How Embracing My Self-Doubt Made Me a Better Writer
I’m still hesitant to say it out loud. I find it hard to give myself credit for the work that I’ve done. Yes, I struggle with imposter syndrome even now that my biggest project to date is finished. Or maybe it is the fear of coming across as a braggart. Because, lo and behold, how dare you feel proud of something you have achieved! (I grew up in The Netherlands, where bragging is often frowned upon).
But I’m going to shake off that typical Dutch Calvinist mentality and say loud and proud: I wrote a book!
Yep, I did it! And what a journey it was.
Writing a book is so personal. You have nowhere to hide. And in my case, that meant self-doubt was always lurking around the corner. At times, my self-doubt would make me second-guess myself and the book. In the worst times, it would put me to a standstill, unable to write.
Although I still find it hard to compliment myself, my feelings of inadequacy didn’t stand in the way of finishing the book. On the contrary, I allowed episodes of self-doubt to come and go. I embraced them because I realized it allowed me to create better work.
Say what?!? Yep, that’s right. I believe my self-doubt resulted in better work. Bear with me. I will explain.
Embracing My Self-Doubt
You know those days when you fall into the social media rabbit hole, comparing yourself to people you don’t know? You spiral and start to doubt yourself. You feel useless and insecure and tell yourself you will never be able to achieve what that other person has achieved.
Or what about those days you wake up, sit behind your computer, and all you want to do is cry because you feel worthless and incompetent?
As writers (or anyone who creates something), we all struggle with moments of self-doubt. Thanks to social media allowing everyone to share their opinions, the angst of being criticized or rejected is huge. The fear of failure takes over. We tell ourselves we are not good enough.
But…there is a way to use it in your favor – to turn self-doubt into something positive.
You know what I did on days when my self-doubt had the upper hand? From a writing point of view, not much. Typically, on those days, I couldn’t write anything sensible. I decided the best thing to do was to allow myself to feel blue. I would do something else, slow down, rethink things, and often spend time researching specific topics in more detail.
And then, the next day, I would wake up with a new sense of positivity, determined to talk to myself with a kinder and more positive voice. And that doubt-inspired work from the previous day? It allowed me to work with ease. Unwinding made me rethink some of the work, giving me better focus.
The Myth of Confidence
Of course, we all want to write with confidence. But maybe we shouldn’t.
What if confidence makes us complacent, lazy, or even uninspired? A healthy dose of short-term self-doubt (you know, the one that fades with time and experience) isn’t that bad.
Self-doubt can keep us sharp. Questioning ourselves occasionally can result in better decisions, reflections, and thus better work. For me, self-doubt pushed me to be more focused, to write with more clarity, and allowed me to grow as a writer.
And you know my favorite part of embracing self-doubt? It allowed me to listen to it better. Not to the negativity, but the triggers behind it. Often, the self-doubt was a way for my body (and mind) to signal that I needed to slow down – that I was overwhelmed.
Although I initially found it hard to allow myself to give in and relax (mainly because we often hear people say things like “write every day'”or “push yourself”), I did just that. I would do something else for an hour (or a whole morning). I would relax and not think about writing. And yes, the downside is that writing the book took me much longer than anticipated.
The upside? When I wrote, I was excited. I was happy, and I loved writing my book!
Let me clarify that I’m not promoting negative self-talk! On the contrary! A chronic form of self-doubt is insidious. Of course, you don’t want moodiness to take control of your life. But a light version of self-doubt that comes and goes doesn’t have to be that bad. And although popular media recommends us to “free ourselves from self-doubt” or “overcome it,” it's unrealistic. It makes for a nice headline, yes, but it’s misleading.
Self-doubt will always be there, lurking under your desk. And if self-doubt is only an occasional visitor, we shouldn’t fight it or ignore it. Instead, when positivity has the upper hand, there is no shame in allowing and embracing insecurity and self-doubt on some days.
So next time when self-doubt pays you a visit, try to reflect on it. Use it to your advantage. Like me, you may find that embracing self-doubt will enable you to create (much) better work.
Charlotte Rijkenberg is the author of Let’s Move Abroad: The all-in-one, no-bullsh*t workbook to moving abroad (coming soon!) and the founder of Let’s Move Abroad, a platform that inspires people around the world to move abroad and live their best life.
You can find more of her down-to-earth and pragmatic advice on her platform, Let’s Move Abroad and on Instagram.