Here’s What to Do When You Face Self-Doubt as a Writer: Part I

Here’s What to Do When You Face Self-Doubt as a Writer: Part I

You have not heard true wisdom until you have watched The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.

It is quite literally the last lecture Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon Professor, gave before he succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Naturally, given his status as a brilliant computer science professor and one-time Disney Imagineer, the loss of this luminary is basically a crime against humanity. But as Pausch refused to focus on his death in this speech, cleaving instead to the message he wanted to share before he went, so shall we also focus on that message.

In a nutshell, it’s pretty simple: Pausch advocates staying true to our childhood dreams. They were the guiding lights in his life, right up until the end. There is no reason, he claims, that they shouldn’t – against all odds – remain the guiding lights in ours.

Of course, I couldn’t possibly encompass the brilliance and heart of this speech in a simple paragraph, so let me just say: You are not a true person until you have watched it. If you don’t care about being a true person, well, okay. I can’t stop you from clinging to your Lesser Mortal status. You do you.

An Antidote to Self-Doubt as a Writer

For everyone else, this speech is literally the best antidote to doubt you will ever experience. Or at least, it’s the best one I’ve found (other than watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on repeat while eating two cans of Pringles). My favorite quote:

The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.


So why did a Carnegie Mellon professor and father of three, devastated by the turn his life had taken and the fact that he was soon to leave his family behind, spend so much precious time and energy preparing and delivering a lecture on the subject of childhood dreams?

Because he knew, as you probably know, that doubt is a silent killer. It is a dream-destroyer of epic proportion, fuel for the procrastinatory fire and fodder for the Furnace of Self-Loathing into which we creatives seem to so enjoy pitching ourselves. What are goals without a healthy helping of self-flagellation, after all.

Understanding the Nature of a Writer’s Self-Doubt

Seriously, though, doubt can be debilitating if you do not know how to wrangle it, smother it, put it in its proper place. You can faithfully read every bit of fear-killing advice you can get your hands on, determined to rock creative life, only to fall prey to the fear that your work isn’t good enough/you’ll never amount to anything/how can you possibly stand out among eight billion other people/it’s hard/I don’t wanna/etc.

Because doubt is rooted in fear. Fear that you will be exposed as a fraud, that no one will like what you have to contribute, that you will fail and everyone will know about That Thing You Once Tried and Didn’t Pull Off. As such, doubt often directly precedes inaction.

If you procrastinate, your subconscious tells you, then you won’t have to fail or embarrass yourself. Because as we all know, though we may not all admit it, being seen as lazy is approximately ten hundred thousand times better than being seen as just plain lame.

Yes, it’s a million times better. I went there.

Your subconscious takes this and runs, inventing all sorts of reasons why you can’t get started, work on, finish or promote a project. It throttles you just as you reach the crossroads of doubt and very convincingly persuades you of all the reasons this project is wrong for you but the next one will be perfect and seamless and oh-so-very-right.

Both are lying. You can work, and you should. The next project likely won’t be better, and you shouldn’t jump to it unless you have performed a rigorous examination of whether or not the current project has validity.

It’s hard to do, especially when your brain is screaming at you to make the pain of creativity end already.

This might be an appropriate point to note that my brain is currently doing exactly that, trying its level best to convince me to stop writing this probably-useless book and go read the latest Stephanie Meyer novel instead. After all, how much do I really know about fighting doubt? Aren’t I currently experiencing it right now, my jerk brain wants to know? Shouldn’t I just call it quits and stop faking this whole “I’m a writer and I have things to say” thing? Who am I kidding??

Perhaps it is ironic how badly I want to procrastinate while writing about procrastination. On the other hand, maybe not. I am writing, after all.

How to Put Self-Doubt In Its Place

Bottom line? You can’t just let doubt do its thing. You have to put it in its place. Which is the subject of Part II in this little duology. Stay tuned, or head over and check the post out right away!

Also, don’t forget to check out the Free Resource Library. No matter how brave or courageous you are, you still need the tools to become a great writer – and I’ve got ‘em right heeeya. So click the picture below and head straight there!

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