I recently invited questions from blog readers. I figured it might be handy on days I’m too lazy to come up with a topic on my own.
A great question came in from Malin:
I suspect you're just as human as the rest of us (most of us) and therefore get assailed with doubt. When you've hit the bottom of the well of writing despair, how do you get back on your feet?
First off, I appreciate the vote of confidence in my humanness. There are days I’ve questioned it myself, though it’s less about self-doubt than the fact that I have really freaky toes.
Indeed I do have days when the self-doubt demon creeps up and gives me a big wedgie. It’s something every writer faces, so I've learned a few strategies for coping:
Recognize toxic thoughts. Some writers are prone to telling themselves, “you suck,” or “you’re stupid.” I’m more passive-aggressive with my self-doubt, offering it up as a negative comparison. “I’ll bet that author never backs herself into a corner like this,” I’ll mutter. No matter what form your toxic thoughts take, learning to recognize them is the first step toward squashing them under your heel like a discarded sheep testicle.
Create an “I don’t suck” file. This doesn’t have to be an actual folder on your desktop or in a file cabinet (though if that works for you, go hard). For me, it helps to have a few little treasures to prove to myself that I do not, in fact, suck. Maybe it’s that blog post by my idol Jennifer Crusie reminding me that even after 20 books and countless bestsellers, she still struggles. Maybe it’s that special email from a critique partner, friend, or massage therapist praising your prose, cooking, or supple backside. Whatever it is, keep it handy for occasional ego pick-me-ups.
Take a break. When I feel myself starting to spiral, the best medicine can be a change of scenery. There’s nothing like a yoga class or a walk with the dog to recharge my batteries. Reading a good book is another great option, with the added bonus of stimulating my writer brain. Don’t feel bad about giving yourself a mental health break. It’s part of the necessary care and feeding of an author’s well-being.
Recognize that sometimes you do suck. Hey, I’ll admit it – there are times I say, “I suck,” and I’m right. Besides enjoying the satisfaction of being right, I use it as an opportunity. Maybe I’m just not feeling “on” with my writing, but it’s a great time to tackle the research I’ve been avoiding. It can also be a good chance to edit a critique partner’s manuscript. You can still be productive even if you aren’t feeling like the sharpest meatball in the pot.
Compensate for what sucks. We all have strengths and weakness. My biggest “I suck” moments come during times of frustrating plotting. It’s not my strength, and I’ve come to terms with it (as have my wonderful critique partners, who more than make up for my weakness). Even if I’m not the best plotter in the world, I’m pretty handy with characterization and scene setting. I write a damn fine sex scene, if I do say so myself. I can hold a pen with my toes and write my name. Recognizing specific things I’m good at can help me believe the things I'm not good at don't matter so much.
What are your strategies for dealing with self-doubt demons? Does hiding under the bed work, or are you partial to getting out your feather boa and your “princess” T-shirt? Please share!