“It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself.”
– author Zadie Smith
One of my favorite memories of my oldest is when she decided that she wanted to learn to cross the monkey bars on the playground. She was in kindergarten at the time.
“I want to learn to do the monkey bars,” she said, her nose wrinkled as she stood on the wood chips, staring up at them. “Will you lift me?”
And try she did. Over, and over, and over. Calluses formed on the palms of her soft hands over the daily attempts on the playground after school. (While I discovered some muscles I didn’t know existed in my back and underarms from holding her up while she practiced.) Then, one day, she did it. All the way across, by herself.
Confidence. She knew she would do it and she did. One of the perks of being five, I suppose.
How does this relate to writing? Oh, you already know. 😂
“I want to write a novel,” you said to yourself one morning. “This is the year I’m going to do it.” And so you started.
And you kept going.
Until the voice in your head said:
😵 not talented enough
😵 not qualified
😵 no one will care
😵 can’t do it
😵 no time to write
Because your brain is saying all of this stuff, you assume that it’s true, that you’re not a “real writer” because it’s not coming out in an easy flow with violins playing, bathed in the golden glow of a sunset.
✋ Oh, my friend. Let’s stop right there.
The problem is not the thoughts in your head. No! Those thoughts are totally normal. It’s just fear, popping up because you are doing something that is hard. (Yes, writing a novel is very hard.)
The problem is choosing to believe that those thoughts are true.
That moment you notice those thoughts of self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and fear is an opportunity.
Not an opportunity to shut down and stop writing.
An opportunity to choose to write anyway.
Writing a novel is hard, and fear is a part of the process FOR EVERYONE.
(I mean, come on, if Zadie Smith has to convince herself…!)
You can manage your self-doubt and write anyway. I have a couple of videos for you on this topic over on the YouTube channel. I hope you find them useful!
Hello writers. Today we’re going to talk about the one thing that keeps you from sitting down to write, and before we do, let me say this. If you’re watching this right now and you’re in a productive phase of your writing life, that is great, but it doesn’t mean that this won’t apply sometime in the future. So just stay with me. Okay? What is the one thing that keeps you from sitting down to write? When I ask you that question, maybe your first thought is my job, or my kids, or my responsibilities, or my hectic schedule. Now, certainly these things are all real, but you make time for them, right? So why can you not make time for writing? We know that there are many prolific writers out there who have to squeeze it into the nooks and crannies of an otherwise busy life. We’ve all heard those stories and we know that we have the same hours in a day as everyone else, so let’s just dig a little bit deeper.
The next layer of answers might produce some issues around the work itself, like, I’m stuck, or I’m not sure where to go next. What I’ve written so far is garbage. I don’t have any ideas. It’s hard. Now, these thoughts are all about the story or issues related to the story. You’re still putting the responsibility for it essentially on the work. We don’t need to blame the work, but does that mean we should blame ourselves? Of course not. <laugh>. I never want that. We don’t need to blame anyone or anything, and we need to be careful with this question of why aren’t I writing? Because that’s shaming yourself for not doing something, and that’s not useful either. But digging into this question can be helpful, so let’s dig a layer deeper. If we’re saying, I’m stuck, or I’m not sure where to go next, or it’s hard, then we’re doubting our abilities to utilize the craft of writing.
If we’re criticizing what we’ve already written or assuming we have nothing to say, then we’re doubting our abilities to communicate what’s in our hearts. Basically, we’re doubting ourselves. That is what is keeping you from sitting down to write. But what if I told you that you can manage your self-doubt and write anyway? Think about this. Imagine a small child. Perhaps they’re a younger version of you. Perhaps they’re your own child. Perhaps it’s just a random kid. It doesn’t matter. Now that child wants to try something, but they’re saying the things that you are saying to yourself. I can’t. I don’t know how. I’m afraid I’m not good enough. I’m afraid I’m going to fail. Would you berate that child? Roll your eyes at them, shame them, refuse to help them? No. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t like children, <laugh>, you’re not a person without compassion.
You would teach them how. You would encourage them. You would help them take baby steps toward the thing they’re trying to accomplish. You would teach them to have patience with themselves. You would teach them to practice. You would not walk away and say, yep, you’re right. I don’t think you should bother <laugh>. You wouldn’t fill up their time with everything but the thing they want so desperately to do. Resistance to things that are hard causes us to blame everything in our lives for the fact that we’re not writing. The root of this resistance is self-doubt. Writing a novel is hard, and fear is part of the journey for everyone. The novelist Zadie Smith says, “It’s such a confidence trick writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself.” An actor and writer, Amy Poehler says, “Everyone lies about writing. They perpetuate a romantic idea that writing is some beautiful experience that takes place in an architectural room filled with leather novels and chai tea.” And writer Steven Pressfield says, “If you find yourself asking yourself and your friends, am I really a writer?
Am I really an artist? Chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” My friend, you can manage your self-doubt and write anyway. Here are three steps to follow, to manage your mindset and get your story on the page. First, watch your thoughts. Here’s a great strategy. At the beginning of each writing session or even each morning, write a list of every excuse not to write that your brain is coming up with. If you put them on paper in a list, it takes some of the power away from them, and then you can choose which, if any, of those reasons you wanna believe. The second step is to find compassion for yourself, for being fearful. This writing thing is hard, and of course your brain is going to come up with a million reasons not to do it.
Please don’t beat yourself up for that. And finally, remind yourself that fear is a part of the journey, that it’s okay that it’s there, but it doesn’t have to make the decisions for you. The writer, Elizabeth Gilbert, has a great analogy in her book, Big Magic, which I reference all the time. She says that she’s driving the car and creativity is in the passenger seat. Fear is welcome to come along, but it has to ride in the backseat and it can’t give directions or touch the radio. I love that so much, because, again, it’s treating the experience of having fear with compassion for ourselves, but also not giving it control. After you’ve followed these three steps, find a few minutes to write and then rinse and repeat again and again. That’s all we can do. That’s how our stories get written. If this content was helpful to you, or if you know someone who might enjoy it, please subscribe and share.
And if you’d like to talk through your mindset and get some support with your novel, no matter where you are in the process, I invite you to schedule a free call with me right now. Listen, you’ve waited long enough to become the writer you’ve always wanted to be. I deeply understand how life can get in the way, and your personal goal of writing a book can get pushed to the back burner. But I also know that you want to see this story completed, and I wanna help you. Don’t let your dreams stay on the back burner anymore. Click that link below in the description, and let’s talk about how to get your novel written with a managed mindset. I’ll talk to you next time. Happy writing.