maintain a positive mindset.