Pounds of mud on my shoes: overcoming self-doubt as a writer

best-good-enoughI haven’t been in a good place lately. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been stuck at the house for too many weeks now, just me and the animals. Normally, I’m good with this, being the kind of person perfectly capable of entertaining myself and enjoying my own company, but with the frequent storms, I haven’t been as active and I’ve had a little too much time to brood. I’ve been indulging in too much comfort food and I’m seeing a number on the scale I’ve never seen before.

I suspect too, it’s the time of year. We’ve had our pretty snows and our bitter temperatures. Now we’re sliding–literally–into the Season of Mud. For the next month or so, everything will be ankle deep in mud here. It’s so thick, deep, and clinging that it can suck the boots right off your feet. It cakes everything: your shoes, your car, the dogs, the carpets… Walking with several pounds of mud attached to your feet is a chore, and it feels like it will never get any easier.

I believe self-doubt is like that. It’s not that it prevents me from writing, but it does make everything slower and harder. I’ve actually written 22.8 K words this month, and yet it is all like ashes to me because I think what I’ve written is utter crap. With the frame of mind I’m in right now, if I read something amazingly good, I am discouraged because I will never write anything that fantastic. If I read something appallingly bad, I’m discouraged because that book has is out there making money, and people seem to love it, and what does that say about the industry–and my place in it–as a whole? At the moment, I am quite discouraged about my writing. I’m not convinced I know how to tell a decent story. Worse, I’m afraid I’ll never get any better at this. Like I said, not in a good headspace.

fraud moneyI’ve never been one of those people good with the concept of ‘act as if’ or ‘fake it til you make it.’ I understand the concept. It’s not outside my capabilities: I’ve done a lot of theater in my time. The problem for me always lay in that if I didn’t believe in said ‘fact’, I couldn’t sustain an attitude of belief. I can’t act sexy, or confident, or successful if deep down I don’t believe I’m any of these things. If I think someone is going to come up behind me and whisper, “Fraud.”

I’ve always wondered what the secret was. How some people could walk forward exuding confidence or sex appeal, when to the initial glance, they appear rather ordinary. How anyone could simply have that kind of utter belief in themselves that they weren’t shaken not only by self-doubt, but the put-downs and negative comments of others. It was always so chicken-and-egg to me. How do you take as your own what you don’t have?

Earlier this morning a meme was circulating Facebook that was posted by Meryl Streep, in which she related how, on being turned down for a movie role, she was told she was too ‘ugly’ for the part. She said she could have let that shatter her dreams of being an actress, but instead it forced her to believe in herself. She told the casting director, “I’m sorry you think I’m too ugly for your film, but you’re just one opinion in a sea of thousands, and I am off to find a kinder tide.” She’s won eighteen Academy Awards. Eighteen! (I had no idea!)

So I guess the answer is you don’t wait until you feel sexy or smart or accomplished. You simply decide you are these things. And act accordingly.

So tell me, what is holding you back and how do you plan to overcome it? Has anyone ever told you that you were wasting your time trying for something? That you had no talent or ability. That your best wasn’t good enough? How did you deal with that? I want to hear your stories!

From now until Wed Feb 24th, if you leave a comment, someone will be picked at random to win their choice of any of my available books. You don’t have to enter the giveaway to leave a comment though! I want to hear your stories of perseverance in spite of doubt.

The Boys of Summer400x600My latest release is The Boys of Summer, now available from Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and All Romance ebooks.


8 thoughts on “Pounds of mud on my shoes: overcoming self-doubt as a writer

  1. I love your personal posts, because I can always relate to them in some way. This one hit me right in the gut, as I’ve often wondered what the hell is wrong with my stories that they don’t sell. When I say “don’t sell,” I’m talking about in the numbers other authors seem to enjoy without trying. I always sell at least ten copies of a new book (and I want to send a thank-you note to each of those people every time!), but I can’t seem to break through this barrier into higher numbers. It doesn’t seem to matter if the reviews are good or not (and mostly they’ve been good); readers simply don’t care. So of course I constantly ask myself why I keep writing. My stories must suck if they don’t sell, right? I’m a fraud, a failure, and I’m wasting my time. I’ve become good at wallowing in the negatives. Meryl Streep has all those awards keeping her self-confidence high. She can point to them and say, “See? I am good, so shove it.” I don’t have a bathtub full of awards. I can’t think of one reason to keep putting out titles.

    The truth is, after about eight years of this, I’m ready to quit. I enjoy the process of writing a lot, and I know I’m good technically (I can construct an effective sentence, and my commas are always in the right spots), so it must be that my stories aren’t interesting enough or my characters are boring. Whatever it is that makes some authors soar is lacking in my writing, preventing me from achieving success. And if I can’t figure it out, I can’t fix it, and at this point, I no longer care.

    I’ve been thinking about drawing and sketching and painting a lot lately, something I used to do well that gave me a lot of satisfaction. Maybe I need to lay writing aside for a while. Maybe for a long while. Because maybe I’m just not good enough.
    Theo Fenraven recently posted..Monday Flash Fic: The RooftopMy Profile

    • This is a hard comment to answer, Theo, because I can completely sympathize. I ask myself the same question all the time. Moreover, I wonder if I wouldn’t just be happier writing fanfic and squeeing with my friends. (Sadly the answer there is also no, as that time in my life seems to be over. Friends have moved on, fandom has changed. I doubt there’s a place for me there anymore)

      I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think there are a couple of factors that go into why one writer is more successful than another. I think you have to have at least one or two of these things going for you in order to catch that wave of recognition.

      1. Write a lot, publish often. These days, with so many books to choose from, the average story seems to sell best in the first 30 days before it drops off the radar. If you want to stay on the radar, I think you have to look to publish 3-4 stories a year. Sadly, it’s all I can do to get one novel out a year, if that.

      2. Crank out those stories without giving them too much thought. It’s a corollary to the first statement, but more along the lines of following the trends, be it sparkly vampires or BDSM or dinosaur erotica, you don’t care. You’ll crank out 30 K, slap a cover on it, and market it to the tiny niche that reads it–until you move onto the next trend. Me? I can’t write what doesn’t interest me. I can’t write to a trend or in genres that don’t appeal.

      3.Get lucky. I know, that sounds like sour grapes, right? But sometimes it’s just about being in the right place at the right time. Part of what made a book like 50 Shades of Grey take off when it did was the advent of the e-reader, which made it possible to read erotica in public without anyone knowing. You meet the right person, who introduces you to an agent. You come in at the beginning of a trend. You have a built-in following because you write in a popular fandom. Sometimes luck is a bigger factor than we’d like to admit. *looks at numbers to see if won lottery, shakes head and goes back to keyboard*

      4. You write a thumping good story. You’d think I’d put that first, wouldn’t you? But sadly I know some *outstanding* writers, people who can write circles around me, who’ve received rejection letters for stories I think are brilliant. And while I believe writing a marvelous story is a big part of being a successful writer, I’ve also seen abysmally written stories sell like hotcakes–usually because of one of the other factors mentioned above. I think being a good writer is what will *sustain* you as an author–what will bring back readers for more–but I think it is harder and harder these days for a book to be successful based on merit alone. And yet that’s where I think you and I stand, looking at our work and thinking maybe our best isn’t good enough.

      And we may be right. But what I’ve decided to tell myself is that my best is all that I can do on any given day. Maybe my best now is not what my best might be two or three or ten years from now. Maybe the very fact that I’m dissatisfied with something I wrote today when five years ago, I’d have patted myself on the back for the effort–maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it gets harder because it’s supposed to get harder. Because in the end, I want to write the best story I can possibly write–and hopefully, that standard keeps going up. πŸ˜‰
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Pounds of mud on my shoes: overcoming self-doubt as a writerMy Profile

      • You make a lot of good points, and like you, there’s no way I can publish three or four titles a year. I simply don’t have the time.

        I’ve long since realized luck plays a big part in someone’s success, no matter what field they’re in, and to be blunt about it, that pisses me off. Because I think the quality of the work does matter, or it should and often doesn’t. 50 Shades of Puke comes to mind. πŸ˜‰

        But then I’m back to: am I good enough or am I fooling myself? Art is so subjective. Something I think is garbage may be someone else’s Mona Lisa.

        These days, I write for the joy of it. I’m not thinking about selling copies, making money, or getting great reviews. And I still think I may quit one day, or simply stop publishing and write quietly, just for me.
        Theo Fenraven recently posted..Monday Flash Fic: The RooftopMy Profile

        • I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this as well. Of all the above points, the only one I feel is really within my control is to write better books. To write a book I can satisfied with (or at least, at the time!) will require that it takes as long as it takes. That’s the best I can do on my current schedule.

          Do I hope for a future where I could retire from the day job to write? You bet. But in the mean time, I’m going to keep plugging away at what makes me happy. πŸ™‚
          Sarah Madison recently posted..Pounds of mud on my shoes: overcoming self-doubt as a writerMy Profile

  2. Oh, Sarah, please don’t give up on your writing!!! You will be sincerely missed! Never underestimate your readers! I’m sure you do have a loyal following, even if it is not as big as some A-list writers, but your books are amazing, heartfelt and unique. And there are readers out there that look for exactly that kind of story. And a good book/author is always worth waiting for. My reading time is limited and I prefer to read quality over quantity. Sadly, what sells best is not necessarily the quality books. Not following every trend makes you a more “honest” writer in my book, you write what you like and it shows. And I know that when I buy one of your books, it’s not going to deteriorate into one big mess just because the word count needed to reach a certain amount and the reader is lost in pointless side plots. Some authors push out a novel a month, and every single one develops into a series and as a reader you wonder which of the 90+ backlist you should try (because it’s always at least 5 parts per series) and after a while you feel like you read the same thing all over again. Just with a different setting. Not good either.

    Another highly talented author that comes to mind, struggling with not selling enough and only publishing one book per year or even less, is Tamara Allen and she writes wonderful quality historical/mystery m/m.
    As a reader, It’s sad to see that both of you put so much love and work in to writing and that it feels to you that it doesn’t pay off πŸ™ whereas as a reader, it makes my day to see you published something new! But please don’t give up! And don’t be so critical with your self! It’s amazing what you get done, and that is with a day job that has to take up a lot of time and strength.

    Feel better soon πŸ™‚

    • Aw, thank you! You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today. πŸ™‚ I definitely go through spells where I get discouraged (usually at the halfway mark of any story I’m writing…) and it’s been tougher to get past it recently. I’ve started and abandoned (or at least set aside for a while) 4-5 stories in the last year, only to start something new and get frustrated with that too.

      I’m trying not to be so critical of my first drafts and just *finish* something. Thank you for encouragement! I’ll get back to it. And I’ll go check out Tamera Allen too–sounds right up my alley!
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Pounds of mud on my shoes: overcoming self-doubt as a writerMy Profile

  3. I’m catching up, here. I’ve been out of circulation for, what, a year now? o.O
    And, interestingly, the reason why is pretty much what you talk about here: self-doubt. For me it became crippling, to the point where I stopped writing in early 2015. Two books nearly done, in the bag, and I just stopped. I doubted my everything, and with a rough year at the day!job as well (the less said the better) it’s been a hell of a road. I’m back in therapy which I think has gotten back to writing again, but the issue is really just, I don’t know, not giving a damn about external standards? I think that’s what Meryl Streep was talking about, really, or that’s how I interpret it: putting a stop to the external valuations and just do your thing. My thing is, and always has been, writing. I’m trying to hold to that.
    I hope you are hanging in there as well; you know I think your writing is fabulous, I’d hate to lose it.

    • I’m sorry things have been so tough for you. πŸ™ Why is it the closer we get to our goals, the worse we have to beat ourselves down at times? I’m glad you’ve found someone who you can talk to that’s helping. Not giving a damn about external standards is huge–and harder than ever, I think, when we’re inundated with images of the success of others. I think in many ways, it was easier in the past for someone to hunker down and not care about external yardsticks until they came up for air. These days everyone has an opinion, and it’s frequently unkind and hostile.

      I find that I’ve had to seriously limit my social media time recently. I’m stressed by the state of politics in the U.S., by the horrible stories that end up trending on my timelines, by the general outrage spewing left and right. While I think at times it’s necessary to be outraged, I don’t think my adrenal glands can take it anymore. I feel like the mouse who is *always* on the verge of being pounced on by the cat, and that’s no way to live.

      I just assumed you were off pounding away at the day job and writing stories–but I’ve had my share of non-starter years in that department too. It’s hard to be creative when it takes everything you’ve got just to get out of bed and go to work. I’m scratching my way toward finishing the WIP, and beating myself up for not having finished it 8 months ago, or having a second story ready to submit by now. I know it’s a pointless exercise in self-flagellation but darn it, it’s a hard cycle to break out of. I just need to FINISH THE BLOODY STORY. πŸ˜‰

      I hope you are hanging in there as well; you know I think your writing is fabulous, I’d hate to lose it.

      Aw, that’s very kind of you–thank you. You know that street goes both ways, right? πŸ˜‰

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