Conquering Self-Doubt (Don’t be Afraid to Suck)

Author Brian Beam

One of my favorite fantasy authors, Brandson Sanderson, once imparted some wonderful advice for writers. Just five simple words. Five words that could possibly be the best writing advice I have ever heard: “Don’t be afraid to suck.”

When I write, I sometimes find myself wondering, “What will readers think about this? What will they say?” Before I know it, I am questioning every word, every sentence, and every paragraph that emerges on the screen before me.

Doubt worms its ugly presence into my brain like a bad pop song with crippling intensity, turning my productivity dial to 0. I realize that I am afraid to suck.

We all have this fear to some degree. How many of us can say we haven’t feared negative feedback for our work? Can any of us say that we have not at some point cast aside a project solely from this fear?

The problem with being afraid to suck is twofold. For one, it can hinder output. Fear of sucking is enough to keep our works from being released or even finished. The second—and in my opinion, the worst—is that it kills creativity and buries it out behind the tool shed next to inspiration. Dreading negative feedback can easily lead to playing it safe with our writing, catering to the lowest common denominator and never truly finding a unique voice. Initially, this may lead to decent sales, but does nothing to establish ourselves as recognizable, and reliable, authors. Taking the well-traveled road will just lump us in with the dozens of other authors doing the exact same thing.

For example, I bought a bag of chips a few days ago at the local gas station. It was a brand I hadn’t tried before. They were actually pretty good. Nothing special, though. They didn’t stand out from the bag of Ruffles I would have normally picked up. The point is that I have no idea what the brand was. There was nothing unique enough about them to make me take notice. The next time buy chips, I won’t be looking for that brand’s newest flavor and may even base my next purchase simply off a shiny bag with bright colors. Am I making any sense or just making you hungry?

Think about your favorite author. Do they stick to convention or do they attempt something new that could just as soon fall flat as be a success? Will you go to the bookstore or their website(gas station) looking for news of their next release(new chip flavor)? Does seeing their name immediately equate to quality in your mind(brand recognition)? Do you think their writing is hindered by being afraid to suck?

Now, sometimes what we write truly does suck. Not everything we write can be gold. Not every idea that pops in our heads will be the next revolution in the literary world. However, we need to take those ideas that we are scared to put to paper and just go for broke. I think a far worse crime than writing something that is horrible is keeping it inside because of the fear that it will be. Sometimes we need our work to suck in order to improve. We need to take chances and we need a strong, honest support group to let us know what does and doesn’t work about what we write. Then we grow, we figure out what works, and we get better. Who knows, maybe that sucky idea will blossom into something incredible. Maybe a distinctive voice will be found and people will say, “Have you read (insert title) from (your name here)? I’ve never read anything like it!” The idea is that they will say in a favorable light.

And this advice can be applied to anything in life. You know, the whole “dance like nobody’s watching” thing.

Ironically, I find myself being afraid to suck as I type this closing paragraph. I blame the other authors who regularly post such amazing articles here on IU. Darn your high bar setting. Nevertheless, the next time you sit down to start a new writing project, brush the fear of sucking aside and embrace what could be the greatest(or worst) idea ever put to paper(or computer screen).

Brian Beam resides in North Carolina and is a proud husband and father. He holds degrees in marketing and nursing, following his passion for writing in his free time. He has way too many cats and likes video games a little too much. His first novel, the fantasy adventure The Dragon Gem, is available on Amazon. Learn more about Brian and his writing from his blog, and his Amazon author page. You can also find him on Facebook.

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33 thoughts on “Conquering Self-Doubt (Don’t be Afraid to Suck)”

      1. Thanks :). I feel that self-doubt is enough of an issue among writers, especially ones starting out, that a little overlap of this topic is a good thing.

  1. When I write I don’t ask myself if I suck, and I don’t tell myself I’ve written a masterpiece. What I ask myself is; will my readers gain something of benefit from my work? Is it worth their time and effort to read? If I can honestly say yes, then I publish. Any given work will draw different responses from different people, sometimes opposite responses. One person’s trash is another’s treasure. I agree with you, Brian, that if you fret about people’s responses too much, you will end up accomplishing nothing.

    1. Excellent ideals. I pretty much follow the same as you. I write with my heart and hope that readers will like it. Some won’t and you can’t please everyone. Just life.

  2. I learned from my first Nano that first draft are allowed to suck – although they never suck as much as I think they do. My internal editor on the first draft tells me that my work sucks, that the phrasing is trite and the plot is stupid. I respond with ‘yes you are right, now let me get the crap out of my head and onto the page where we can fix it.’
    That’s been the most effective approach for me. After all, it’s hard for your imaginary friends to argue when you agree with them. Now If only the dancing zombie bear clowns would just shut up and leave me alone.

  3. Hi Brian, One of my favorite bloggers tackles the Doubt Monster on a regular basis. We all have to wrestle with this, and admitting it is one great way to deal. Thanks for an entertaining post! Nice to meet you. (I once thought 6 cats were too many, but really it was just that my house was too small. I live with only one at the moment.)

    1. Thanks! I never thought we had too many until our little guy was born. With a little toddler running around, I guess we notice those cats under our feet a bit more.

  4. My dear American friends,
    I adore and respect you all, but, I fear, you have little realisation of the full impact the exhortation “Don’t be afraid to suck” can have to UK English eyes. While this post is very informative and entertaining, I was expecting it to grasp an altogether different nettle. Alas, perhaps next time…

    1. Ha ha! The best part about this comment is that as I was writing it, I briefly considered that I may get a “that’s what she said” comment (the American equivalent to the “said the vicar to the nun” line you mentioned in one of your previous posts)

  5. Of course high bars, and many levels up unto, are admirable and informative and educated, and I see a great deal of excellently written articles here and all over the Internet that truly help us all out, but personally I always enjoy less formal posts like this too, that just get down to the issue in plain old English; touching on the psychology of the writer, as opposed to delving into all the technical aspects, from perhaps an introspective viewpoint.

    But getting to the point of your post, when I write something a bit outrageous, usually something trapped in my head that escapes through my fingers, initially it was only for fun, an indulgence, and I bite my thumbnail, contemplating it, thinking; ‘ooh no, I don’t dare put that, what will people think?’ But then if I think that, my rule is, that it stays put, and I kind of give a wicked inner laugh. It’s essential I think to remain modest, not expect everyone to love your work, and to grow from the comments of those who don’t, both in attitude and as a writer. But it’s a huge world out there and I could insert any number of clichés here about that – can’t please all the people…. Any time I get notified of a review I cringe, yet, I’ve never actually had a really bad one, but I still cringe, expecting the worst every time – I rather suspect I always will.

    I too always try new flavours of chips, some work, some don’t, but it’s great exercise for our taste buds – keeps them on their stems.

    1. I can’t write anything too technical without giving myself a headache :). Anyway, I sometimes get a bit of that review anxiety, but I’m getting better at dealing with it.

  6. Nice post, Brian. Conquering the “not being afraid to suck” monster is difficult, but as writers we must if we are to be successful. Otherwise we wouldn’t write a thing. I suppose a little of that fear is a good thing. The trick is knowing when to put it in the closet, lock the door and hide the key!

  7. Great post. Finding your own unique voice is what it is about. Given that by writing we open ourselves up to criticism from the world, it would be better to be criticized AFTER we have had our full say, our way, what say?

  8. Yes! Thank you, Brian. Embrace the suckitude! I’m reminded of a scene in one of my favorite movies, Keeping the Faith, where Ben Stiller is a rabbi coaching a nervous Bar Mitzvah student by making him repeat, “I love that I suck!” (Sorry, Chris. 😉 )

    1. “Embrace the suckitude” – words to live by :). That should have been my post title. Also, I’m going to have to see that movie. Years ago a good friend recommended I see it and I have yet to do so.

  9. Fantastic post. And it’s so important in a writer’s life to get past that sense that everything we write sucks, that everyone’s (secretly) pointing and laughing. It’s a horribly exposed feeling, especially considering most writers are probably introverts. As well as slightly paranoid. Nicely played, Brian.

    1. Thanks, David! I’m definitely an introvert(outside of the internet at least), so I can vouch that putting your work out there can be a terrifying experience. It comes down to that moment you drag the arrow over the “publish” button and get that mixture of excitement that your work is going to be available to the masses and the dread of the same.

  10. Hi Brian! Fantastic post. I can completely relate…my self-doubt prevented me from finishing the first ‘real’ manuscript for about six years. Finally, I decided to stop torturing myself and go for it, regardless of what would happen. I am so happy I did. I think I will bookmark this post for a ‘pep talk’ in the event of any future ‘afraid to fail’ moments. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    1. Thanks :). Glad you were able to push through that! I still have a little of the fear of my work getting torn apart by readers, but now that I’ve pushed through that fear once, I know that it won’t hold me back in the future….I’ll just be a bundle of nerves until reviews start coming in 😛

  11. “Now, sometimes what we write truly does suck. Not everything we write can be gold.” That’s the crux of it. Getting that out into the open makes everything a little less scary. Thanks!

    1. You’re welcome! The challenge(one I find to be fun) is taking what does suck and learning to spin it into gold, Rumpelstiltskin style. By the way, love your pic over there. I’m a sucker for cats :).

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