Reflections on Battling Self-Doubt

Breaking the Cycle of Creative Shame

Recently, someone asked writing Twitter: “Writers: How do you get past self-doubt?”

The question stood out to me because it’s something I deal with a lot as a writer but also in my personal life. Recently, I’ve been on a journey to improve my outlook on life. I know, it sounds terribly hokey and uncool. It’s not punk rock to want to be a better person. 2023 was a complex year for me, and one thing I’ve been trying to do is to have a better relationship with myself.

There have been times in the past when I have written from a place of angst. Many, many of my poems are about spite—responses to things people said or did that hurt me. While I love these poems, and they serve a purpose in my life, I realize that they come from a place of self-doubt.

In working through how to love myself better and love my writing, I realized one thing holding me back was what I call “Creative Shame.” Creative Shame is when you use self-doubt and fear to blame yourself for things that are actually a normal part of the creative process. For example, I often feel shame over not submitting my work. I have so many poems and stories that I could submit, but I get busy or, more often, feel self-doubt about whether my work is good enough.

Creative Shame happens when you apply non-artistic standards to artistic work. After all, the brain’s impetus to create doesn’t come from the need to make money or succeed. A story, poem, or piece of art comes from the heart. The very best art is driven by that inexplicable imaginative spark inside of you.

But when writers interact with, say, the publishing industry, the art world, or any outside source of criticism, self-doubt creeps in. “How can I write as good as that person?” “I’ll never get published because I’m not good enough.” “I keep getting rejections, so I should just give up.” “Is anyone ever going to read my stuff?” “My first book was a failure, so writing isn’t worth it.” And so on.

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