Every time I check my Goodreads and Amazon reviews, I feel a quiver of anxiety. Surely the nasty one-star review has to be coming, right? The one that I’ll try to laugh off, but which I’ll secretly fear is the only accurate review on the site. It’s the same self-doubt that creeps in when I hit the middle of a new book and wonder, what if this is terrible?
If this sounds familiar, it’s because every writer experiences self-doubt — even the bestsellers. The sooner you accept this as a normal part of the writing and publishing process, the sooner your self-confidence will make its equally inevitable return.
The antidote to self-doubt comes from within
No matter how many five-star reviews you accumulate on Amazon and Goodreads, no matter how many people lavish you with praise, you won’t hit a magic threshold that makes your self-doubt disappear.
Of course, we all love positive feedback. By all means, collect those lovely reviews and emails in a folder to look at whenever you need a boost. Thank-you emails from my ADHD Homestead readers mean the world to me. They keep me going on those days when blogging feels particularly thankless.
But a quick look at your favorite books on Goodreads will show you that even the classics have haters. If you put your work out in the world, there will always be someone who doesn’t like it. If you base your self-worth on others’ feedback, the negative will knock you down as much as the positive lifts you up. That’s a roller-coaster ride we could all do without. True confidence should come from within.
Accept self-doubt with compassion and equanimity
If we accept self-doubt as a natural part of the writing and publishing process, we free ourselves from judgement. It says nothing about your actual worth, skill, or talent. You aren’t (necessarily) feeling self-doubt because your book isn’t ready. As long as you’ve put in the work and you’ve gotten good feedback from people you trust, you probably have nothing to worry about.
Even if your worries are unfounded, don’t beat up on yourself for worrying anyway. We all do it. As with all difficult feelings, let yourself feel this one without judgement. Acknowledge and name it, if that helps: wow, I’m feeling a lot of anxiety about my book release next week. Or, I always feel nervous the first time I show a new project to my critique partner. The feeling may always be there at certain times, but it doesn’t have to define you.
Be realistic about the current status of your work
Most writers experience self-doubt at every stage, from the first draft to publication. Know where your writing is supposed to be at each of these stages, and what you (and others) should expect.
Early drafts, especially, aren’t supposed to look good. That’s why you’re asking trusted critique partners to read them. Every time I give a new piece of writing to my critique group, I get nervous. When I finished drafting my first novel and gave it to a friend to read, I convinced myself he’d hate it so much we would cease to be friends afterward. Even when I gave my book Order from Chaos to a professional editor, I worried she’d lose respect for me as a fellow writer.
Spoiler alert: these fears were 100 percent unfounded. Drafts are supposed to have problems. Editors and critique partners/groups are there to help you find and solve those problems. No one should expect a polished manuscript that reads like something they’d buy off the shelf at their local bookstore. Remind yourself of this fact often, and try not to feel self-conscious about exposing your drafts to your trusted circle.
If you have a more mature manuscript and you’re preparing for publication, remind yourself of the hours you’ve spent revising, discussing with critique partners, and working with an editor. Unless these people are part of a conspiracy to publicly humiliate you with a book that’s not ready for release, your book is probably fine. You’ve worked hard. You deserve to be here.
Of course, your worst fears and doubts will occasionally be confirmed. You’ll find a grammatical error in a published book. Someone will post a mean one-star review on Goodreads. You’ll give a new story to your critique group and they won’t like it at all. That first draft that felt so promising will turn out to require a lot of work. It happens to the best of us.
None of these blips diminish your value as a writer. It’s easy to take negative feedback to heart and dismiss the positive, but it’s all part of the writing life. Self-doubt is natural. Pitfalls are inevitable. Don’t let any of it stop you from getting those words onto the page.