When I first learned of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group through my friend Michelle, I laughed. Aren’t all writers insecure? It seems to come with the territory.
My own career became a search for validation once I realized being a successful writer involved more than just telling stories people like. One thought haunted me:
What if I’m not good enough?
As writers, we keep creating ways to prove ourselves. When we get an A on that creative writing assignment, we’ll be good enough. When we’re accepted into that Fine Arts program. When we finish our first novel. When we land an agent. When we’re published.
But the truth is, it’s never enough. Landing a New York agent made me feel I was worthy for, oh, I don’t know–about ten minutes. Maybe a day, if I was lucky. There is always someone better, always someone more successful, always a nasty critic or that miserable voice inside our heads, and–boom!–we’re doubting ourselves again.
Stephen King, arguably the most successful writer of our time, still remembers the pain of his principal telling him he wrote junk. If you’ve read On Writing or a few of his interviews, that thread of self-doubt is palpable. Sure, I’ve sold a lot of books…but am I a hack? Best-selling writers Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner bemoaned the New York Times’ lack of attention. Jonathan Franzen worried being an Oprah pick would lower his credibility.
Being successful doesn’t insulate us from insecurity. It just creates new things to be insecure about.
I’m hosting a pretty big launch on this blog on Friday, October 18th. It’s uncharted territory for me, and it involves the unveiling of a very personal piece of work. As you can imagine, I’m terrified.
What if no one reads it? What if no one likes it? What if they tell me to keep my day job?
What if I’m not good enough?
All we can do when insecurity rears its ugly head is remember why we started telling stories in the first place. Remember what made it fun. Before we worried about self-publishing versus traditional, literary versus commercial, YA versus NA.
Just tell a story. Because you want to. For fun. And let the chips fall where they may.
Thanks for reading!
Great post. I find it strangely reassuring when a successful author feels insecurity too. And even though the chips are falling at my feet, obstructing my path, it makes me want to move past them. Or something like that. 🙂 Best of luck for the 18th launch. X
“What if I am not good enough?” Its one doubt all writers would have battled at some or the other stage of their writing life. Its something I often fight with. This insecurity never leaves me alone. The only thing I feel that works is to keep writing.
Great post. You are so right. We always have something to be insecure about. All we can do is write the best story we can and let the chips fall where they may. Best wishes.
Amen! I totally agree. I started falling into the “I’ll be happy as a writer when x,y, or z happens” trap. I was so focused on that that it took the fun out of writing for me. As soon as I stopped focusing on all that other stuff, I became a lot happier as a writer. So good luck to you and your big reveal coming up. I’m sure it will be great.
Great post. I hope all the writers who worry about this just write and stop worrying about it
I don’t think I have ever met anyone, either in sport or in science, who was free of insecurities. The more bombastic the person. the greater the insecurity. It’s important not to be intimidated by bluster. Just go in and do your best, and don’t let losses get you down. If you never lose all it shows is that you set your sights too low.
I loved this: “Being successful doesn’t insulate us from insecurity. It just creates new things to be insecure about.” So true! Last year I was unbelievably depressed because I had only published a couple of short stories, but I wanted an agent, wanted to publish my series, wanted this, wanted that. The fact that I had published a couple of short stories was no longer good enough. We always want to keep going up. We always want MORE! What we have to learn is to be grateful for what we have.
I am a new member of the IWSG, too. Today is my second post. 🙂 WELCOME!!
Oh how right you are..
The further we get the longer our list of insecurities.
I wish you the best with your launch on the 18th…I am curious.
I have a similar New York story:( Sometimes though the worst things become the best things:)
My son is a kickboxing title holder. I am so glad he is just coaching now:)
Welcome to the group!!
Thank you, IWSG members, for your kind and wonderful comments. Another source of insecurity for me is that I rarely get comments on this blog. Well, I certainly can’t say that about today! Thanks for making me feel so included.
@ Shah – Thanks for the kind words. I really hope you feel stronger soon. I find it both helpful and scary to know that even Stephen King goes through stuff like this. You mean it never ends? Yikes!
@ Rachna – How right you are! For me, even writing doesn’t always dispel these fears, but that’s usually because I’ve slipped into worrying about whether or not people will want to read or buy the book. It’s hard to completely turn off the marketing sides of our brains, but I think we have to in order to be truly creative.
@ Diane – Thanks for your kind words. I can’t always practice what I preach, but I’m trying!
@ Quanie – Thanks for the encouragement. I’ve fallen into that trap, too. Writing stopped being fun for me when I got an agent, ironically. It suddenly became work. It didn’t work out and I still struggle to recapture my earlier joy. I’m glad you were able to get past this problem.
@ Roxanne – Me too! But I suspect a lot of people stop writing due to fear of failure and feelings of unworthiness.
@ Boxing Scientist – Hello, my new Twitter friend. I’m so honored you stopped by my blog. What you say is true. I’ve often found the people who brag the most have the least to brag about. The prospect of failing is scary. Sometimes it takes a while to get over. But I hope I’m always brave enough to keep trying.
@ Chrys – I’m so glad you could identify with my post! And I’m all too familiar with the feeling you describe. I’ve always felt that when I’m traditionally published, I’ll know I was good enough. It’s one of the reasons I’m not entirely comfortable with self-publishing–I want/need that validation. But will I really feel good enough? Probably for about ten minutes. 🙂 Thanks for commenting.
@ Doreen – I welcome you back on the 18th. I’d love to know what you think. And I’d love to hear your agent story. Maybe we can start a second support group? 😉
That’s interesting about your son. I am definitely NOT a title holder. It’s great that he can stay involved by teaching. Good krus are hard to come by.
Thanks again everyone for your thoughtful insights. You have made this insecure writer’s day!
Did you write this before or after you talked me through my meltdown yesterday? LOL. Every word you wrote is true. I think there is an upside to wondering if we are ever going to be good enough – that fear and drive won’t let us settle for anything less than our best, and that’s what I’ve written. At least I’ll believe that until my next rejection letter 🙂
Welcome back, Elle! I wrote it after we talked, but it definitely came from the heart, because I was originally going to write about something else.
I agree with you that it can have that upside–as long as we don’t let it get to us to the point that we stop writing. And I admit, it has gotten to that point for me, several times.
Thanks for commenting!
Really great post, Holli!
“Being successful doesn’t insulate us from insecurity. It just creates new things to be insecure about.”
Most real thing I’ve heard in a long, long time. So true. Now that I’ve taken on publishing my own stuff, I have to be pretty darn sure “I’m good enough.” I’ve been through enough now that I know I am. It’s a sunny, happy place. 🙂
Thanks so much, Michelle! I agonized over it, because it was my first one for IWSG. I wanted it to the very best it could be. I’m glad you liked it.
And I’m thrilled that you feel so confident. You’re right–there is no external validation in self-publishing until the sales start rolling in. It has to come from you.
Make sure you bottle that feeling so you can sell it to the rest of us!
Although I know you don’t enjoy it, I’m glad to hear that you still have doubts, even after you’ve been published. As long as you use the anxiety to drive you to always improve, it will make you a betterwriter.
Glad you’re part of the IWSG!
Thanks for your comment, Ken…and btw, I really like your blog.
I wish I was published. My full-length fiction has not been published yet, but I’ll try to keep that self-doubt and anxiety going strong when it happens. 🙂
Thanks for the warm welcome. I’m very glad I found the group.