Like most people, I have an inner monster. He hollers and howls and refuses to leave me for long. He screeches and taunts and tries to keep me from doing what I love.
Maybe you know him too.
I’m certain that all writers have at least met him.
My monster is the demon of self-doubt.
He’s the voice that tells me I’m not talented enough to be a writer, not clever enough to be a writer, not-even-close-to-brilliant-enough to be a writer. He has scared me into holding back, into tip-toeing at the edge of the pool, unwilling to jump in and risk being devoured completely.
We’ve all had those moments when we want to give up, or when we just don’t feel we measure up. So today, I’m going to share some tips on how to conquer self-doubt (or at least keep it at bay).
Tip #1: Join a group (or lots of them). SCBWI, writers groups, critique groups, facebook groups, or any other band of misfit writers. Surround yourself with other people who write. Soon you’ll find that everyone struggles with self-doubt (or at least has at some point). And you’ll have a whole group of peers to guide you and cheer you on. They’ll tell you it’s okay when you stumble, and applaud the loudest when you do something well.
Tip #2: Never stop learning. Enroll in classes (might I suggest the Children’s Book Academy?). READ as many books as you can in the genres you are writing. Go to conferences. Read books on writing. Read blogs on writing. Doing these things will bring the confidence to take risks with your writing. And the more you learn and practice and take risks, the more able you are to write something spectacular (bonus).
Tip #3: Own your passion. At the first SCBWI conference I attended, I mentioned to a woman at lunch that I wasn’t really a writer, just a hobbyist. I was too embarrassed to call myself a writer since I was just starting out and hadn’t been published (I’m still not). She asked me to tell her more about myself, which I did, and then she said simply, “You’re a writer.”
Writing is more about desire and determination than it is about where you are on your road to publication at any given moment. She helped me to see that. I have learned so much since then, and have so much more to learn, but from that day, I’ve owned it. I’m a writer. So are you.
Tip #4: BE YOURSELF. Everyone has something to give. But it can be easy to believe that you don’t. It can also be easy to take everything you’ve learned and try to write something that is not, well – you. If your stories don’t make YOU laugh, or cry, or feel all of the wonderful things you feel when you read a really great book, then take some time to tune into your inner child, and write something that YOU would love! It’s easy to lose your voice in the many rounds of feedback and critique. But allowing yourself to just be you is wonderfully liberating. In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, “Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”
Tip #5: Just keep writing. When all else fails, write. And do it for yourself. Even if you know it’s something that no one else will ever read. Write new things, write funny things, write sad things. And don’t get too caught up on a project that isn’t working. If something isn’t clicking, put it away, start something fresh, and go back to it when it feels right. But keep writing!
Writing is courageous work. It requires great effort to push that self-doubt aside and keep your pen to paper (or fingers to keys). But keep it up, and together, we can slay that monster.
Maria Oka is a mother of three very busy girls whose reading and writing spans from books for the very young to older picture books. Besides being interested in rollicking laugh-aloud books with her girls, Maria is also interested in children's books with a spiritual element. She reads, writes, and tries to juggle dinnertime, school schedules, and doing the dishes one-handed in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and munchkins.
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