Wednesday, February 16, 2011

5 tips for squashing self-doubt demons

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.

Like today.

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!

22 comments :

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Discarded sheep testicle??? Dare I ask if you know exactly what kind of squish that makes??

Good tips, all of them! Taking a break is the hardest one for me to do. I am so stubborn, I'd rather wallow in frustration and self-doubt than walk away.

However, if I am smart enough to leave the problem alone for awhile, I always find that a solution comes along, proving that I didn't suck after all on at least this one thing. :D

Linda G. said...

Dang. Now I'm having an "I suck" moment about my backside, and the fact that I can't write my name with a pen I'm holding with my toes. Thanks a lot, Tawna. ;)

D. U. Okonkwo said...

Ah, procrastintion is something that all us writers suffer with! It's because writing is so darn hard. I think the answer is to simply say 'I'll do my best.' Because let's face it - that's all we can do isnt it? And doing something is better than doing nothing.

lynnrush said...

Awesome. I hate those "I Suck" times. They creep in, for sure. Great advice, Tawna.

I'm all about the exercise. So, when I'm struggling, I go on a nice long run or bike ride. Of course, I have to have some rocking music along, that always helps, too.

Thanks for this post!

Christine said...

I really enjoyed this post! I love the idea of taking a break and doing something else while dealing with a low moment.

:-)

Danica Avet said...

Another great post, Tawna! I think self-doubt is just one of those feelings writers experience regardless of how wonderful they are...like "insanity". Er, okay, so if I'm feeling self-doubt, which I do on a regular basis, I'll contact someone whether it's my CPs, writing friends, or my agent and tell them what I'm having trouble with. I'm not asking them to pat me on the back and say, "There, there", but they tend to see things in a different light than I do and help calm the self-doubting monster.

When they're having a moment, I'm there for them as well. That's what's so fantastic about the writing community. You have a whole slew of willing listeners who are going through, or have experienced, the same things and they make great sounding boards.

bria quinlan said...

Great post - and you hit on something that most people don't get.

Sometimes I suck.

I mean, it's true. I know you're finding it difficult to believe (when I say belive in bria speak, it's typically, "not making a dirty joke" in tawna speak)

Sometime you just have to embrace the fact that something sucks - but there it is! On the page ready to get played with and not suck.

And, knowing is half-the battle... or some other After School Special slogan

Candyland said...

Wait...you're HUMAN?
Hold on...I need a minute to re-group.

Sarah W said...

Thank you for this post---I'm adding it to my collection of things to re-read when I suck! :)

I also remind myself that I'm allowed to suck, and that's what editing is for. Or the delete key.

N.M. Martinez said...

When I feel this way, if I can't ignore it because the thoughts are really hounding me, I'll wheel around and face them. I turn to a clean sheet in the journal and I'll write down everything running through my head until my brain is exhausted and has nothing else to say.

"Are you done? Okay, let's get back to to work, thank you!"

Ricky Bush said...

My descriptive prose 'sucks', so I tend to write dialogue to get down the page.

K. Greaney Martin said...

Great post and very relevant to me because I had an "I suck" moment last night! I even Tweeted about my sucky-ness. But I didn't give up and just kept writing and editing until I felt better about it. Plus I'm meeting my BFF and critique partner tomorrow so she can tell me if I really do suck :).

Kari Lynn Dell said...

In answer to Dianne's question, I don't know about Tawna, but yes, I do in fact know exactly what kind of squish a discarded sheep testicle makes. In case you want details....

RJS said...

This is a great topic. Somewhat similar to N.M. Martinez -- I write down all of the horrible sucky things I'm thinking, no matter how hyperbolic or hysterical. Just go with the flow and wallow for a bit. Also, I eat many mini Reese's Cups. By the time I am starting to seriously regret the latter, perspective is generally setting in on the former and I can get on with life (albeit while feeling mildly ill).

Tawna Fenske said...

Dianne, clearly you've never spent time in Montana or attended a "Testicle Festival" to consume Rocky Mountain Oysters. Oh, how I wish I were joking.

Linda G, yes, but can you write your name with your backside?

D.U. Okonkwo, procrastination is definitely my Achilles heel. Well, one of several.

lynnrush, bike rides are definitely good! Same with snowshoeing.

Christine, especially if the "something else" is at least a little productive :)

Danica, amen to everything you said! I honestly don't know how writers could survive without each other.

Bria, I can't remember where I once read a blog post called, "embracing your suck." I love the idea of accepting the fact that sometimes you DO suck, and that's OK...it's all part of the process!

Candyland, shhh! Don't tell too many people. I don't want the word to get out.

Sarah, I would like to kiss whoever invented the delete key.

N.M. Martinez, hey, that's a really great idea! I'll have to try that sometime.

Ricky, excellent idea as well! You can always edit crappy stuff later, but you can't edit a blank page.

K. Greaney Martin, make sure she buys you a cupcake before telling you whether you suck.

Kari, ah, the delightful things you learn living in Montana :)

RJS, thank you for making me crave chocolate and peanut butter!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Ricki Schultz said...

Great tips! I especially loved the compensation one -- hadn't thought about that before.

Here's my favorite self-loathing video for when I feel like I suck (from FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB_1t-Vn6Vs

Julia King said...

I like how you said that sometimes I do suck. Let's be honest, something's I write are terrible. But that is when I step up to the bat and rework it. Things can ALWAYS be better. I have to remember that I am pretty cool for trying to write a book. It is not easy, therefore, there will be self-defeating thoughts. Get over them though. It will only turn out bad if you don't. Thanks for the post!

Patty Blount said...

I have a print out of a blog reply my idol, Jeff Somers, posted.

*clears throat*

It says, "Patty - that's genius!"

It hangs over my desk.

artistsroad said...

Good points all; guess I'm practicing #3 right now, taking a break and reading this new blog I just discovered.

I'll confess I got distracted early on, wondering when one might NOT discard a sheep testicle, and how one might decide if one was worthy of being kept. But I digress.

Malin said...

I recognise my "I suck" thoughts easily, but I never get over them. You know how most people have a good and a bad side, arguing from each shoulder? I have a logical and an emotional side. The emotional side NEVER listens. It's a pain in the butt.

So thanks for the tips :) I need all I can get.

Ells said...

Came to this post through Kristen Lamb's mash up of awesomeness - which might be something to add to the 'I don't suck' file :)

Good tips, and a great post. Thanks!

Joanna Aislinn said...

Kristen Lamb got me here--this blog made me happy. :)

Love the idea of compensation, too. When I get blocked or go into "I suck" mode, (where I currently am), I try to accept where I am and realize I may be in a different phase/learning curve. Example: work has me very busy and mentally occupied. I'm using this time to learn about and create platform and working my blog better. That helps me feel productive when story ain't flowin'

Thanx!