Monday, November 25, 2013

How to Break through Writer Self-Doubt

Self-doubt. Yep, that’s where I’m at in my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) journey. Or at least it’s where I was at this morning.

Picture of Escape Key on Keyboard
Escape from Writer Self-Doubt

I’ve smoothed that away for now.

You see, I’ve been writing all month without worrying too much about how it’s coming out; I think my writing is better than the last time I participated in this crazy “competition.” I’ve been devouring writing craft books like an addict.

I understand story structure better now (among other things).

A couple of weeks ago I had my daughter read what I’d written and she approved. Since my book is YA, that made me happy. Last night though, when I tried to explain the story to her and her friend, I couldn’t tell them exactly where it’s going. Yes, even though I made an outline, it’s still coming out pantser-style.

I also haven’t managed to narrow this story down to one line. Yet.

After that moment of clarity, I distracted myself: I looked at vegan fudge recipes; I had a tickle fight with my son and dog; I read one of the many books in my stack, “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell; I read another book on craft, "Story Engineering" by Larry Brooks. Larry's books helped me a lot, by the way. I'm on my second read-through.


Still, I went to bed frustrated.

Then this morning during my trip to Trader Joe’s for pumpkin fudge supplies, I came upon a car that had “ELF” on its license plate. This wouldn’t normally stand out except this is the third time in two weeks I’ve seen that word on a license plate (and not on the same car).

Seconds later, I saw “PAP” on another plate, which helped me to understand: The character Elf (from the movie “Elf”) goes to New York City to meet his dad; I felt safe in deciding it was my dad saying hello.

As soon as I’d made that conclusion, I came upon another car that said, “New York Times Best Selling Author” on it. I kid you not. (And yes, I did speed up to see who was driving that car. Ha ha!)

As I was flipping between fantasy that my dad was telling me my book was going to be the next big hit--and self-doubt--another car pulled in front of me with “NYT” on it.

So was all of this craziness a message from dad? I like to think so.

Was he telling me my book is the next New York Times best seller? Not necessarily. (Hey, I'm trying to be positive here!)

I believe it was a message for me to let my frustration drive off into the distance so I can keep pecking away at the keyboard.

Whether it’s a best seller or not isn’t the point. This NaNoWriMo process is teaching me about how to break through my frustrated-writer days and keep on going. It is also teaching me about how I function best as a writer and how I can become better.

So How Can You Break through Self-Doubt?
  • Compare yourself to nobody else.
  • Write without editing.
  • Come up with a general outline and then connect the dots, filling in the spaces between the plot points.
  • Focus on your word count.
  • Find something to help you get “outside your head.” I listen to a radio station I created on Pandora called “Liquid Mind.”
  • Utilize prompts to break through moments of frustration. For the month of November, follow @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter.
  • Write with a buddy.
  • In your non-writing time, read about the craft of writing or read fiction and note what you think works or doesn’t work.

I hope and have faith that with increased knowledge, my days of self-doubt will grow fewer in number. Ultimately, it will be the drive inside myself that will keep me going.

Write on!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? I would love to know how you've been doing all month and if you have any tips for writing through the month. Thank you!



  1. Ah, Linda. What a great post. I can agree with all of it, even though I haven't master the write without editing part. I'm beginning to think I'm an editor in writer's clothing.

    I'm doing NaNo this month, but with a twist. I'm finishing three previous projects. You asked how it's going. Well, I got side-lined early on with a media expert's insistence. I'm recovering from that. I did get one story and one poetry submission sent out yesterday, which was on my NaNo agenda. They were previous projects I finished and sent out. I'm still working on the short story to novella conversion, but I'm not revising yet--merely expanding the story.

    Has it been a success for me? In many ways, it has. I've learned a great deal about how and why I write what I do. It's helped me to focus on small projects first and worry about the big ones later. I still have a couple of the little buggers I'd like to get out by month's end. We'll see if I can manage it.

    Love the article, though. Keep up the inpiriation.

    1. Wow! That sounds like a big challenge you've taken on. Three at once?! I love hearing about "rebel" versions of NaNoWriMo. Much success to you, Claudsy! Thank you for reading and telling me how of your experience!

  2. I love the part where you are looking for signs from the universe; license plates, etc. I also look. Lately, I haven't been figuring much out, but I guess that is part of the journey . . . or the self-doubt.

  3. Enjoyed your post, Linda. You are learning a lot! You remind me of my friend, Dawn. She sees signs everywhere, and she calls them God Winks. I had lunch with her yesterday and heard about many God Winks. It is a wonderful way to look at the world. I didn't do NaNoWriMo (personal life is too hectic), but I relished in reading the post of the WSS writers who were deep into the challenge. Much, much success to you, Linda. It is in your future. Believe!

  4. Thank you so much for visiting and for the encouragement, Sabra! (It was fun to hear about your friend, Dawn, too.) :-)