Being an author is hard. There’s no way around it. Some days, the prose will spring onto the page almost without effort. On others, it will be an exercise in stagnation and frustration as you stare at a blank screen in a fit of writer’s doubt. Oh, and the actual writing often isn’t the hard part. Authors and writers often work from a deeply personal place. And, if opening up to a new friend is anxiety-inducing, sharing your writing with the entire world takes it to a new level.
Think running a business is hard? Imagine if the business was based around your imagination being shared with others. This is what an author deals with on a daily basis. Thankfully, there are upsides to bring an author. Sharing your creativity can be the most rewarding thing in your life. It’s a chance few will take, but those who do can see great rewards.
Here are a few common issues that authors face, and suggestions on how to overcome them, or put them in perspective.
- Feeling devastated by a bad review
- I’m not a real author
- My writing isn’t good enough
- The task seems too big
- I don’t know enough about a subject to write about it
What it can feel like: Getting a bad review feels really bad. It can trigger feelings of shame, embarrassment, disappointment, shock, fear, and anger. This is painful. Getting a poor review, especially if it is about the first work you share with the public, can instantly trigger writer’s doubt. You might feel embarrassed and childish for trying this “silly book-writing thing.” You might feel angry at yourself. Thinking things like, “How could I publish this horrible book?” (More about the inner critic below). You may also be angry at the reviewer. Their lack of empathy or constructive criticism leaves you frustrated. How are you supposed to improve without helpful feedback? Do they have no idea the amount of work and love you put into these pages?
How it hurts you: Your first reflex might be to pull your book down and hide it away so no one will ever see it again. A bad review can even cause an author to scrap that entire part of their life and abandon writing altogether. Some authors might knee jerk and make sweeping edits to plot and characters without getting a second opinion.
How to beat it: It’s important to recognize that there is no way around bad reviews. If you publish a book, you will get some bad reviews. Every book has a critic, and they will find yours.
Even Harry Potter has hundreds of one-star reviewsEven Harry Potter has hundreds of one-star reviews. Merely acknowledging that you are not alone, and that every author, from the fledgling to the best-selling receives bad reviews, may give you a sense of relief.
Next, ask yourself, “Who is the reviewer, and should I care about their review?” The most successful brands and products understand who their target audience is and cater to them. If the review is from someone you wouldn’t expect to like your book, there is no reason to be upset. You didn’t write your book for them, so of course they won’t enjoy it. One thing you can do is review your description to make sure it’s not obviously bringing in readers the book itself won’t please. Most of the time you won’t find anything to change, but it can be nice to check.
If the review is from someone you would generally expect to enjoy your work, you can treat this as a learning opportunity. Start by trying to remove the emotion from what the reviewer is saying. Even the most brutal and reactionary reviews can have a rational nugget, so try to find that. Search through the mean words for what they took issue with and rewrite it for yourself in constructive, empathetic language. Then, evaluate the criticism. Is it simply a typo issue? Is it an opinion? Did the reader not like a choice that you consciously made? If a review points out grammatical errors or typos, know that it happens to everyone, and simply fix them. This is a great thing about eBooks.
If you can, respond to the reviewer and thank them while letting them know you’ve fixed the problem.
Take the high road, no matter how cutting their words.Take the high road, no matter how cutting their words. It always feels better in the end, and other readers will appreciate it.
If you really need to vent, try writing down what your angry self would like to say, but keeping it private. Simply writing the words down on a page can help get them out of your head, and allow you to move on.
If the review has a more general opinion about the work, it is vital to remember that taste is subjective. Not every criticism will be something you agree with or should consider for future writing. If you think the criticism is valid, use it in a constructive manner by applying it to your future writing.
2. I’m not a real author
What it can feel like: This form of writer’s doubt cuts right into your sense of self. You wake up, and suddenly you have a distinct feeling that you are a fraud.
Yesterday, you were an author. Today, you are a con-artist acting a part and will soon be found out. You feel like you have been deceiving friends, family, and the author community, taking advantage of their kindness only to give yourself an ego boost. You think that whatever you have done is not enough to be a “real” writer or author. You feel disappointed in yourself. Your achievements are no longer significant.
How it hurts you: That inner voice telling you that you aren’t good enough can sometimes be a good thing if you are doing something that is not good for you. The problem? All too often we let this voice get way out of control. Yes, the voice telling you not to swim the English Channel after never swimming more than to the deep-end and back is a good thing. The voice telling you that you are not an author because you haven’t made enough money to support your entire family? Not such a good thing. This voice keeps you from growing and makes you feel bad.
Your inner critic tells you that your accomplishments are not significant out of fear you will slack off if you achieve your goals. It tries to drive you with fear of failure, rather than inspiration and positive reinforcement. Your inner critic is wrong here, and is not using a motivational technique that encourages happiness and creativity.
How to beat it: According to Psychology Today, the answer is not to silence your inner critic, but to question it.
According to Psychology Today, the answer is not to silence your inner critic, but to question it.
This article has great advice on dealing with an overly strong inner critic. Self-distancing is a technique that involves asking yourself questions about your experiences while putting your name, “she,” or “he” in the place of “I.” For example, instead of asking “Why do I not feel like an author when I have written a book?” ask, “Why does Frank not feel like an author when he has written a book?” Distancing like this can help you view yourself from another’s perspective, and give yourself the same empathy you afford others.
Self-affirmation is also a great way to make friends with your inner critic. When that critic pops up, recognize it, and, with purpose, tell yourself about the things you are good at. This can also help you distance yourself from your inner critic.
Like all the suggestions in this article, no one thing will work for everyone. But this is a good place to start. And remember, you are not alone. Lots of people, including authors, struggle with these feelings.
3. My writing isn’t good enough
What it can feel like: This feeling of writer’s doubt can strike seemingly out of the blue. One moment you love your writing and are excited about what you have completed. The next, you suddenly lose all confidence in what is on the page. A chapter that you were satisfied with suddenly seems trite. A once clever plot choice turns into an unexciting, predictable turn.
How it hurts you: Needless to say, this is not a good feeling. Taking pride in your work as an author is extremely rewarding. When you lose all confidence in the core part of your craft, you can start to question your goals, decisions, and even if you should keep writing. Feeling that their writing is low-quality can demotivate authors, and even cause them to abandon their work. “What’s the point,” and “I should just trash this manuscript” might be thoughts you have when feeling this way.
On top of the productivity issues that can accompany this feeling, it’s just not good on a personal level. If you want to be happy (most people I know do), hanging onto this mindset is not the way to go.
How to beat it: First, know that you are not alone. It’s surprising how many authors have felt this way, including Stephen King. King famously threw the start of Carrie in the trash out of frustration before his wife fished it out and convinced him to continue.
Then, go to a friend who supports you, and explain how you are feeling.
Talking through these feelings of writer’s doubt with someone who knows you can be invaluable.Talking through these feelings of writer’s doubt with someone who knows you can be invaluable.
Next, find a community to talk to. It sounds silly, but you will be surprised by how many authors can relate. Even if you don’t feel comfortable sharing, look around for what others are saying. It is common to see threads on Twitter or KBoards discussing this feeling. Getting some perspective from the author community is a great way to get back on track.
Lastly, take a break if you need it, but do so in a loving way. Do not step away with the intention of abandoning work. Recognize that this feeling is just that, a feeling, and it can change with time. Do something you enjoy, drink some tea, breathe, and return to writing.
4. The task seems too big
What it can feel like: This is a classic anxiety-inducing feeling. Whether you want to write a book, run a promo stack, or complete any number of other projects, it is very easy to get overwhelmed. Add in other important things like having a family or a job, and projects can feel so massive that they aren’t even worth starting. You feel swamped and demotivated by something you love, which is disconcerting and leads to more writer’s doubt. It’s not a great feeling.
How it hurts you: People are different, but almost everyone can agree that this feeling of self-doubt doesn’t feel good. That alone is enough to want to banish it, but – here’s the kicker – this feeling almost never helps you do what you want to do.
For some, it would be easy to justify being miserable if it led to a desired end-result, but this is almost never the case here. Instead, most people will abandon the project before starting. And, if you have experienced this feeling, it’s easy to understand why.
How to beat it: It’s time to examine how you look at projects. For most people, the image above with the mountain is not far from how we approach projects. The project is a massive mountain, and once we climb over it, we will get to the end result. How should we reframe this? Simple. When faced with a big intimidating project, break it down into tasks small enough to complete easily. Even if they can seem almost trivial. This approach is based on the idea of “completion bias.” Recent studies have shown simply completing a few small tasks can be enough to give you momentum and increase productivity.
To break down a project into small tasks, make a list and make the items easy enough to accomplish that they don’t seem intimidating. For example, instead of saying “I’m going to write 500 words today.” Make a list like this:
Write 100 words
Write 100 words
Write 100 words
Write 100 words
Write 100 words
Physically mark each item as you complete it. This is shown to increase motivation and can really get you moving. This post breaks down this approach in more detail. You can apply this to any project; just break it down and get going.
It can seem silly, but this technique really pays off. It is now my go-to before I start any project (including this blog post).
5. I don’t know enough about a subject to write about it
What it can feel like: This can be a tough form of writer’s doubt to deal with. When writing about something you cannot research, like what kings talk about over breakfast, it can be hard to stay confident.
You start to worry that because you have not lived the lives of your characters, you cannot make them believable. You think things like “I’m not a multi-millionaire. I have no idea how these people act.” You worry your readers will see through your attempt at creating a character you have little in common with and will stop reading.
How it hurts you: This feeling can quickly combine with thinking your writing is bad. You start to worry about what others will think to the point of paralysis. Some writers may scrap a character, redo their plot, or even discard the project. This hurts your creativity, wastes effort, and, frankly, is no fun.
How to beat it: Realize that few things are universal. Granted, if you are writing a spy thriller and want your characters to have real guns, researching firearms used by different services will be helpful. But, how these characters behave and the decisions they make are personal. This gives you tremendous leeway. Why do we not know how multi-millionaires spend their money and time? Because they all are people, and people are different. Ensure that your character’s decisions and behavior make sense for the character, and all will fall into place.
To quote Nikki Giovanni, “Writers don’t write from experience… If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.”
Stay true to your character, and put yourself in their mind.
Everyone is different, and will react accordingly to the challenges authors face. The techniques outlined above will not work for everyone, but, at the very least, talking about these issues can help some authors stay positive and keep writing.
Remember, when you are facing some form of writer’s doubt, it is almost certain that another author is feeling the same way. If you constantly struggle with these feelings, try practicing self-compassion and gratitude on a daily basis to build resilience against your inner critic. Similar to some of the techniques described above, self-compassion involves affording yourself the same empathy you give others. It’s not easy, but with practice it can pay off in a major way.
Have you faced any mental pitfalls? What made you feel better? Let us and your fellow authors know in the comments. Community is a great thing.