How to Combat Doubt When the Voices Get Loud

How to Combat Doubt When the Voices Get Loud

I published my first book in May of 2014. I spent at least two years before that trying to turn writing into my full-time gig, learning how to put a decent story together, revising what I had written and studying how to move forward. So it’s safe to say I’ve been doing this a solid five years now. And I’m nowhere near as far along the path as I hoped I would be when I started.

Of course we all have that hopeful, breathless expectation that we’ll publish our first book and it will catapult us to overnight success. And most of us experience the heartbreak of realizing it’s not that easy. Life simply doesn’t work that way.

Still, I feel like I’ve had plenty of time to hone my craft, to learn what elements make a good story and figure out how to put one together. They say you have to write at least a million words before you figure it out. I’ve written more than that since 2016 and that doesn’t include all the novel drafts I shelved prior to writing the first book I published. It helps that I’ve been a consumer of fantasy and science-fiction since age thirteen. I devoured every fantasy or sci-fi book I could get my hands on, not to mention endless hours of Star Wars, Star Trek and anything else that took place outside the dull world we live in. People who read my work generally give me positive reviews, even strangers who have never met me. So I figure I must be doing something right.

But what if I’m not?

What if struggling to grasp the core concepts of marketing isn’t the reason for my modest returns? Does my recent upswing indicate I’m learning more, or is it a sign I’ll never get beyond this hurdle? What if I really don’t know anything about what makes a story work? Have I fooled myself into believing my doodles are decent?

In other words; the demons of doubt are loud today.

It’s no secret that every creative struggles with the same dark shadows. I’ve read countless blogs and spoken to countless other authors about their experiences and all of them mirror mine in one way or another. No matter how excited you are when you write the words down, at some point you’re going to look back over them and doubt everything. Does it make sense? Is it interesting? Will people even care about any of the 100,000 words I just spent weeks crying, sweating and chugging coffee over?

When you publish your own work, there’s another layer of fear and anxiety on top of it all.

How do I get my work in front of the right eyes? Is my book failing to sell because I don’t know how to market it properly, or because it sucks? Am I wasting money in my efforts to find my audience? How do I get people to pay attention to me? Sometimes every comment, every post, every word you write feels like a shout into the void.

For three years after I published my first book, I had horrible visions of men in black suits showing up at my door to inform me that mine wasn’t a real job and I was going to have to get with the program and start contributing to society. Or of my husband sweeping in at the end of a long day to tell me the charade was up and he expected me to start submitting job applications (not something he would ever do, but try telling that to my beleaguered brain).

I scroll through youtube, look at all the successful young people whose careers I’ve followed for the last half a dozen years, and feel like a failure. Many of these people are my age. And while I know comparing youtube videos to novels is like comparing apples to oranges, I can’t help feeling I missed the train. While the indie revolution was happening I was struggling just to create on a daily basis. Now I wonder if I’ll ever be able to work hard enough to catch up.

So what do I do on days like today?

Talk to other writers.
We’re all walking a shared path. The difficulties and obstacles we face will be similar, even if the specifics are different. It’s important to have someone to talk you back from the ledge when doubt makes you want to give up. It’s also helpful to have advice on what step to take next or a critical eye to help you correct mistakes before you make them.

Talk to your readers.
It’s impossible for me to appraise my own work without bias – whether it be positive on the good days or negative on the bad days. But my readers know what they like. Sometimes it’s important to be reminded of your strengths. Save the critical feedback for when you get over the hump. It’s important to re-discover the joy of the journey every now and then.

Take a break and come at the problem with fresh eyes.
Whether it’s marketing research or a mid-project slump that’s got you in the dumps, take a step back and breathe. Wait until the heavy emotions pass and come back for a fresh try. Make a new game plan or refine your old one. Pinpoint the exact problem (if you can) so you’re ready to face it when you come back to the table.

Make good art.
Take Neil Gaiman’s fantastic advice and turn the darkness into something else. It doesn’t matter if it’s something you make for fun or if you’re muscling your way through the next part of your current project, just do something creative.

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