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Dealing with Self-Doubt - Slaying the Second Dragon

Updated: Jul 25

Apologies for my few week absence - holidays are a busy time. To make up for it, I’ve released two dragons in one day.

“It isn’t good enough. It’s a mess. I’m not experienced enough for this.”

Said everyone ever.

Self doubt isn’t rare, but it certainly hurts, and has the potential to smother your every waking moment. It’s not even specific to personal projects you do either. It spreads its tendrils to social situations, jobs, and general life as a whole.

I’m not a psychiatrist so don’t expect professional advice on serious cases of this. What I can give you all is what I use to deal with most of my self doubt (some I’m still working through) in the context of my writing in the hope it may apply to your lives in any small way it can.

1.) Acknowledge everybody feels the way you do.

I imagine people are stumbling their way through life and very good at pretending it (at least I hope so) and I highly doubt that there’s a single person in the past hundreds of thousands of years among the billions of billions of humans that have ever existed that hasn’t felt self-doubt at least once in their lifetime (early humans probably doubted whether their spears were sharp enough, I don’t know). It’s unavoidable. It was probably some great survival instinct that made us question whether those berries were poisonous or not and now it’s an annoying voice in the back of all of our heads that tells us our work is pathetic and not worth it. The point is you’re not alone, and there’s no shame in doubting yourself. Talk to others, share how you feel. They’re probably feeling the same about whatever they’re doing.

2.) Put your thoughts on trial.

This is a technique taught to me for general life, but it certainly had a place with self doubt.

3.) Listen to the opinions of people you trust.

Ultimately, the people around you are going to give you the soundest feedback, be it praise or constructive criticism. You’re blinded to your own successes as well as your shortcomings (and sometimes you might get them the wrong way round). That’s not to say it’s all up to them. Listen to as many opinions as possible for a well rounded, mixed perspective, and then make a judgment call based off what you’ve heard. It’s your book. Just it helps to hear what trusted, kind readers actually have to say, as opposed to the crueller voices in your head. The more real feedback you hear, the less you’ll panic about what might be said, and the less you’ll doubt your abilities. Face your actual limits, and make rational steps to overcome them. Then you’ll be unstoppable.

4.) Remember that all work starts terrible. And even good work might look terrible in your eyes.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is $#!+” and he’s a writing celebrity. Even if you’re writing your magnum opus, it’s probably not even going to know what it is until at least the second draft, and even then it’ll need tons of combing through for stylistic, grammatical and plot changes. You won’t make the statue of David the first time you chip away at a rock. You keep chipping, first in bug chunks, then in the fine details. That’s the way it goes. But that also you don’t need to be so afraid about the lumpy chunk of rock. That won’t be your finished work. You can trust in the process and your own ability to make something special.

5.) Stop striving for perfection.

It’s not going to be perfect. Nothing is. Lord of the Rings is one of the most acclaimed franchises in all time, and I could name dozens of issues I personally have with it. The thing about art is everyone will take a different thing from it, and not everyone will like it. Eventually the book will reach a point where the changes you make just won’t make a difference to how you feel about it, or the opinions of others. And that’s when you get it out there, own your work, and face your fear of rejection. It’s tough, I know. But until you let go of trying to make some immaculate unattainable thing, you won’t make anything at all.

7.) It might not be your best work, and that’s good.

If my first book was the best thing I’d ever written the first time, I’d have peaked too soon (and perhaps would have lost all enthusiasm for my writing). It’d have been a tragedy. Everything we do is a learning experience. Everything we do makes us better. But we learn more from finishing what we started, from getting what we’ve done out there, then we do from throwing it away or hiding it in the shadows. And who knows? Even if it’s not your best work, it might still be a decent one. Or a pretty damn good one. You won’t know if you don’t try it.

Look no further than this blog page for the third dragon: dealing with “Writer’s Block.” Alternatively, check out my aforementioned first book, Circle of Saints, one that forced me to face my own self doubt and release it to the world. See you shortly, and happy reading!

- Threap :)

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