Good Enough?

not good enough

I have it. I hear that you have it. In fact, the buzz is that it’s pretty all writers have it. It’s the beast, that saps your inspiration, pulls the rug out from under you, makes you want to go hide somewhere in a dark hole, tells you no one would ever want to read anything you write. You know the one I mean – self-doubt. There, it’s out.

Have a good look. Ugly isn’t it. Does it look familiar? Does it make you cringe and want to turn your face away?

I’ve been suffering from this rather a lot of late. Those insistent messages in my head that babble louder and louder when I read a book by another writer whose style I admire and whose work I enjoy. And the more I read louder the cacophony becomes. “You need better descriptions,” “His images are so much better than yours.” Her humour is so good. Why can’t you add some more humour?” “You need more tension. Your plot sucks.” “Why can’t you write characters like that?” I see a beautiful turn of phrase, a masterful sentence and I ask myself, “Why can’t you write like that?”

Perhaps you are one of the fortunate few who have no need or compulsion to compare yourself to another. I envy you.
For the rest of us the messages in your head may be a little different but you get the gist. Unless, of course, you are convinced you are writing the next great, most acclaimed, most universally loved book in the history of the world. No? I thought so.

What happens when these negative messages intrude into your soft grey matter, that vulnerable place that is impossible to barricade away from outside influences? How do you get past it so that it doesn’t paralyze you, so that you can continue to write? Where does your strength and inspiration come from?

For me, things seem to go in cycles. Fall is always a down time for me. I watch the scenery lose its colour and the days get shorter. It feels like world is dying around me. It depresses me. Perhaps I am one of those SAD people, since this time of year seems to trigger me. Perhaps it is only that I resent the need for extra clothing, the mess of wet snow and ice to look forward to, the difficulty getting around after the snow narrows the streets and makes driving so much tougher. I don’t have a definitive answer. It’s not important, really. All this only serves to feed into the doubts I already have about my abilities as a writer.

So what helps?

For me there a number of things that pull me out of the doldrums, some I do myself and some that come from others.
One of the most useful tricks I use is self-talk. “Just do it,” is the best one. “If you start, it will come.” “Sit down and you will find your groove.” “You have fans that want your new book.” “You have your own voice, not better or worse, but it’s unique and good enough.” This last one is tough, sometimes, especially the ‘good enough’ part.

But, because of a childhood devoid of the kind of messages that build a sense of core identity, I rely more on outside validation. Not healthy or conducive to remaining centred perhaps, but that is just who I am. I doubt that will ever change, though it is much better than it used to be.

What buoys me up most is a positive review from someone I don’t know, or another writer whose work I admire, or a fan who lets me know they are holding their breath until my next installment. It need not be a five star. What makes it meaningful for me is when the reviewer shows, by the comments they make, that they have truly read and understood my work, and say something specific about some aspect they liked. For me it is usually that I create characters they can relate to that draw them in.

Comments on posts or blogs help as well. It gives me the sense that I belong to a community, that others are struggling with the same issues, that they have something to add to the topic at hand, or simply let me know they are there.

I must say, with gratitude and humility, that the writers’ community, this one and others, have kept me going, have helped me to believe in myself. Without that support I think I might have given up.

But enough about me. What works for you? How do you keep going? What do you need to do or receive in order to keep the monster of self-doubt at a manageable distance? Ask. We will do our best to support you, too.

Author: Yvonne Hertzberger

Yvonne Hertzberger is a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to Canada in 1950. She is an alumna of The University of Waterloo, with degrees in psychology and Sociology. Her Fantasy trilogy, ‘Earth’s Pendulum’ has been well received. Learn more about Yvonne at her blog and her Amazon author page.

28 thoughts on “Good Enough?”

  1. I have it, too. Here’s what I do: Drink lots of water, get plenty of rest, take two cookies and write again in the morning. That also works for a bad date.

  2. Thank you for this post, Yvonne. I can relate to everything you said. I think self-doubt makes us better, but it is the bane of every author, creeping up at the most inopportune times and rendering us useless. I use my guitar to take a break and after playing for awhile I find my inner peace. I think that my biggest problem is positive self-talk. Instead, I wallow in the “I can’t do this as well as…..” – that’s death to creativity. My thought is that a little self-doubt goes a long way to making us better writers. The trick is to not letting it get out of control, no matter how we achieve that. I, for one, have to say that I wouldn’t have made it nearly as far if not for the support of the wonderful writer’s communities I belong to, both online and in my area. No matter the hour, I can get answers and “hugs” and I’m able to get the validation I need. You’re right, good reviews definitely do it for all of us but the bad ones put us right back in the same place. The one thing we can all rely on is that each of us is unique and someone’s favorite author!

    1. Love that you use music as one of your go-to’s in such situations. I do the same. Playing guitar and/or singing, or spending time with my son and wife are two surefire ways of erasing any negative thoughts I’m having.

    2. Thank you. As you say, the trick is not to let it get out of control. And I find singing helps me. I don’t play an instrument, that my voice is one that I can carry with me wherever.

  3. Wonderful post! You’re definitely not the only one comparing yourself to other writers. I do it all the time. I just took a hit to the ego by my favorite author’s most recent release and another from one of the best indie books I’ve read so far. Add that to the self-doubt that already lingers under the surface, and I start having those bad days too. (If I had read this before my recent post was up, I would have gone through the same thing). I have no magic way of getting over it; I just tell myself that the only way to get better is to just tell my brain to shut up, sit down, and write away. And sometimes my best inspiration comes from those times.

  4. Ah how I understand those feelings. Thank you Yvonne now I don’t feel alone. Being grown up about such things I usually sulk for a while and listen to very loud music. If that fails I snarl at Hubby.

  5. For some reason it is easier for our brains to think negative thoughts. We all have self-doubts. I find when I am starting to go in that direction that I need endorphins. Exercise helps me a lot.
    I admire many other authors, but I know that the worst thing I could do is to try to copy someone else’s style. You have your own style, and it is why your readers want more from you. Try to look at how much you’ve accomplished. We don’t always give ourselves credit for our past successes. We immediately think about what we haven’t done yet.
    And as Krista said, a cookie works, too. 🙂

  6. Thanks Lois. I try to tell myself that what I do is mine and fine for my readers. But I tend to go off the rails when I read something another writer has written that blows me away. Then it’s hard to see myself as their equal.

    It does get better over time, though, as I produce more and see positive responses to what i write.

    I do need to exercise more, though. Discipline – that’s what I need. 🙂

  7. Yvonne,
    Your title caught my interest…Good Enough. I’m writing this and there’s a picture of my favorite teacher sitting on my desk? Why? Because he’s been my inspiration for over 50 years. He was also the track coach, and walked with a noticeable limp. Funny that a man with an inability to run wound up coaching track.
    He did such aa fine job coaching that my high school dedicated the new track complex in his honor. It wasn’t that he had the best track teams – it was because every athlete he coached felt better for having participated, and was better than when they started.
    I dedicated my last novel to him. He’s an amazing man, and most likely why I got into coaching.
    How does that relate to your ‘Good Enough?’
    He instilled in each of his athletes that it wasn’t winning the event that mattered…it was beating their personal best performance.
    That is what we need to do as writers. Don’t be better than another author, just be better than we were the last time.
    So, how can this relate to our writing? One suggestion is to make chapter two better than one. Book two better than book one, etc. Pleasing yourself is more important than anyone else. There will always be someone better. That’s why world records are most always beaten.
    We’re tougher on ourselves than anyone else is. So, if we don’t like what we just wrote, we should use it to make that chapter better.
    I try to write a novel I would enjoy reading. I’ve probably read more novels I haven’t enjoyed. In fact, that is what got me started in writing. I felt I could do as well as some of those more famous authors. Who knows if I will be successful at it? I feel I wouldn’t be embarrassed if someone read my novels.
    Now back to that track analogy. If you’re the runner and everyone is doing better than you, with Mr. Kelley’s formula – how are you doing? Are you beating your own time? That’s the goal. Not to be better than them, but to be better than you were the last time, or your best time.
    Lois said it –
    “Try to look at how much you’ve accomplished. We don’t always give ourselves credit for our past successes.”
    I’ll try to sum it up – “Don’t try for perfection, just do a little better with each new chapter, and feel good about what you’ve done. If it’s not better in your opinion, try changing it until you’re happy with it.”
    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

    1. Thank you Dick: I think most of us have that one teacher who stands out and made a real difference in out lives. I had one, too, and wrote a post about him a while back.

      Actually I use your formula when I write. I aim to make each book better than the last. I know the second was better than the first and hope the third will be better than the last.

      I think the comparison to others is what sends many of us down that spiral of self-doubt. And in that, you advice is sound as well. In any comparison we end up either better or worse than another. When we compete only with ourselves it is much easier to stay on track and stay positive.

    2. Thank you Dick – that’s a lesson I seem to have forgotten lately…being the best that I can be is what’s important, not what anyone else can be but /me/.

  8. Yvonne, I’m living proof those doubts can be conquered. For years, I was convinced I was sh*te, hiding my stuff from the world. It took me getting accepted for a prestigious Creative Writing Certificate program, and then that subsequent year, to even allow my stuff to be seen. And since that time (2005), it’s still been a slow acceptance that maybe, just maybe, I can write. I mean, I get really wonderful feedback from many sources, and of course I appreciate it and all that, but it still has to be internalized, and that’s the tricky part. All I can say is: push through those moments, it’s worth it. Most of the time, I now know I am a good writer, even a very good writer on occasion, but instead I question my marketing/promotional abilities, lol, which only goes to show (to paraphrase Lady Macbeth): self-doubt will out!

    1. Thanks David. I wonder why we have such trouble believing in our own voice, our own skill and artistry, in spite of evidence to the contrary. Is it something more common among creative people? Or to introverts? Or to those who have suffered? It’s a question that I often ask, though I think there is no definitive answer.

      And, by the way, you are a brilliant writer.

  9. As always, a great post, Yvonne. I’m such a word of encouragement type person. I just need someone to tell me that my writing is brilliant or to see a new review that says my book was reading in one sitting because it was impossible to put down.

    I hate that I’m so needy! But there it is 🙂

  10. You’re not alone Yvonne. The monkey has been on my back lately too so reading this post and the comments has cheered me up no end. Thanks.

  11. Thank you, Yvonne. It helps to know that we all have these crises in confidence, from time to time. When I began reading journals and letters written by some of the world’s classic authors, I found that they all had bouts of self-doubt, no matter how well their most recent work had been received.

    How I feel about my ability to write shifts often, like the San Andreas fault (that big one that runs through the state of California.)

  12. I would think that every writer and, in fact, anyone involved in any kind of artistic pursuit would be able to relate to just about every point that you make in this all encompassing post, Yvonne.

    My personal thing is exercise and meditation. Oh… and sometimes chocolate!

    1. Hmmmm. Chocolate seems to be becoming a refrain

      I have to get into that exercise thing. I haven’t been able to master meditation, though it has been recommended before.

  13. Ah well . . . self-doubt. It’s good to see a writer talking about this because then I don’t feel alone with all those questions! Think all writers, artists, musicians, anyone doing anything creative, must suffer bouts of doubt. It’s very destructive. Best solution, for me, is coffee, chocolate and critique partners who believe in me, as much as I believe in them.

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