The four truths about writing, and life, that helped me kick creative self-doubt in the ass.
By Kristy Nicolle
I think by far the hardest part of my job as a writer, an author, a blogger, a graphic designer, and all around tiny midget unicorn in general, is creative self-doubt. I’ve always been self -conscious about my work, but ever since I got diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and my sense of identity and purpose was rattled to the very core, I realised it was becoming a real problem for me. I would wake up, convinced my writing, my life, and I completely sucked. I was uninventive, unimaginative, and uninspiring. I would tell myself I was overweight, unattractive, and that I was kidding myself in wanting to be a successful author. It got so bad, in fact, that I started worrying and having panic attacks about writing, about marketing, about going out in public.
It became apparent that I was floundering, and that my self-confidence and opinions of self-worth needed a serious reality check. It can be difficult when you’re stuck in that kind of headspace where you think you’re useless to come up with any reason why you should attempt to change things, because after all, in my headspace I was sure everything I did was of no consequence and I was going to be stuck in the suck pits of hell for the rest of all time. However, I did change things. I listened to some amazing TED talks, I read some life changing selfdevelopment books, I started following some incredibly inspiring bloggers, and talking to people in my Spoonie support group about how I was feeling. I will list the tools I used to check out of this funky slump at the end of this post, but more importantly, I want to talk about the lessons they taught me and how these lessons changed my mindset about the creative process, and my identity as an artist.
You won’t be everyone’s cup of tea…
…But you’ll be someone’s shot of tequila. That’s how the saying goes, and its true. I realised a few months ago that I was constantly worrying about what people in general were going to think of my writing style, of my books, of my blog posts. I think it’s important to remember, as I was sure I’d never forget when I first started, that not everyone will love your work.
But more importantly…
I think what we need to be concerned about as artists, as writers, more than anything is appealing to our tribe, to our niche and presenting our most authentic selves. To the people who understand what we’re saying and where we’re coming from when we are being the most authentic to our creative identities. You need to find your audience and create for them, not for the world. I feel like if you try too hard to appeal to everyone, you’ll end up appealing to nobody. We all have specific tastes, specific loves, and specific works that resonate with us, and it is no different for your readers.
I am not a huge fan of Dan Brown, but I don’t think that makes him a crap writer, I just think he’s not my style, but I respect him as an artist and an accomplished one at that. However, there are literally thousands of people who think he’s incredible and the best thing since sliced bread. So, he’s not writing for me, he’s writing for them. If he changed his style so suit me, or to suit anyone who isn’t a big fan, well… then he wouldn’t be Dan Brown anymore, and his fans would lose what they loved about his method of storytelling. The most original thing about your writing will forever be the way you tell the story, so don’t sacrifice your authenticity because some people might not like it. Focus on the ones who do. The rest are just background static and don’t matter.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
This is a big one. I think with social media being what it is today, it’s super easy to look at what everyone else is doing and compare yourself. To worry your book isn’t as good as someone else’s, or that your cover isn’t up to scratch. The truth is, comparing yourself to other people is a waste of time. We’re all on individual journeys, and social media is definitely not the best judge of what’s actually going on in someone’s life and career. Most people tend to promote the good, and leave out the all important bad, or years of hard work that preceded it, leaving us feeling lacking.
The best person you can compete against is yourself, to look at the past, at what you’ve achieved before and try beating your own goals. In the creative market, its none of your business what anyone else but you are doing or not doing. Focus on you, on your product, on your voice, and let go of thinking about anyone else. I find this is the best way to tap into pure creative flow and stay there throughout working.
He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.
Sometimes I think that my ideas are insane, or too far-fetched, or that I’ll never be able to pull them off. This is just plain bad for the creative muscle. George Lucas thought that Star Wars would be too wacky for the general public, and J.K Rowling was rejected a shit ton before her manuscript ended up in the hands of an editor’s assistant after resting on a pile of manuscripts that weren’t deemed important enough for the actual editor to look at.
Life is risky, there’s no doubt about it, and I don’t know about you, but I realised I’d rather take the risk of failing, than risk looking back in ten years and thinking… what if? Regret is worse than failure, worse than humiliation… because it lasts far longer. So, if you’re scared, write the damn thing anyway. You don’t have to publish it, or even ever show it to anyone, but the point is that you took the risk and that its there if you ever did want to do something with it. Remember, 100% of the pages you were too scared to write will never be published. It might end up being crap, but you’re either going to succeed at making something to be proud of or fail and learn a lot in the process. Failure is looked down upon in society, but honestly, without it, many of our biggest role models today would never have learned enough to succeed and become the people we admire.
Just because you believe it, doesn’t make it true.
I happen to believe that creatives are somewhat worse off at doing this than most people. We have vast imaginations, so vast in fact that we can quite easily scale the ‘What If’ mountain and convince ourselves that we and the universe are doomed, or even worse, that our talent is a fluke and that we are utter frauds.
Anxiety and Depression are common features among the artist, I don’t know why, perhaps because we have so much more to say that cannot be verbalised but must instead be smashed out on a keyboard or scribbled aggressively with a pen, painted with a brush, or moulded into clay. However you look at it though, self-doubt can be crippling when the only person who can realise our creative dreams is us, most of all when we actually believe our negative assessments of ourselves to be true. It’s funny. I can get fifty five star reviews, but I don’t believe them. I think they’re being kind, or generous, or don’t want to upset me. But the second I get a bad review I’m determined its 100% right. That they’ve exposed me as the fraud I really am. I discovered that this is common in a lot of successful women in a book by Valerie Young that you can find in the resources list at the bottom of this post, and also realised that just because I have an opinion of myself and my work, doesn’t make it true.
And if you can’t turn your inner voice into a positive little cheerleader with literary pom poms, listen to the majority. If a lot of people like your work, tell you so, and give you good review, believe them. Most people won’t go and give a good review of a book if they hated it, they just won’t bother. Also, it’s important to remember that the creative process itself often distorts the final product in the eyes of the artist. I cannot stand to go back and read my own work, as all I find is flaw, where others tell me they loved it and wouldn’t change a thing.
RESOURCES I RECOMMEND
So, there you have it, a few nuggets of wisdom to help you kick creative self-doubt in the ass just like I did. It’s interesting too, because I found that once I started having more confidence in creating, it became easier, and more natural, and therefore more painless and quicker as a whole. I wasn’t worried about my ego, what others would think, that it would suck, I was just focused on the art itself, and that, I can tell you, is a hell of a lot more productive and fun than sitting anxious as all hell and crippled by low self-esteem. Believe in yourself, take risks, and more importantly, have fun. Most of us got into the creative industry because we love to create. So, don’t forget why you started, be true to yourself, and do what you love!
Kristy Nicolle x