I have more conversations with clients about their feelings of anxiety, apprehension or insecurity than almost any other topic. Nearly every writer I have ever worked with as an editor or an agent, at some point in their career or in the process, severely doubt themselves.
Doubts occur in the midst of creation. (“They are going to find out the truth…I have no talent.”)
Doubts occur when the “letter” arrives from the editor. (“They hate my book. I’m a failure!”)
Doubts occur when the disappointing royalty statement arrives. (“Why do I work so hard for so little?”)
Doubts occur … just because…
It is the curse of the writer. Writing is an introspective process done in a cave…alone. It is natural to have the demons of insecurity whisper their lies. And, in a cave, the whispers echo and build into a cacophony of irrepressible noise.
Once I had an author with dozens of titles in print and over three million books sold turn to me and say with a somber voice, “Do I have anything left to say? Does anyone care?” I didn’t quite know how to reply so tentatively said, “Well, I like it!” The author responded with a harrumph, “But you are paid to like it.” After we laughed, we agreed that this lack of confidence would pass and ultimately it was a normal thing to feel.
When all is written and done there is the extraordinary feeling of accomplishment when the book is finished and that ministry of words begins. However the doubts don’t go away because critics will write reviews. One or two stars show up on Goodreads or Amazon. Or, even worse, no one cares enough to write a review at all!
Writers complain, “But my book has only sold 3,000 copies!” Instead of focusing on the few, consider focusing on those who bought the book. Put all 3,000 people into one room. Imagine it. An auditorium filled with people, wall to wall. And every person in that room has paid money to read your book. And then you walk out onto the stage to give the glory and honor to our God. That can help put things in perspective.
I hope we don’t write for fame. I hope we don’t write for our own glory. We write because we must. There is something in you that must get out. So many authors will say, “I can’t not write!”
Maybe your magazine article arrives on a doorstep the very day that reader is struggling with a wayward teenager. You’ll probably never hear from that reader, but your words are a salve to the soul. Books aren’t the only way to get published.
Maybe your blog or podcast is forwarded by someone to a person in need. Someone you don’t know.
My advice? Know that the curse of doubt is normal. See it for what it is, simply part of the process. Embrace it but don’t let it debilitate!
[a version of this post originally ran in September 2010.]