Rats in the Attic

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” Suzy Kassem

“We learn from failure, not from success.” Bram Stoker

HamsterChristina here. In an article last year in the UK’s Society of Authors’ magazine, Mick Conefrey mentioned ‘impostor syndrome’ (feeling like a fraud, despite having achieved success), which he called ‘the rat in his skull’. I absolutely loved this imagery/metaphor and could really relate!

Mr Conefrey was talking about the fact that he’d written books about mountain climbing, even though he’s not a climber himself. For me, however, impostor syndrome is the fact that I can never quite believe I’m good enough to be a published author – even after ten years it feels unreal and as though I’m going to wake up any minute and find that it was all a dream.

I’m battling with this inner rodent as I’m halfway through my next work in progress and doubting the story every step of the way. Starting a new book is always scary and although I usually begin with enthusiasm, all fired up about the plot ideas I’ve had, this can quickly change. The mid-point is especially precarious (the dreaded “sagging middle”), when everything starts to feel flat and the characters are not behaving as you’d like them to. I know from past experience that I’ll overcome this, but the rat in my skull certainly doesn’t help matters!

Doubt_4_by_Elihu_Vedder

Doubt 4 by Elihu Vedder

As far as I can make out, lots of authors feel this way. And I’m sure it’s not just authors, but people in many other professions too who doubt they have the necessary skills for what they’re doing. Self-doubt is insidious and worms its way into your brain, whether you want it to or not, and it’s extremely difficult to block. So how can you get rid of that pesky rodent inside your brain? I decided to Google for answers and here are some tips that may or may not work:-

Don’t compare yourself with others – compare yourself only with you. This is where I often go wrong – I’ll read a particularly brilliant book and wonder how I could ever compete with something so great. But that’s not the right way to go about it – we are all different and as a reader I like various types of stories so why should I write like someone else? What I should be doing is looking at my work in progress to see if it’s as good as (or better than) the previous ones I have written.

Be nice to yourself and remember that we are all allowed to make mistakes – we’re only human. We need to give ourselves a break as we are our own harshest critic most of the time.

Don’t think about things that didn’t go so well – set-backs are temporary. There will always be new opportunities in the future and you’re not a failure just because one thing didn’t go right – put it behind you and move on.

Rae _Henrietta_-_Doubts_-_1886_modificada

Henrietta Rae – Doubts 1886

Positive thinking – try to stop the negative thoughts from taking root. Or even better, don’t let them in at all. Nip them in the bud the moment you realise they’re creeping in, then turn them towards something good that’s happened recently or something that makes you happy. (Easier said than done though, right?)

Self-doubt is a bad habit and as such, can be undone. Be sceptical of your own thoughts and question them – they’re not always true just because they enter your brain.

Focus on what you want to achieve, not how scared you are of trying to get there. We have to realise that things will go wrong sometimes, but it’s not the end of the world and you can’t let yourself be afraid of something that might happen, but also might not.

Think back to, or make a list of, the things you have achieved to remind yourself of your successes so far. Things that we might have been scared of doing, but did anyway and they turned out just fine.

Spend time with friends and family who are supportive and encouraging. It can be hard to be kind to yourself so if you have others cheering you on, that will do the job. Being told that someone else liked something you did is great for morale.

Ask yourself why you are doing whatever it is. If it’s because you have a burning passion for it, then maybe the outcome is irrelevant? You’ll still enjoy the journey.

Thinking_woman Xuan Zheng  CC BY-SA 2.0 httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa2.0  via Wikimedia Commons

Thinking woman – Xuan Zheng

Reflect on what really matters – do you care what others think about your work? If you’re happy doing it, then perhaps that is the main thing. And remember that other people don’t actually care as much about what you say or do as you think. Most of the people around us have their own problems and are much more interested in solving those.

Write your thoughts down – it can help to get them out of your head and onto paper. That is one of my coping mechanisms and I find that once I’ve written them down, they stop going round and round my brain to the same extent.

Accept advice from others, but realise that at the end of the day it’s you who has to make the decision so you have to trust yourself. If I get stuck on a plot point, I often ask friends for advice or bounce ideas off them, but usually what this does is trigger another – better – scenario. It can even take me in a completely different direction.

Don’t wait for perfection – for example, a manuscript can be edited and polished ad infinitum without ever feeling like it’s done. We have to accept that there are always improvements that can be made, but at some point we have to say “enough is enough, this is finished now” and let it go.

Twitter 512px-Twemoji2_1f914.svgDon’t think you’re the only one – everyone has self-doubt, even people who seem invincible and supremely confident in themselves. And a little bit of doubt can be a good thing because if we’re over-confident, we might make bad decisions or choices.

Identify what’s holding you back and fight that ‘inner rodent’. He’s talking rubbish! We need an inner something else that cheers us on – any suggestions?

Talking to someone can help – if we bottle things up for too long, they might fester. It’s especially helpful to chat to friends who are in the same position as yourself – I my case other authors. Having people like the other Wenches to talk to, for example, is invaluable to me.

Make a list of pros and cons just to see things more clearly. If one side is much longer than the other, you’ll have your answer.

Celebrate successes, even if it’s just by buying yourself a chocolate bar or some champagne!

Do you suffer from self-doubt and do you have any great tips for beating it? I’d love to hear them!

105 thoughts on “Rats in the Attic”

  1. In the past, I worked for FEMA helping people who had been affected by some disaster – floods, fires, hurricanes, etc. We worked long hours and 7 days a week. Even being that busy, I seemed to find time to worry that I was not doing enough, not getting every aid available for that person, in short, just not doing good.
    What I did was important to those people who needed help. I felt inadequate. As a matter of fact, I helped people. And I loved what I did. But, yes, there were days when I knew in my heart I had failed somehow. It was not true except in my head.
    Hope everyone is well and safe and happy.

    Reply
  2. In the past, I worked for FEMA helping people who had been affected by some disaster – floods, fires, hurricanes, etc. We worked long hours and 7 days a week. Even being that busy, I seemed to find time to worry that I was not doing enough, not getting every aid available for that person, in short, just not doing good.
    What I did was important to those people who needed help. I felt inadequate. As a matter of fact, I helped people. And I loved what I did. But, yes, there were days when I knew in my heart I had failed somehow. It was not true except in my head.
    Hope everyone is well and safe and happy.

    Reply
  3. In the past, I worked for FEMA helping people who had been affected by some disaster – floods, fires, hurricanes, etc. We worked long hours and 7 days a week. Even being that busy, I seemed to find time to worry that I was not doing enough, not getting every aid available for that person, in short, just not doing good.
    What I did was important to those people who needed help. I felt inadequate. As a matter of fact, I helped people. And I loved what I did. But, yes, there were days when I knew in my heart I had failed somehow. It was not true except in my head.
    Hope everyone is well and safe and happy.

    Reply
  4. In the past, I worked for FEMA helping people who had been affected by some disaster – floods, fires, hurricanes, etc. We worked long hours and 7 days a week. Even being that busy, I seemed to find time to worry that I was not doing enough, not getting every aid available for that person, in short, just not doing good.
    What I did was important to those people who needed help. I felt inadequate. As a matter of fact, I helped people. And I loved what I did. But, yes, there were days when I knew in my heart I had failed somehow. It was not true except in my head.
    Hope everyone is well and safe and happy.

    Reply
  5. In the past, I worked for FEMA helping people who had been affected by some disaster – floods, fires, hurricanes, etc. We worked long hours and 7 days a week. Even being that busy, I seemed to find time to worry that I was not doing enough, not getting every aid available for that person, in short, just not doing good.
    What I did was important to those people who needed help. I felt inadequate. As a matter of fact, I helped people. And I loved what I did. But, yes, there were days when I knew in my heart I had failed somehow. It was not true except in my head.
    Hope everyone is well and safe and happy.

    Reply
  6. It sounds to me like you did a fantastic job Annette so I hope you managed to banish that rat in your brain! Take care!

    Reply
  7. It sounds to me like you did a fantastic job Annette so I hope you managed to banish that rat in your brain! Take care!

    Reply
  8. It sounds to me like you did a fantastic job Annette so I hope you managed to banish that rat in your brain! Take care!

    Reply
  9. It sounds to me like you did a fantastic job Annette so I hope you managed to banish that rat in your brain! Take care!

    Reply
  10. It sounds to me like you did a fantastic job Annette so I hope you managed to banish that rat in your brain! Take care!

    Reply
  11. I think it’s a sign of perfectionism — not that you think that you’re perfect, but that you hold yourself to a standard that’s almost impossible to achieve, the feeling that no matter how well you do something, you could have done better.
    I think most writers battle with this feeling from time to time, and I think other writers are the best people to talk to about it. Family and friends will just say something like, “Of course you can do it, look at all the books you’ve written.” But the self-doubt can hit at any time. My only answer is to shove the doubts aside, push on and get stuck in to the writing. Once the writing is booming along, the self-doubt will (I hope) have gone back to its cave.

    Reply
  12. I think it’s a sign of perfectionism — not that you think that you’re perfect, but that you hold yourself to a standard that’s almost impossible to achieve, the feeling that no matter how well you do something, you could have done better.
    I think most writers battle with this feeling from time to time, and I think other writers are the best people to talk to about it. Family and friends will just say something like, “Of course you can do it, look at all the books you’ve written.” But the self-doubt can hit at any time. My only answer is to shove the doubts aside, push on and get stuck in to the writing. Once the writing is booming along, the self-doubt will (I hope) have gone back to its cave.

    Reply
  13. I think it’s a sign of perfectionism — not that you think that you’re perfect, but that you hold yourself to a standard that’s almost impossible to achieve, the feeling that no matter how well you do something, you could have done better.
    I think most writers battle with this feeling from time to time, and I think other writers are the best people to talk to about it. Family and friends will just say something like, “Of course you can do it, look at all the books you’ve written.” But the self-doubt can hit at any time. My only answer is to shove the doubts aside, push on and get stuck in to the writing. Once the writing is booming along, the self-doubt will (I hope) have gone back to its cave.

    Reply
  14. I think it’s a sign of perfectionism — not that you think that you’re perfect, but that you hold yourself to a standard that’s almost impossible to achieve, the feeling that no matter how well you do something, you could have done better.
    I think most writers battle with this feeling from time to time, and I think other writers are the best people to talk to about it. Family and friends will just say something like, “Of course you can do it, look at all the books you’ve written.” But the self-doubt can hit at any time. My only answer is to shove the doubts aside, push on and get stuck in to the writing. Once the writing is booming along, the self-doubt will (I hope) have gone back to its cave.

    Reply
  15. I think it’s a sign of perfectionism — not that you think that you’re perfect, but that you hold yourself to a standard that’s almost impossible to achieve, the feeling that no matter how well you do something, you could have done better.
    I think most writers battle with this feeling from time to time, and I think other writers are the best people to talk to about it. Family and friends will just say something like, “Of course you can do it, look at all the books you’ve written.” But the self-doubt can hit at any time. My only answer is to shove the doubts aside, push on and get stuck in to the writing. Once the writing is booming along, the self-doubt will (I hope) have gone back to its cave.

    Reply
  16. Christina – while many men share self-doubt, much research shows that working women (obviously that includes writers!) are far more likely to doubt their abilities than men. Women get promoted and feel sure that, now, someone will realize they don’t know what they’re doing, while men are more likely to think, what took them so long to promote me? Having run an organization for senior executive and professional women for over 25 years, I can assure you that when your rodents are active, there are many, many others running around in the heads of talented, accomplished, successful women just like you! Knowing that probably won’t stop the critters, but at least you’ll know you’re not alone! In addition to all the great tips you offered, I hope knowing science backs you up might help a bit, too!

    Reply
  17. Christina – while many men share self-doubt, much research shows that working women (obviously that includes writers!) are far more likely to doubt their abilities than men. Women get promoted and feel sure that, now, someone will realize they don’t know what they’re doing, while men are more likely to think, what took them so long to promote me? Having run an organization for senior executive and professional women for over 25 years, I can assure you that when your rodents are active, there are many, many others running around in the heads of talented, accomplished, successful women just like you! Knowing that probably won’t stop the critters, but at least you’ll know you’re not alone! In addition to all the great tips you offered, I hope knowing science backs you up might help a bit, too!

    Reply
  18. Christina – while many men share self-doubt, much research shows that working women (obviously that includes writers!) are far more likely to doubt their abilities than men. Women get promoted and feel sure that, now, someone will realize they don’t know what they’re doing, while men are more likely to think, what took them so long to promote me? Having run an organization for senior executive and professional women for over 25 years, I can assure you that when your rodents are active, there are many, many others running around in the heads of talented, accomplished, successful women just like you! Knowing that probably won’t stop the critters, but at least you’ll know you’re not alone! In addition to all the great tips you offered, I hope knowing science backs you up might help a bit, too!

    Reply
  19. Christina – while many men share self-doubt, much research shows that working women (obviously that includes writers!) are far more likely to doubt their abilities than men. Women get promoted and feel sure that, now, someone will realize they don’t know what they’re doing, while men are more likely to think, what took them so long to promote me? Having run an organization for senior executive and professional women for over 25 years, I can assure you that when your rodents are active, there are many, many others running around in the heads of talented, accomplished, successful women just like you! Knowing that probably won’t stop the critters, but at least you’ll know you’re not alone! In addition to all the great tips you offered, I hope knowing science backs you up might help a bit, too!

    Reply
  20. Christina – while many men share self-doubt, much research shows that working women (obviously that includes writers!) are far more likely to doubt their abilities than men. Women get promoted and feel sure that, now, someone will realize they don’t know what they’re doing, while men are more likely to think, what took them so long to promote me? Having run an organization for senior executive and professional women for over 25 years, I can assure you that when your rodents are active, there are many, many others running around in the heads of talented, accomplished, successful women just like you! Knowing that probably won’t stop the critters, but at least you’ll know you’re not alone! In addition to all the great tips you offered, I hope knowing science backs you up might help a bit, too!

    Reply
  21. I know self doubt is a problem for many. I suffer from it often enough, especially at three o’clock in the morning or the I’m about two-thirds of the way through a manuscript. On the other hand, I suspect that self-doubters do far less mischief in this world than those who are absolutely certain of their rectitude.
    One of the few things (possibly the only thing) I like about Oliver Cromwell is the line he wrote to some Levellers who were causing him problems: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”
    Sometimes self-doubt is a good thing.

    Reply
  22. I know self doubt is a problem for many. I suffer from it often enough, especially at three o’clock in the morning or the I’m about two-thirds of the way through a manuscript. On the other hand, I suspect that self-doubters do far less mischief in this world than those who are absolutely certain of their rectitude.
    One of the few things (possibly the only thing) I like about Oliver Cromwell is the line he wrote to some Levellers who were causing him problems: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”
    Sometimes self-doubt is a good thing.

    Reply
  23. I know self doubt is a problem for many. I suffer from it often enough, especially at three o’clock in the morning or the I’m about two-thirds of the way through a manuscript. On the other hand, I suspect that self-doubters do far less mischief in this world than those who are absolutely certain of their rectitude.
    One of the few things (possibly the only thing) I like about Oliver Cromwell is the line he wrote to some Levellers who were causing him problems: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”
    Sometimes self-doubt is a good thing.

    Reply
  24. I know self doubt is a problem for many. I suffer from it often enough, especially at three o’clock in the morning or the I’m about two-thirds of the way through a manuscript. On the other hand, I suspect that self-doubters do far less mischief in this world than those who are absolutely certain of their rectitude.
    One of the few things (possibly the only thing) I like about Oliver Cromwell is the line he wrote to some Levellers who were causing him problems: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”
    Sometimes self-doubt is a good thing.

    Reply
  25. I know self doubt is a problem for many. I suffer from it often enough, especially at three o’clock in the morning or the I’m about two-thirds of the way through a manuscript. On the other hand, I suspect that self-doubters do far less mischief in this world than those who are absolutely certain of their rectitude.
    One of the few things (possibly the only thing) I like about Oliver Cromwell is the line he wrote to some Levellers who were causing him problems: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”
    Sometimes self-doubt is a good thing.

    Reply
  26. I think it would be the rare person who DOES NOT experience self-doubt! Thank you for your thoughtful discussion, Christina.
    (Is that a rat in the pictured skull or a guinea pig?)

    Reply
  27. I think it would be the rare person who DOES NOT experience self-doubt! Thank you for your thoughtful discussion, Christina.
    (Is that a rat in the pictured skull or a guinea pig?)

    Reply
  28. I think it would be the rare person who DOES NOT experience self-doubt! Thank you for your thoughtful discussion, Christina.
    (Is that a rat in the pictured skull or a guinea pig?)

    Reply
  29. I think it would be the rare person who DOES NOT experience self-doubt! Thank you for your thoughtful discussion, Christina.
    (Is that a rat in the pictured skull or a guinea pig?)

    Reply
  30. I think it would be the rare person who DOES NOT experience self-doubt! Thank you for your thoughtful discussion, Christina.
    (Is that a rat in the pictured skull or a guinea pig?)

    Reply
  31. Hi Christina. Excellent article. I am about to start a new job. When I was asked for an interview, I reread the job description and immediately thought I was definitely not qualified but should give it my best shot. When they offered me the job, they said I was head and shoulders above all the other candidates! So I will be keeping your list in mind when I turn up on Monday to remind myself that I don’t need to have imposter syndrome. Thank you

    Reply
  32. Hi Christina. Excellent article. I am about to start a new job. When I was asked for an interview, I reread the job description and immediately thought I was definitely not qualified but should give it my best shot. When they offered me the job, they said I was head and shoulders above all the other candidates! So I will be keeping your list in mind when I turn up on Monday to remind myself that I don’t need to have imposter syndrome. Thank you

    Reply
  33. Hi Christina. Excellent article. I am about to start a new job. When I was asked for an interview, I reread the job description and immediately thought I was definitely not qualified but should give it my best shot. When they offered me the job, they said I was head and shoulders above all the other candidates! So I will be keeping your list in mind when I turn up on Monday to remind myself that I don’t need to have imposter syndrome. Thank you

    Reply
  34. Hi Christina. Excellent article. I am about to start a new job. When I was asked for an interview, I reread the job description and immediately thought I was definitely not qualified but should give it my best shot. When they offered me the job, they said I was head and shoulders above all the other candidates! So I will be keeping your list in mind when I turn up on Monday to remind myself that I don’t need to have imposter syndrome. Thank you

    Reply
  35. Hi Christina. Excellent article. I am about to start a new job. When I was asked for an interview, I reread the job description and immediately thought I was definitely not qualified but should give it my best shot. When they offered me the job, they said I was head and shoulders above all the other candidates! So I will be keeping your list in mind when I turn up on Monday to remind myself that I don’t need to have imposter syndrome. Thank you

    Reply
  36. I’m so glad if it helped Alice! And best of luck with the new job – I’m sure you’ll do brilliantly!

    Reply
  37. I’m so glad if it helped Alice! And best of luck with the new job – I’m sure you’ll do brilliantly!

    Reply
  38. I’m so glad if it helped Alice! And best of luck with the new job – I’m sure you’ll do brilliantly!

    Reply
  39. I’m so glad if it helped Alice! And best of luck with the new job – I’m sure you’ll do brilliantly!

    Reply
  40. I’m so glad if it helped Alice! And best of luck with the new job – I’m sure you’ll do brilliantly!

    Reply
  41. If I were a fiction author I think that I would be monitoring sales figures as a measure of success, building on what sells and cutting back on stuff that doesn’t. Any decline in popularity would probably dent my confidence. Filters might be necessary so that sex for example doesn’t dominate! I would also be monitoring any reader feedback and reviews. As a scientist I haven’t really suffered from self-doubt, though I do sometimes get nervous before public speaking, though strong coffee before hand helps.

    Reply
  42. If I were a fiction author I think that I would be monitoring sales figures as a measure of success, building on what sells and cutting back on stuff that doesn’t. Any decline in popularity would probably dent my confidence. Filters might be necessary so that sex for example doesn’t dominate! I would also be monitoring any reader feedback and reviews. As a scientist I haven’t really suffered from self-doubt, though I do sometimes get nervous before public speaking, though strong coffee before hand helps.

    Reply
  43. If I were a fiction author I think that I would be monitoring sales figures as a measure of success, building on what sells and cutting back on stuff that doesn’t. Any decline in popularity would probably dent my confidence. Filters might be necessary so that sex for example doesn’t dominate! I would also be monitoring any reader feedback and reviews. As a scientist I haven’t really suffered from self-doubt, though I do sometimes get nervous before public speaking, though strong coffee before hand helps.

    Reply
  44. If I were a fiction author I think that I would be monitoring sales figures as a measure of success, building on what sells and cutting back on stuff that doesn’t. Any decline in popularity would probably dent my confidence. Filters might be necessary so that sex for example doesn’t dominate! I would also be monitoring any reader feedback and reviews. As a scientist I haven’t really suffered from self-doubt, though I do sometimes get nervous before public speaking, though strong coffee before hand helps.

    Reply
  45. If I were a fiction author I think that I would be monitoring sales figures as a measure of success, building on what sells and cutting back on stuff that doesn’t. Any decline in popularity would probably dent my confidence. Filters might be necessary so that sex for example doesn’t dominate! I would also be monitoring any reader feedback and reviews. As a scientist I haven’t really suffered from self-doubt, though I do sometimes get nervous before public speaking, though strong coffee before hand helps.

    Reply
  46. Yes, that sounds sensible, although sometimes reading reviews can dent one’s confidence even more as we tend to focus on the bad ones even when good ones are in the majority. Human nature? I find public speaking difficult too but force myself to do it and it helps to do it as often as possible. And lots of practice beforehand is good too!

    Reply
  47. Yes, that sounds sensible, although sometimes reading reviews can dent one’s confidence even more as we tend to focus on the bad ones even when good ones are in the majority. Human nature? I find public speaking difficult too but force myself to do it and it helps to do it as often as possible. And lots of practice beforehand is good too!

    Reply
  48. Yes, that sounds sensible, although sometimes reading reviews can dent one’s confidence even more as we tend to focus on the bad ones even when good ones are in the majority. Human nature? I find public speaking difficult too but force myself to do it and it helps to do it as often as possible. And lots of practice beforehand is good too!

    Reply
  49. Yes, that sounds sensible, although sometimes reading reviews can dent one’s confidence even more as we tend to focus on the bad ones even when good ones are in the majority. Human nature? I find public speaking difficult too but force myself to do it and it helps to do it as often as possible. And lots of practice beforehand is good too!

    Reply
  50. Yes, that sounds sensible, although sometimes reading reviews can dent one’s confidence even more as we tend to focus on the bad ones even when good ones are in the majority. Human nature? I find public speaking difficult too but force myself to do it and it helps to do it as often as possible. And lots of practice beforehand is good too!

    Reply
  51. Great column. I suffer from self doubt or lack of confidence. So great to keep all those helpful suggestions in mind. Take a deep breath – & chant OM.

    Reply
  52. Great column. I suffer from self doubt or lack of confidence. So great to keep all those helpful suggestions in mind. Take a deep breath – & chant OM.

    Reply
  53. Great column. I suffer from self doubt or lack of confidence. So great to keep all those helpful suggestions in mind. Take a deep breath – & chant OM.

    Reply
  54. Great column. I suffer from self doubt or lack of confidence. So great to keep all those helpful suggestions in mind. Take a deep breath – & chant OM.

    Reply
  55. Great column. I suffer from self doubt or lack of confidence. So great to keep all those helpful suggestions in mind. Take a deep breath – & chant OM.

    Reply

Leave a Comment