Separating confidence from self-doubt

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Separating confidence from self-doubt

Postby akila » 20 Apr 2011, 10:59

Self-doubt feeds the author. Without self-doubt, we don't strive to do our best --- to keep writing despite rejections and humiliations. (See Dean Koontz, for example, who writes: "I have more self-doubt than any writer I’ve ever known. That is one reason I revise every page to the point of absurdity! The positive aspect of self-doubt – if you can channel it into useful activity instead of being paralyzed by it – is that by the time you reach the end of a novel, you know precisely why you made every decision in the narrative, the multiple purposes of every metaphor and image. Having been your own hardest critic you still have dreams but not illusions."). Self-doubt is what propels us to be better, to write better, to fixate on commas and words that most other people ignore.

I see my self-doubt as an author, writer, and general person as a good thing. Self-doubt makes me a perfectionist and perfectionism results in opportunities.

So, now, my beta readers have started reading my first book --- which I have put through so many rounds of edits that I can recall most of the sentences from it by memory --- and they keep telling me they love it. One person told me they read the entire thing in one afternoon because he couldn't put it down. This only makes me feel worse. Are they telling me these nice things to make me feel better about all the time I've spent working on it? Or, is it actually good? I have a strong feeling I am going to doubt this work until it is actually published (fingers crossed).

Where do you as an author draw the line on your own self-doubt?
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Re: Separating confidence from self-doubt

Postby Todd Packer » 20 Apr 2011, 11:03

As long as self-doubt is motivating you, I suppose it's okay. But there is a fine line between where self-doubt can freeze you up to and keep your writing in your head instead of on the page.
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Re: Separating confidence from self-doubt

Postby Down the well » 20 Apr 2011, 18:19

akila wrote:So, now, my beta readers have started reading my first book --- which I have put through so many rounds of edits that I can recall most of the sentences from it by memory --- and they keep telling me they love it. One person told me they read the entire thing in one afternoon because he couldn't put it down. This only makes me feel worse. Are they telling me these nice things to make me feel better about all the time I've spent working on it? Or, is it actually good? I have a strong feeling I am going to doubt this work until it is actually published


I can relate. I get positive feedback but still doubt my story is any good. I kind of think the self-doubt helps too. Keeps me striving to do better.
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Re: Separating confidence from self-doubt

Postby JessePrice » 21 Apr 2011, 13:27

akila wrote:So, now, my beta readers have started reading my first book --- which I have put through so many rounds of edits that I can recall most of the sentences from it by memory --- and they keep telling me they love it. One person told me they read the entire thing in one afternoon because he couldn't put it down. This only makes me feel worse. Are they telling me these nice things to make me feel better about all the time I've spent working on it? Or, is it actually good? I have a strong feeling I am going to doubt this work until it is actually published (fingers crossed).

Where do you as an author draw the line on your own self-doubt?


I've found that it works to have a stable of readers and I don't let the same people read my work twice. If I do, they look to see if their suggestions were included in my changes and (some of them are not professional), get their noses tweaked if they're not. Also, each reader set has fresh eyes, which helps toward refinement. Also, for vaguaries like "I love it" pin them down to "what exactly did you love about it?"

Self doubt. I doubt myself all the time, but I'm compelled to write, so I have to ignore it and push through.
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Re: Separating confidence from self-doubt

Postby Hillsy » 26 May 2011, 04:29

I was just about to write a post about this until I thought it best to check to see if the topic had already been covered....and lo and behold.......

I think you're right to make a distinction doubt and confidence. I also think they are deeply interrelated: You need one to temper the other. It should be mentioned that perfectionism is a sympton of Low Self Confidence as well, and perfectionism can be utterly, utterly destructive. I wince whenever someone Say "Perfect" or "Perfection" because I know where the true meanings can lead.

Basically I think that having properly balanced levels of doubt and confidence is the most important factor in any writers chances of success. It permeates everything:
  • style (Am I confident the reader will like that simile or do I need to change it?)
  • plot (Am I confident the reader will link together the plot or do I need to add more exposition and/or scenes?)
  • editting (Am I improving this sentence, or am I just changing it for the sake of changing it?)
  • receiving feedback (Am I confident enough in what I'm trying to do to reject this bit of feedback as subjective opinion?)
  • even actually finishing the damn thing (Am I confident I've done everything I can?)

I'm actually at a similar situation, but slightly more removed. None of my friends really read in genre I write, and even then I probably wouldn't believe their feedback because, after all, they may just be saying positive things out of friendship. So I've got one piece of feedback I'm not even sure I believe....handy that. The situation is worsened by the fact I won't join a writers group, in part because of shyness, partly because I don't think I could contribute effectively, but mostly because I don't think I could fundamentally trust the feedback they give, and also that I don't have the confidence to manage that feedback positively. But that's a personal issue I have to deal with.

A lot of people, unfortunately, will blow a lot of smoke up your arse simply to convince themselves it's worth defeating their own self-doubt, and so a lot of feedback you get is like a bad pep-talk from a demented uncle who's only watched Glee for the last 12 months ("Believe and it will happen" - what a load of bollocks). As a consequency, all feedback start to sound hollow and that healthy blend of self doubt and self confidence starts to become imbalanced (Conversely, you can get pulled in by the praise and the boost in confidence also imbalances the Doubt/Confidence mix).

Anyway I've gone off point with a bit of navel gazing:

What I'm getting at is: judging what you say you've got a perfectly acceptable level of self doubt - it's actually confidence you need to look at. But don't look at me - I ain't got any....hehe
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Re: Separating confidence from self-doubt

Postby Chantelle.S. » 01 Jun 2011, 20:14

I'm the epitome of self-doubt!
English isn't my first language and I always feel like my writing is immature compared to people who aren't in the same position as I am. I get good praise for some of my work, but I always take it with a pinch of salt, too.
As example, I have this story (it's fanfiction...I know, I know) that I feel is going nowhere, and it's my first proper attempt to write in first person narrative. I don't think it's good. In fact, I feel it's one of the worst manuscripts I've ever written. To contradict how I view it, though, over 100 people have taken the time to read it, review it, and favourite and alert it. After getting in touch with a few of the readers, I was doubly stunned to hear that they've gone back to REREAD the whole thing from start to finish because they think it's one of my best.

Major contradiction! So who do I believe? My inner writer squirming in self-doubt like an exhausted contestant stuck in the mud-pool on Wipeout, or a group of avid readers - that I don't know from a grain of salt - who claim that it's one of the best pieces they've ever read?

It doesn't really matter to me how many people feed my confidence with praise. My self-doubt always pricks a hole before my confidence can properly manifest itself. Although, it's quite ironic that people see me as confident in writing, and sometimes even as over-confident. This is the problem I have on another forum. Everyone assumes that I'm 'one of the best' writers so they're either intimidated or think I'm looking for attention when I'm practically BEGGING them to give me concrit on my work. It's amazing how much I've had to grovel to get one person to go 'okay, I'll have a look at your writing for you', and then I still feel they were holding back on me.

But it's not a destructive self-doubt. It's more like a little voice in my head telling me that I could do better, should do better, and must do better. You can never know everything there is to know about the art of writing, there is always room for improvement. And even if you are THAT good, it doesn't mean you can slack off. You have to keep up the pace, because you might not always be THAT good. The only place where self-doubt should be forbidden and confidence should step in is when you're getting into the process of getting published. Self-doubt will kill your chances to get in print.
"Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s." -Stephen King

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