StoryBud.net creator Ray Commins shares how he banishes self-doubt when writing.
While many can seemingly launch themselves into the world of writing and then shout about it with ease, many of us approach in more tentative, even timid, steps. I know I certainly did.
My foray into writing is a very recent one. I wrote my first ever short story just three months ago, in August, as a means of coping with the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the ongoing pandemic. Prior to Covid19, my typical day was largely occupied by my business in the tourism sector. Suddenly confronted with an unfamiliar empty schedule, I took the opportunity to explore my creativity through writing short fiction.
I’m reluctant to think of myself as any kind of ‘writer’, though; sure, I have the desire and ambition to create – but ambition to do something doesn’t always embolden our confidence to own it and share it.
I constantly have feelings of self-doubt and a degree of ‘imposter syndrome’ when it comes to writing. Imposter syndrome is a somewhat complex psychological phenomenon, and will be different for different people, but essentially, it’s a feeling of doubt about your talents; the idea that your accomplishments have been achieved because of luck and external factors other than your skills and competency, and an internalised fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’ that over-rides the sense of success you ought to be enjoying – despite all evidence to the contrary.
It has gotten easier for me of late, though, not only to write, but to share my writing too. Here, I’d like to share with you the different approaches I take to overcome that niggling self-doubt and bat away imposter syndrome when writing.
Accept that you feel like ‘a fraud’
This is a straightforward one; I accept that I feel like a fraud sometimes. And that’s okay – it’s normal.
When I think about “literature” and “writing” they feel like very big words. I was never an avid reader of fiction or fan of literature and, for me, literature has always felt like the stomping ground of bookworms, established writers, the pursuit of capable academics, or the substance of school English classes.
As an important and valued aspect of culture that ought to be respected and protected, it can feel like it has its gatekeepers. And, to an extent, that is true. I didn’t feel worthy or capable of participating in it – it’s easy to feel like a fraud in such a mindset, so I decided to change my thinking.
I started to realise that my ideas of literature and writing were merely mental blocks of my own, perhaps excuses to stay safe, so I decided that I don’t need to aspire or adhere to them in order to tell a story and that I have the right to do so in my own voice, in my own style and on my own terms.
Separate the process from the result
I had no intention of sharing my first story when I was writing it. It was just for me. Something to occupy and add meaning to my day. The result was not important; it was the process of trying to write a story that attracted me.
I have since started publishing my stories (more on that later), but I still make sure that my motivation for writing is firmly rooted in the enjoyment of the process, not in an expectation of the result. This is not the same as lowering my expectations; I completely remove them, accepting whatever result will be at the end.
I realise this won’t apply to everyone – you may, ultimately, be aiming for a particular finished product and /or pursuing writing as a career. Nevertheless, if you find yourself doubting your ability, or worry that what your writing isn’t any good, keeping mindful of your enjoyment while writing and removing expectation from the process will liberate you, temporarily at least, from that sense of self-doubt.
Put your writing out there
Having written my second short story, and having thoroughly enjoyed doing so, I realised that I would keep writing. This was something of a revelation. I’d discovered something new that I like doing. Now, my stories were destined to either live on my desktop or be set free into the world. I chose the latter.
I created an online platform, Storybud.net where anyone, you included, can publish creative writing, be it short stories, flash fiction, prose, poetry, or whatever floats your boat.
I’ll admit, clicking publish took a lot of resolve; my finger hovered over the mouse, yoyoing for more than a few seconds as my mind raced once more with thoughts of inadequacy, fears about how strangers might judge my words, and friends secretly laughing at foolish me thinking I can write something worth reading.
Thankfully, I took the risk. Now my stories can be read. This was an important milestone in my writing journey; the simple fact that my stories are published somewhere showed me that there was nothing to fear – there was no cruel words or negativity, in fact, quite the opposite – words of praise and encouragement, from strangers as well as friends and family. My world didn’t fall apart, I didn’t die of embarrassment, and it felt good to have overcome my fears of sharing my writing.
Now I love clicking that ‘Publish’ button – it gives me the confidence to relax, feel proud of my creations and to write without fear.
Trust your audience, then forget them!
Now that I have an audience, I often find myself worrying about whether or not they will ‘get’ my writing, if they’ll understand what I’m trying to say with a particular sentence or choice of words. This is, essentially, a self-doubt.
While it’s important to employ an element of ‘craft’ in writing, of course, I find that choosing to trust my audience to hear my voice, and understand it, is vital in allowing me write as I want to and know that it will be okay. Then I forget about them. Yep, I put the audience out of my mind and write what and how I want to, without second-guessing or over-analysing it.
Don’t worry what people will think
My father had a philosophy of sorts that I always liked: “what other people say about you behind your back is none of your business.” There’s a great freedom in that outlook on life that I think can be easily applied to one’s creative output too.
While a fear of rejection is an entirely normal part of the human condition, deciding to not care about what people think of my writing took a weight off my shoulders. I realised that taste is subjective, everyone is different, and different people like different things. If some like my stories, great. If not, well maybe they’ll like my next one better. Either way, it doesn’t change how I feel about my stories, nor does it negate any of the personal joy or purpose of my writing.
Seek out other writers
Writing can be a somewhat lonely endeavour – of course, you will be kept engaged and compelled by your characters, but ultimately writing is a process that you will likely do in a mostly solo capacity. Knowing that there are other writers out there, both veterans and novices, the majority of whom experience, or have experienced, the same kinds of feelings of self-doubt as you, is a comforting thought.
I set up an Instagram account (say hi @storybudweb) and found a huge writing and author community there, with new writers appearing daily. And even though I’m more of a voyeur than an active participant, I find it to be a really nice source of inspiration and reassurance, as well as a very welcoming community of generous writers.
I channel Bill Murray
Who doesn’t love Bill Fucking Murray?? Not only is he a terrific actor, his real-life off-screen personality and approach to life is an inspiration. His ‘wake up’ and ‘live in the moment’ philosophy is now legendary, encapsulated in the lore of ‘Bill Murray stories’, but it’s the first leading role he played, that of Tripper in the 1979 comedy Meatballs (if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour) that I like to recall when I feel imposter syndrome and self-doubt rearing their ugly heads.
In a scene in which Tripper delivers possibly the most motivating demotivational speech ever to a band of summer camp kids who are about to lose a basketball game to a rival camp, he rouses them with the fact that “it just doesn’t matter!”
Whatever negativity or doubt or anxiety I’m feeling while I’m writing, I quickly banish by remembering that, ultimately, it just doesn’t matter. This will be written, it may be good, it may be bad, it may be read, and it will certainly be forgotten. As long as I enjoy the writing, the rest is not up to me, and in the end, it just doesn’t really matter all that much, so I stop worrying about it!
Now, go write!
Imposter syndrome and self-doubt will manifest itself and be experienced differently by different people, and I know that my approach to writing will not be the same for everyone, but I hope that by sharing my own personal experience you might find something to take and apply to your own situation.
Thanks for reading. I invite you to publish your writing on StoryBud.net and look forward to reading some of your wonderful work soon.
Ray Commins is the creator of online platform StoryBud.net, a safe space for you to publish your creative writing. It’s free to publish and read submissions and there are several short stories and poems from both established and new writers there already.
The name StoryBud comes from a distinctly Irish turn of phrase, “Story, bud?”, which is a casual way of saying hello, greeting somebody and asking what’s happening in their lives. The informality of the name serves to accentuate the ethos of the platform – that is, a casual space which takes the pressures away from writing high-brow literary content and replaces it with the joy of storytelling.
You can choose to publish anonymously if you prefer and can even choose to receive feedback or not from readers. StoryBud aims to be a valuable resource for all writers, especially new and first-time writers for whom publishing without fear can be a fundamental first step in helping to diminish feelings of self-doubt around their work.
Looking for more content? Read my series of writing articles for beginners and experienced writers alike. Click on each photo to read the article.
The Weight of Rain – A Collection of Short Fiction
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