AFRAID YOUR WRITING WON’T BE GOOD ENOUGH? 5 tips to help writers defeat self-doubt
Do you want to write but you’re afraid of what the outcome would be? You’re not sure the quality of your writing would be good enough or what people’s responses would be. I want you to know that you’re not alone. Such feelings of self-doubt are in fact quite common among writers and other creative people, even accomplished ones. American writer and Pulitzer winner, Sylvia Plath, who helped build the genre of confessional poetry, once remarked that, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
5 TIPS TO HELP WRITERS DEFEAT SELF-DOUBT
To combat self-doubt or the fear that your writing won’t be good enough, let’s tackle some of the reasons behind it.
1. Don’t be fazed because your vocabulary is narrow:
A modest word reservoir can be an impediment to good writing. If you try to write poetry, for instance, finding words to build your rhymes and produce the rhythm you want becomes very strenuous.
Should you then wait until you can boast of an extensive vocabulary? The answer is, “No.” You can grow your vocabulary by reading voraciously but except you start using the words you already know in writing, you may forget the meanings and proper usage of some of them after a while.
One sure way of building your vocabulary is by reading novels regularly, say, one or two per week. Steer clear of self-published novels that have not been properly edited. Many of these have been written by untrained, language-challenged writers who will damage, rather than elevate, your language. Find the African Writers’ Series and devour them. Some aspiring writers ignore those novels because they read a few of them for their O’levels. Many of them were written by award-winning authors whose excellent vocabulary and style can be your first writing coach.
Even after you develop a wide vocabulary, do not stop reading because:
• There are still many words for you to acquire.
• Language is dynamic. So you need to be abreast of the meanings of new words and the changes in how old words are used.
2. Don’t wait because your present writing skills are limited:
You may love to write but you have not been trained for it. You don’t know the techniques for storytelling or poetic writing. Rather than let that deter you, begin to write while acquiring those skills by reading excellent books on those subjects. Tackle one genre of writing at a time. If your main love is poetry, begin with that, but do not limit yourself to it in your studies. As American master of creative nonfiction, John McPhee, counsels, “Though a man be more prone and able for one kind of writing than another, yet he must exercise all.”
You will find that different forms of writing are related and limiting yourself to one will constrain your ability to excel in others. For example, elements of poetry like rhythm can occasionally be applied to make prose more readable and fiction writing techniques help in the writing of nonfictional works like feature stories and biographies.
Get formal training through schools and workshops if you can. Do not feel compelled to seek formal help though. As Nigeria’s award-winning novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, once admitted, “Creative writing programmes are not very necessary. They just exist so that people like us can make a living.” She may have said this as a joke but you can actually educate yourself on writing with the right materials.
Formal training or not, you need a mentor or more to honestly appraise your work regularly and give you specific recommendations for improvement. Such mentoring is available in writer’s groups, some of which are online. The knowledge you will gain, which you will see reflected in your writing, will boost your confidence.
3. Don’t be awed by the competition:
Perhaps you’re comparing yourself with your more successful mates and other writers you imagine yourself to be in competition with. Stop that. Realise that first, your background and opportunities may not be the same as those the people you see as rivals have. Second, you have your own path in life according to God’s purpose for you. That some succeed sooner than you or have brilliant qualities should not terrify you into putting your dreams on hold.
Salent advice on this comes from Nigerian author, Nnedi Okorafor: “Don’t spend all your time obsessing over who wins what award. Write. And then edit. And edit again. Put in the work. Put in the time. Don’t try to get published too early. Don’t focus on making money or receiving praise.” Focus, she adds, on becoming the best writer you can be.
4. Don’t be scared of negative feedback:
Did you share your writing once and people brutally criticised it? This happens sometimes, especially online. That is why you should be careful of those you interact with online and the groups you join. It might surprise you to know that some of those who trashed your posts know very little about writing. In fact, some people entertain themselves by trolling and raining on other people’s parades, particularly on social media. Even if they were writing experts, do not let their thoughtlessness dampen your zeal.
If entering for contests or seeking publishing deals with the attendant rejections is fuelling your fears, hold your horses. You’re attracting unnecessary pain to yourself by putting the cart before the horse. But no matter how good you are, whenever you submit your work for professional evaluation in competitions and to publishers, be mentally prepared for bad news that might come. Most writers get a ton of rejections before they find a publisher willing to sign them up and many hardly win anything. The great American legal fiction writer, John Grisham, got 28 rejections before signing his first publishing contract.
5. Constantly pray and read God’s word:
This number applies to Christians. The Bible assures us that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13) and knowing what God says about you all over the Scriptures imbues you with confidence to carry on your tasks.
Also, if God has called you to write, He will definitely release the grace for you to do so, your feelings of inadequacy notwithstanding. So, march on in faith for your success will not ultimately depend on your desire or efforts but on God’s mercy (Romans 9:16).
In your journey as a writer, you will grow and improve as you study and mature. But that process requires that as you feed by reading, you exercise your creative muscles by writing. Of course, your work won’t be perfect immediately, and maybe not for a long while. Yet, except you write, you won’t know where you are and what you still need to improve upon. And some of the responses you now dread are what you need to polish your craft.
Start small on your social media accounts. Welcome sincere and informed criticism. However, block trolls and those whose criticisms are not constructive. Keep learning but, most importantly, keep writing too.
Do not let self-doubt stop you. Start writing now.
What are your impressions about the contents of this post?
Is there any other reason why you or anyone you know might be afraid of writing?
Share in the comments for advice.