I have these moments. They come hard and fast, drops of sunlight peppering my face as I sprint beneath a canopy of leaves.
There and then gone.
In these rare moments, I FEEL like a writer. Like a published author. Like someone who has the enviable job of writing stories for a living. They’re wonderful, these moments. They bring with them a simple, pure, always fleeting feeling of confidence.
I can do this. I can write another story. I can BE this person.
I work hard to respect these moments. To honor them by sitting down in my office chair and dumping words onto a page. Because the truth of the matter is, these inspirited moments are fragile. They dissolve at the very hint of negativity, at the first wind of frustration, at the stink of words like trending and bestseller. It takes very little to scare my muse away. And without that confidence, without the itch of inspiration compelling me to write, it can be a fight to keep my head in the game.
I’m not alone in this, I know that. This isn’t even a problem unique to writers, but the truth is, these battles are fought in a place where you are of little help to me and I am of little help to you. Bloody battles are fought daily between my ears. In the noisy, crowded, aching place where my thoughts churn and churn with little relief. And when I’m losing, my very own mind flips those once sunny moments inside out and uses them against me.
We writers spend so much (too much?) time here. In our own heads. We dissect everything we read, everything we watch, everything we hear. We try to fashion it and shape it and invert it into something usable. Into something we can write about. We pass a man yammering to himself on the sidewalk and, within minutes, we’ve concocted an entire backstory and plot. We know how we’d write this man.
Or we don’t. And that kills us.
We sulk away and claim writers block. We doubt we ever had THAT THING. That spark, that gift, that mojo.
We doubt. We doubt. We doubt.
We’re afraid to fail. So we stop writing. But that only angers the beast inside us and we’re reminded that just because we may not write in practice, we cannot simply walk away from the lens we view this world through. Whether you sit and write or not, your brain will not let you be. And so you have a choice: to write through the doubt or to let it gnaw on your gut as you wait for another passing moment of enthusiasm.
Should you take breaks? Yes, absolutely. Weeks? Sometimes. Months? Maybe. But should you ever let doubt be the reason you walk away? I think, no. Doubt is a monster we should never, ever feed.
I don’t know that there is one answer to the problem of self-doubt. But I think there are things that can help.
1. Redefine success. This word doesn’t have to mean what you’ve always assumed it meant. Redefine it. What is success to you? To me success is mattering, making a difference to someone. That’s success. I’m a Christian so I want to honor Christ. Success. I want to be of value to my publisher. That’s real, that’s success. Your definition of success might not match mine, but you should take a moment to figure out what it is. And be willing to adjust your definition as you grow.
2. Write through the doubt. It’s hard to swallow sometimes, but the only way to chase away the I CAN’Ts is to prove that YOU CAN. So prove it to yourself.
3. Write fearlessly. Being afraid to fail is very real, but if you let it hold you back, fear wins. Want some truth? We’re all afraid. Doing it anyway is what makes us fearless.
4. Look for inspiration. Those of us who write as a career have to learn something early on. Inspiration will not pay the bills. That said, perhaps you’re missing daily inspiration by assuming it will look as it always has. Try this, go outside. Be with people. Scrounge through bookstores and libraries. Go on grown-up field trips. Investigate the world around you. Inspiration may sporadically attack us, but if we go out looking it’ll have to try awfully hard to hide.
5. Inspire someone else. Be the wind in someone else’s sails for a while. Put your pride, your competitive nature, your angst, fear, and doubt aside and lift someone up. Give them a sunshine moment. Not because you’re fishing for inspiration from their lips, but because we all need a little encouragement from time to time. And because others need to know just how valuable their contributions to the world are. Tell them.
These are just a few of the things that help me when I’m lost in the darkness of my own mind. What have I missed? What advice would you give? Today, let’s choose action in the face of paralyzing doubt.
YOU CAN do this. You absolutely can.
*And for the record, that picture up there–me with the sign–was taken for a project the lovely Myra McEntire put together. She also has some inspiring words to share on the monsters of doubt and depression. Read them. Be encouraged.