Listing the Positive: Helpful Hints for Writers

“Why am I doing this? Why am I putting so much of my energy into this? I’m useless. Rubbish. I could give up. Maybe I should give up? It would be the easiest thing in the world to just… stop. No-one is reading my work anyway…

I hear these thoughts in my head very regularly. In fact, they never really go away. Sometimes they are LOUD and they fill my whole body. Sometime they are so quiet as to hardly exist. But they are always there.

“Head Weasels,” “Imposter Syndrome Gremlins,” “Demons of Doubt.” They have a few different names, but they all amount to the same thing — they always try to derail me and my writing.

Imposter syndrome happens to pretty much everyone. Absolutely every writer at some stage has suffered from imposter syndrome, even those “big” authors who you know and love. In fact, especially those. It’s a pain in the ass, absolutely, but it’s also perfectly normal. And a lot of the time when you might be feeling your most scared, that’s most likely when you are doing some of your best work.

Get comfortable with the fact that there will always be better (and worse) writers than yourself. Always. You will get disheartened, demotivated and maybe even envious, but someone else’s achievements do not ever devalue yours. Celebrate all successes — yours and those of other writers — and don’t measure your own self worth by the opinions of others.

Writing can be lonely but it doesn’t have to be. Find your “village” and share your skills. Join a writing group, read others work, offer to edit or beta read or help with manuscript formatting. Give back as much as you get. Be open to learning and helping others learn. Be the community you want to see.

Criticism can be painful, but also useful. Learn to listen to and learn from every piece of feedback you get, but equally, don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from. Realise that your friends and family will probably not be honest with you and sometimes it is better to seek other opinions, especially those of your peers.

Rejections can really hurt, but they also show you tried. If you decide to submit your work for publication, you must — unfortunately — be prepared to receive more rejections than acceptances. Sometimes, rejections are not even a sign that you need to change anything. Your story might simply have not fit with what the editor wanted. Perhaps they had too many similar submissions. Maybe they didn’t gel with the tone, style or main character. Getting accepted can be down to being in the right place at the right time, as much as having talent. Keep writing, keep trying, don’t stop.

Accept that once you have sent your work out into the wild, you no longer have full control of it. Remember that you can control what you create, but you cannot control how people react to it. Reviews will be mixed. Sometimes they will fill you full of pride and exhilaration, sometimes it will take all your efforts not to fire off a nasty reply to an equally crappy review — and you should never, ever respond to “bad” reviews! Despite what anyone may try to tell you (and all authors dream of that five star blessing) three stars is not a negative review. Three stars means good story, but could use some improvements. And besides, all reviews are subjective anyway.

To fight the imposter syndrome demons, keep yourself focused and always moving forwards, I recommend making an Encouragement Board. This could be a physical pinboard/whiteboard; a scrapbook, notebook or album; or a digital photo album on your laptop or phone where you save images and screenshots. Keep a record of all the good, positive stuff anyone says about your work. Reviews, comments, messages, emails… all of it. And when the gremlins bite, read it, read it and believe it.