Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Self-doubt is prevalent in every walk of life, but it can be especially true of the Writing Community. We bare our souls to the world and put so much of ourselves in our writing, whether we self insert as a character or not. Our words are our loves, hopes, and fears. So what do you do when self-doubt keeps you from writing?
Am I really doing this?
Let me first say, I wasn’t even sure I was going to go through with including this post in our year’s schedule, even though I was the one who said it would be a good post to have because, well, everyone suffers self-doubt. I was even less sure that I was going to be the one to write it because I’m not typically the type to reveal my emotions or fears to anyone, which very often frustrates my husband.
But, friends, I’m going to bare my soul to you and how I cope with my insecurities, and I hope that it helps you find your own ways of dealing with yours. Feel free in this post to go ahead and skip to the techniques at the bottom because this section is rather long, and you might not want to read about my struggles.
For those of you who might follow me on Twitter or have seen a tweet or two go out, I’ve talked a little bit about how I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD—though now referred to as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder without Hyperactivity) and also having dyslexia. The latter is the one that affects me the most, and much of my struggle I’ll explain will focus on it. If you’re not familiar with dyslexia, there are several different types that affect everyone differently. My biggest struggles are flipping around letters and numbers (or even adding extra letters and seeing entirely different words), difficulty with pronouncing words (especially ones I’m not familiar with or are in a foreign language), and putting words out of order, both in writing and orally.
After reading that paragraph, you might be wondering how I got into writing, editing, and publishing business.
Me too, girl. Me too.
I wonder that daily, and the dark little voice in my head constantly tells me I can’t do it, and I’m too stupid to be an editor, and one day, someone is going to catch me doing something I shouldn’t be. That my bullies in school were right when they said I was an idiot because I couldn’t spell some simple four-to-five-letter words while working on group projects, and I should stay away from this profession altogether.
There are days when my dyslexia is affecting me so much, I have to read a sentence five times in a row to understand it. Not because it’s a poorly written sentence, but because my brain reads it out of order every. single. time. Combine that with a gnat’s attention span, and I’m in for a very bad day. I have work to do, deadlines to meet, and it can pile up because I can’t get it together.
I want to tell you about something that happened the other day that really showcases just how far dyslexia permeates my day-to-day life. It’s humiliating, really, but I think it might help when we get to the section on how to combat your own self-doubt that these techniques can and do work when you need to pick yourself up and move on.
The other day, I went to get the mail—big surprise, that happens every day. In our neighborhood, we have those metal boxes that house several residences’ mail in the same area, much like you would in an apartment building, with four parcel lockers split between each side. I found that we had a key to one of the parcel lockers in our little mail cubby, and I saw it was for box number four. I tried my damndest to get into the locker; I even bruised my fingers trying to turn this key. I went out three times to try to get this open, using my fingers to turn the key, WD-40, and pliers, and it wouldn’t budget. Clearly, the lock must have rusted, and it won’t move without more professional help. I even went as far as to ask on our neighborhood Facebook page who I needed to contact to get open so I could finally get my mail—it was maintenance, in case you were wondering.
It was the weekend, so I decided to wait until Monday when they’re open so I wouldn’t call the emergency line and keep someone from an actual emergent task. When my husband got home the next day, I asked if he would give it a try so we could potentially not bother maintenance. We go out to the mailboxes equipped with WD-40 and pliers once more, and my husband grabs the parcel locker key. “It’s locker number four, honey,” I say while he walks in the opposite direction.
It wasn’t locker number four. It was locker number one and he held it up to show me. The clear keychain was labeled with a one on each side and neither lined up with each other and made almost an X shape. My brain formed this into a four, and I could see nothing else until he pointed it out to me. The locker easily opened, and he handed me my package while laughing. I laughed a little too. I couldn’t believe that between two days and four attempts, I still didn’t realize I was trying to open the wrong locker.
And then the dark voice I thought I had beaten into submission rose.
Jeez, Becky. If you can’t even get your own mail without help, how can you edit for your authors?
He thinks I’m stupid. He can’t stop laughing at me.
Who do you think you are to tell authors what issues you have with their writing? You can’t even read a number without being wrong.
No wonder you have to do so many editing passes.
You’re such a failure, you keep missing all these things.
No wonder people keep pointing out everything you missed; you’re too stupid to even find these errors.
You can’t even read a single number; why are you writing a book?
How did you get to be a publisher without anyone noticing how stupid you are?
I’m an idiot to ever think I could succeed in this business.
This isn’t meant to be a pity party by any means, and I’m certainly not telling the story or my innermost thoughts for someone to say, “But you do such a good job!” or “Look at all the things you’ve done!”
That isn’t the point.
The point is, I struggle regularly with self-doubt in my professional work and in my personal work, and I’ve got some coping mechanisms that might work for you in the same way they work for me.
Techniques to Combat Self Doubt
There are plenty of self-help books out there, other blog posts with how the authors have overcome their doubts, and advice from family members and friends who are all willing to help someone down in the dumps about themselves or their abilities. I want to share just a few of mine that really help me get back into the right frame of mind.
Identify What Sets Off Your Self-Doubt
The first step to fixing a problem is identifying what sets off your self-doubt. For me, it was my husband being witness to such a humiliating mistake brought on by my dyslexia. When you know what sets it off, you can find ways to avoid being in that situation again. Or if that situation is unavoidable, have some mental preparation to not fall into a pit of self-doubt when it does happen.
Don’t Rely on Others’ Praise
This one is hard as a writer because we need people to like our work to get it published or for people to buy it, and keep buying other things we produce. I’m not saying that validation isn’t a good thing, but the more that you have to rely on others to tell you you’re doing a good job, the harder it is to recognize you’re doing a good job on your own. And you probably are. Learn to love what you do and give yourself compliments. It isn’t always self-congratulatory to say, “This is a really good scene.” It’s recognizing your own talent and seeing the good things you do.
See the Good
This goes in line with not relying on others’ praise, but you have to see the good of what you bring to the table. For me, being neurodiverse and being part of the neurodiverse community is a beautiful thing. We think very differently than those that are neurotypical, and that’s awesome because we can bring so much to the table and problem solve in different ways. I wouldn’t ever want to get rid of my ADD, even if it does take me a little longer to do things. One of our authors and one of our other founders both have ADHD as well, and we all compare it to having a built-in superpower because of the way our brains work. Find the good things that you bring, and embrace them.
Tell Yourself to %&$^ Off
You might not be as explicit as I am, but I have to regularly tell myself to %&$^ off with this bull—–. I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I am today if I was actually stupid. I have difficulties, yes, but if I let them get me down, it wouldn’t do anyone any good, especially myself. So when you have the dark voice of self-doubt rear its ugly head, tell it to %&$^ off. It’s very empowering—and I’m not going to lie, it feels good to say it.
Realize It’s Okay to Fail
It’s okay to fail. Honestly, you’re going to fail. It’s unavoidable, but that’s okay. This was the hardest lesson that I had to learn because I’m a perfectionist. (Ironic with having dyslexia, I know.) Let’s take this out of the perspective of writing and put it in other wording: if you want to play the piano, you’re not going to be a Mozart or Beethoven right off the bat. You have to practice, you have to play the wrong notes, and you have to get better. And you’re going to have a few bad recitals before you’re proficient in your craft. It works the same way in writing and everything else in life.
Don’t compare yourself to others
Above all else, you can’t compare yourself to other people. The most important thing you can do is your best, and that might be different than someone else’s best, and that’s okay. That’s more than okay. The important thing is that you’re trying and you’re doing. And by doing, you learn and you get better, and you succeed.
Join us next week when we talk about setting goals to get your book finished.
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