Every one of us has our own insecurities to grapple with; it’s human nature. Writers are no exception, but there’s something unique about having writing insecurities: They affect the process more directly than for other professionals.
A carpenter might feel insecure about the quality of their work, and a bus driver is perhaps insecure regarding their societal contribution—though consider whom you need more: bus drivers or stockbrokers?
To be sure, insecurity in any profession can be damaging and affect one’s concentration, but as long as the numbers add up and the vehicle is moving, a carpenter and a bus driver can function, and the process still gets done.
An insecure writer can’t function.
When we feel insecure as writers, our creativity is MIA and our imagination is AWOL. Perhaps the more experienced of us could still produce some sort of text, but let’s not fool ourselves: Text that is written under such circumstances hurts us more than helps us.
Can we completely eradicate insecurities? Realistically speaking, no. As Bertrand Russell famously said: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”
But we can address our writing insecurities, keeping them in check and making sure they don’t interfere with our creativity. This is precisely what I will show you in this post.
Drawing from my long and often painful experience, I’ll offer you three killer tips that will help you combat your own writing insecurities, allowing your creativity to emerge unobstructed.
“You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge” is quite the cliche, but, like most cliches, it’s true.
And so, my first tip is this: Learn to recognize your writing insecurities and admit to their existence. You can’t address a problem if you pretend it’s not there.
It goes without saying that each of us is a unique person with individual circumstances. It’s not possible to draw any general conclusions. Having said that, based on my own experience and my discussions with fellow writers, most of our writing insecurities fall under two broad categories: insecurities related to writing quality and insecurities related to marketing potential.
In other words, most writers feel insecure about whether their writing is as good as it should be, and, perhaps by consequence, whether they can make a living out of writing.
The details of your own insecurities might vary a bit, but try to ask yourself questions such as:
You get the idea. The key here is to face your insecurities head-on. The worst possible thing you can do is to shy away from acknowledging the situation. If you do that, you will be dealing with stress and anxiety as a result of not knowing why you feel bad about your writing.
Not to mention, as I explained in the introduction, avoiding the root of the problem affects your writing—which, of course, further fuels your insecurity.
Once you ask yourself these difficult questions, it’s time to plan your counterattack.
Writers hate to hear they’re not original, but this is one area you should be happy you’re not. Truly, feeling insecure about your writing must be the most mundane and predictable aspect of a writer’s life.
Every writer, from independently published new authors to established giants of literature, has at some point doubted their abilities and felt insecure about the future of their writing. Every writer, I guarantee you. No exceptions.
And so, my second tip is to understand you’re not alone in your insecurities. All writers feel like that to various extents. Indeed, as Bertrand Russell’s quote reveals, doubting your work generally means you’re not a fool or fanatic. That’s already a great start, and I totally mean it.
The important part is to learn how to direct this tendency to self-criticize in healthy, productive directions. To do that, it’s important to recognize two distinct aspects of your text: the transitory and insignificant, versus the permanent and important.
Let’s see an example.
Virtually all writers want to produce text that is error-free. None of us want to have embarrassing grammar errors or typos in their text. This certainly doesn’t mean you should feel insecure about your writing if you do.
Just think of Jack Kerouac and the peculiarities of his style—in case you didn’t know, Kerouac didn’t feel comfortable with English until his late teens.
Did that stop him from writing? Absolutely not.
The imperfections of his grammar are transitory and insignificant; the impact of his texts is permanent and important.
And so, when you have doubts about your writing, learn to channel it in a way that is constructive. You can get better with spelling or syntax as a result of writing more. But what’s more important is having something to say, rather than how it’s printed.
Writing skilfully is not a binary condition: not a yes-or-no state. Rather, it’s a continuum, where you and every other writer start from relative inexperience and proceed onto levels of higher and higher skill and experience.
And here’s a little secret: The journey has no destination.
Most of our insecurities—in writing and life in general—have to do with our perceived lack of skill.
And so, we might feel too embarrassed to play the piano, show off our paintings, or dance with others, because we fear we aren’t skillful enough. We postpone doing things, waiting for the “opportune moment,” when we’ll be skillful.
This might shock you, but guess what: This moment will never come.
Not because you won’t ever be skillful—chances are, if you’re reading this you are already considered an experienced wordsmith by your friends and acquaintances—but because being skillful is not a destination but a journey.
It is said that the illustrious cellist Pablo Casals kept practicing for hours every day, even when he was very old. When asked why, his answer was: “Because I think I am making progress.”
And so, my third tip is this: Let go of any notions of perfectionism you have. You aren’t perfect, neither will you ever be, just like the rest of us. If you finish a text and feel you can do better, that’s not a sign of failure but of success. It means you can approach your text critically, and you’re also confident in your ability to progress.
Remember, you can write better texts only because you’ve written the ones you have so far. Every text that you write is another brick in the tower of your experience.
Whenever you see someone boasting about their achievements, giving you a confident smile and a series of you-can-do-it’s, be very suspicious. My experience has shown me that excessive displays of confidence are usually signs of psychological compensation.
In other words, don’t believe those who claim they’re completely secure in their abilities. They are either lying or they are misguided; that is, they’re lying to themselves.
In reality, being insecure about their writing is part of every writer’s life. Indeed, as Bertrand Russell’s words reveal, having doubts can be a sign of maturity and the ability to self-reflect. In a world full of wannabes, predicated on what you display rather than what you are, this is a significant head start.
The truth is, we can’t get rid of our insecurities. That would be akin to getting rid of our humanity, in a way. Our imperfections turn us into who we are, the art lies in the imperfection, if you will.
And so, if you feel your writing is not good enough or if you’re worried about making a living out of it, the first thing to do is to face these fears. Let them be heard, think about them explicitly—the more you do, the less power they have.
Of course, it’s also important to recall you’re not alone. Every single writer has faced the very same problems you think are unique to you. And they lived to tell the tale. Indeed, most of them have thrived. They haven’t all gotten the Nobel Prize in Literature, nor a multi-million dollar book deal, but they have managed to do something they love. That is a much bigger deal.
Chris Angelis has a PhD in English literature from the University of Tampere. Besides his academic research in Gothic/horror & science fiction literature, he is also a writer of literary fiction, and the owner of a literature blog, Home For Fiction. Furthermore, he develops programs focusing on literature, writing, and texts in general. Chris is a senior content editor for Craft Your Content.