“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” Suzy Kassem
“We learn from failure, not from success.” Bram Stoker
Christina 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!
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.
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.
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.
Don’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!