The Gift of Insecurity
I frequently field phone calls from clients who are going through a rough patch in their frame of mind. It turns out being a contracted and published author doesn’t automatically fill you with self-confidence and unending affection for your own work. Who knew?
The reality is that the publishing journey is fraught with emotional land mines—dealing with the editorial process, reading your reviews, settling on just the right idea for that next book—that can make you feel insecure and like a fraud.
I can’t write! I have everyone fooled. I am an imposter. What made me think I could call myself a writer?
This, of course, is a normal part of being a writer. If all goes well, you will have some moments of loving your WIP and you’ll appreciate your newly published books when they land on your front porch in that UPS box. You’ll even continue to enjoy the process of writing. But you’ll probably also have moments when you’re sure that everything you’ve written is garbage and you’re terrified you’re going to be found out.
And it’s a good thing too. Because it’s that very insecurity that will drive you to keep growing, keep learning, be the best you can be. Lately I’ve been quoting the famous yoga teacher BKS Iyengar to my clients. He said, “The moment you say ‘I have got it,’ you have lost everything you had…The moment you say ‘I am satisfied with that,’ stagnation has come. That is the end of your learning; you have closed the windows of your intellect.”
If you believe that, then you see that we really need to look at writing and publishing as a journey, and take from it what we can while we are in the middle of it. It’s part of our larger process of growing and developing as people; it is not a question of “arriving” but more a discipline of figuring out how to keep going.
Don’t worry about yourself when you’re feeling insecure or even hateful toward your writing. Accept it as part of your journey; ask yourself what it means, how it can spur you on, what it drives you toward.
Let yourself feel satisfied for brief moments, then go back to the natural state of the writer: insecure, frustrated, driven.
It’s a great life, isn’t it?
[…] The Gift of Insecurity, Rachelle Gardner (blog post) “Let yourself feel satisfied for brief moments, then go back to the natural state of the writer: insecure, frustrated, driven. It’s a great life, isn’t it?” … […]
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I think that my insecurity helps me keep my characters relatable. Most people who I’ve met post-junior high seem to think that I’m far more confident than I am, so I know that people who seem confident are not always that way deep down.
So if I make my hero/heroine a little less self-assured, or have a character’s anger (or other negative qualities) some from a place of insecurity, I think it make it easier for readers to sympathize or relate to them.
When insecurity hits, I email my writing buddy and vent. There’s nothing like comraderie to boost the spirits!
Being insecure, like all things, is a gift in moderation and a curse in excess. But then you know that since you’re quoting a yoga teacher who would also be as likely to speak of the necessity for balance in all things.
I’ve been having this for a month, but instead of being motivated, I’m completely crippled. Cannot wait for it to blow over.
Insecurity definitely helps drive me to write *gooder* (ha ha).
In real life, insecurity made me talk way too much and try too hard to make people like me. Ironically, it can grate on people’s nerves, so I’ve tried to scale that back.
I don’t think anyone says “tries too hard” about writing, unless it seems the writer is trying to emulate someone else.
I have this quote pinned to my inspiration wall: What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure. – Samuel Johnson
I love writing. What I don’t love is watching the day slip away while I’m busy doing chores and thinking, how am I ever going to get this WIP done? By bed time I am frantic to at least type 100 words so it won’t haunt me anymore. Like my protagonist, I need a clone to take care of me.
>I think the timing of the moments of insecurity (or despair) can be challenging.
The first editor who looked at one of my picture book manuscripts wanted to buy it after a rewrite that gave it a self-help angle. But it wasn't close enough to the publishing niche of the company to survive the editorial board, so they didn't take it. The whole episode, of course, was very encouraging, even if there was no sale. I thought, "Cool! The first pop out of the box got an editor's attentions. Certainly a sale is just down the road."
A sale was not just down the road.
The next 18 months of rejections with the same manuscript have not been so encouraging. Even with one response from an agent who thought I should expand it and turn it into a chapter book, I began to wonder, "Was it just a fluke? Is there something wrong with this manuscript that won't let anyone else touch it?"
It's the nature of the business, and I stress the word business.
>This is so true!
Like good actors getting stage fright.
>Thank you for writing this. I am not someone who normally stumbles on the right blog posts when I need them but that happened with this post. I am exhausted and about to sleep but now I finally feel better before bed. Yeay!
I can't stop feeling like my work must not be up to par because while I am published and have the good reviews to tell me it is I just can't manage to get an agent. Trying to write a query is like trying to walk through a brick wall for me and even though I have been trying for years, somehow I just can't get it. Luckily, my query was good enough to get a publisher! I guess I just have to realize that just because an agent doesn't like my query doesn't mean there is any parallel to my actual manuscript. I simply have a weak point I have to overcome.
Thank you again! Hopefully my lack of sleep doesn't effect my comment's meaning.
>Awesome. The fine workings of motivation. Thank you.
>Now that people are reading my novel (I've printed 2 copies and put them in binders to be passed around), I can certainly say that I feel a little insecure.
I wonder if it is evident that this is my first novel, which I'm sure it is. Are people thinking, "Oh, well now I see why she hasn't been published yet."
I wonder if my story is as captivating as I believe it to be – so far good response on that one. But then I wonder – are they just being nice?
So far I'm getting the "wow" feedback factor, so it helps. I believe my insecurity would temporarily go away if an agent would just snatch me up!
If that happens, great. If I end up self-publishing, I'll still do quite a bit of wondering.
>I hear and read so much about how the work changes after one gets published that I am enjoying the now like there's no tomorrow, in spite of the fact I still yearn to be published. Wariness about how it will change is there in thought, but I know God is not only good, He is faithful, and that can be relied upon. Evidently, that relaince increases when the 'fraud' feeling kicks in and we realise what we're not.
I look forward to being on the other side and hopefully growing because of it, because I don't intend to back down. If we've survived the waiting game for ten years or however long it takes, "published insecurity" is surely the step up from that. Time to get the "who" and the "do" sorted.
>Great post! Like so many others, lots of times I feel like I must be crazy thinking I can do this – no one I know does this, but I also have my moments, where I'm convienced that I'll be able to finish paying for my daughter's college with my writing. I've also noticed a pattern in my writing about midway through the book, I start doubting myself then when the pace picks up…I pick up. Same thing with revising which is always a positive place for me to be; however, editing makes me doubt myself because by that point the book is about as good as I can get it…what a roller coaster ride!
>It's great to read this. I feel happy with my current wip then in an instance feel everything I've written is hopeless. It's my first novel, so I know that it can and will improve, but to know that this is how it's always going to feel is oddly comforting.
>Sure. I am writing a book now that I am enjoying writing and I think it's one of my best. I know, because of that, it will sell one copy a month.
Success? Hah! I am selling, according to the acquisitions editor, very well. This is a small publishing house with no advertising really. I probably sell 3 ebooks for every paper.
Yet I can't get an agent. Yeah, that was subtle.
>It's funny to read this today. I just gave a speech this weekend in which I talk about how one never arrives – not in life and not in writing.
Before I give a speech nerves creep up and suddenly I want to throw out all the material and I'm convinced I will suck. I do it every time. I think it's good for me, though. It keeps me on my toes and forces me to do better.
You asked, “… so how are we to know if our convictions about our writing abilities are nothing more than another kind of screecher's delusion?” That’s a good question, but there are ways. I was “lucky” (if you can call it that!) insofar that I had the opportunity to study writing at university, where creative writing professors will call you to the carpet quickly. One author with whom I studied didn’t hesitate to tell me when I was writing pure drivel and why it was drivel in great specificity. God bless the man for telling me, “This is terrible.” He then gave me the tools to become a fiction writer. I just reconnected with him on Facebook and thanked him for being such a wonderful mentor. ☺
I think a lot of people eventually learn that they’re screeching when nothing happens over the course of several years and repeated attempts. This is what I find sad, because I believe that anyone with a modicum of intellect can be taught to write fairly proficiently. But unless they know how to improve – from someone who does know – they’ll continue to write the same thing over and over.
>I have recently realized that I want the exaggerated growth rate of spring year around for my WIP. But ripening occurs in summer which is hot and long; in autumn the farms around my house look like a holocaust has hit the corn rows; and during the long, long Minnesota winter, the ground rests, stone cold. My drafts need my patience.
>Even with several books published (and all accepted on first submission), I have to keep telling myself 'Well, the editors liked them so I must be doing something right'. But with each new book, I still go through agonies of self-doubt.
I like the idea that this kind of insecurity can be a positive, not negative, feeling, since it pushes us to strive continually to improve.
Many thanks for this encouraging blog, Rachelle!
>Insecurity isn't a healthy motivation for me to grow in the writing craft. Insecurity paralyzes me. Those kinds of thoughts I take to God and remind myself of His good plans and purposes for me. I want my motivation for growth and improvement (which I agree is necessary, always, constantly), to be the drive to make the next novel just a little closer to that initial vision of what I sensed it could be, than I managed to make the last one. I may never be as skilled as I want to be, but I will get better, as long as I don't give up.
>There's a modicum of comfort in knowing self-doubts and insecurities are part and parcel of being a writer. My insecurity is basically two-pronged. First, I worry that I waited too late in life to get serious about writing. I'm no spring chicken, but I TRY to hang onto the notion that I have a golden egg or two to lay before I hit that deep fryer in the sky. And second, have you watched the American Idol try-outs? Have you seen the God-awful screechers who can't even carry a simple tune, but are convinced beyond reason that they're gifted and talented beyond all reproach? No question, they are delusional, but they truly seem to believe in themselves, so how are we to know if our convictions about our writing abilities are nothing more than another kind of screecher's delusion?
>Shoot, my insecurities are insecure. Seriously. I sure hope it's a gift someday. For someone. Thanks for letting neurotic writers like me know we're not alone!
>I've found that having a critique/editing group helps. My group is amazing. They encourage me when I'm doubting my abilities and prod me on when they know I'm capable of more.
I highly recommend writer's groups!
>Moving through self-doubt and insecurities is but another step along the path. They are not good, they are not bad. They are just what we call, and feel about, them. Mostly they are spring boards to better things, if you choose to jump from them, and trust you can land on your feet.
We will block when we want to be blocked, and words will flow when we align ourselves with their flow.
It is up to us.
>I just got back from my Iyengar yoga class. How nice to see him quoted.
Insecurity is a part of life from birth to grave. It's not something that goes away. So I am glad to hear that it's actually helpful. Thanks
>Oh, sigh! I'm so glad I'm not alone! My insecurity is usually accompanied by standing up from my desk, wandering about the house wringing my hands and saying "I have no idea what I am doing!" repeatedly! And your Iyengar quote is practically my mantra! I thank you for posting this from an agent's perspective to let us all know that writing may not be as lonely a profession as we think!
>It forces me to ask WHY I write. Having a clear reason and quiet understanding of the "why" helps prod me to work on the "how."
>Terrific post! I wonder if it ever gets easier — probably not, but it can at least become the norm. I know when I write a rough draft that it's going to be complete trash, but I've kind of gotten used to feeling that way. I expect it. Right now, I'm working on turning those feelings of horror into something more positive: the hope that every story I write and every book I read is taking me one more step away from being a mediocre writer toward being a great one…eventually. 🙂
>I asked one of my writers at Word Weavers, "Don't you get tired of reading your own stuff sometimes?" She nodded, and we laughed. I don't have an agent or a publisher and I am still in the midst of my own book, but I understand those feelings. There are some days I ask,"What the heck am I doing blogging? What do I know?" Then other days when I feel like everything is going in the right direction. Sigh. I am an emotional roller coaster.
>Excellent advice I didn't realize I needed until I read it! I'm in the beginning stages of a novel. At times I'm in love, the words sing from the page. Other times I'm ready to start over, hit delete and send the manuscript into oblivion. It's good to know I'm normal!
>Thank you for posting this. It helps me to know I'm not alone. I've been going through some of the insecure times lately, but if I look back I can realize I've felt this way before… and come out just fine.
Personally, I don't find the insecure moments help me all that much. They're more detrimental than anything. But I can see their merit because they keep me from getting a big head, that's for sure.
And you're so right—if we think we've arrived, then we truly know we haven't.
Reminds me of that quote in Prince Caspian where Aslan asks Caspian if he thinks he's ready to be King. Caspian says he's not sure and Aslan says something to the effect of, "If you had said you were, then you wouldn't have been."
>This post was a gift for me today. I've felt insecure since I've heard from you:) I should be dancing in the streets, but the dreadful job of building my platform (ie: selling myself-ugh) has left me wanting to pack up and hide under a rock.
What the insecurity has done, however, is throw me deeper into the arms of the One I write for anyway. I've fallen a bit deeper into the folds of His robe, so for that I'm grateful.
Thank you for your words.
>Those insecure moments make me regroup and remember why I began this great journey in the first place. I have to push through the difficult moments because I couldn't quit writing if I wanted to! It always seems to find me once again.
>Wow. You picked a universal topic. Telling us it's normal to feel insecure really helps. I'm really feeling it right now. So, I'll look for those opportunities to grow. They must be right around the corner!
>This is a very healthy attitude to employ. I try to do this with my walk with the Lord too, there's always more room to grow.
>Uh, oh. I'm in trouble if we can draw comparisons between yoga and writing, because I've never been able to touch my toes…
Great post. 😀
>I would expect the doubts and insecurities to get worse with success. Once you've got a book or two out there your readers will begin to have expectations. They'll "know" you and will compare new books to old ones–probably not favorably. I think about Jan Karon leaving Mitford for her Father Tim books. She tells a story abour a fan who tells Jan she's going to pray for God to "make" her write another Mitford book. Man, if your readers start threatening you with prayer, it's bound to cause a doubt or two!
>Wonderful post. It's also nice to read the comments and see so many other writers out there like me with their insecurities. The fact that I don't think I'm good enough keeps me learning and pushing myself. I don't think I'll ever be as great as I want to be and that's probably a good thing.
>That made me feel so much better. I am so happy to know that not only am I not the only writer struggling with these feelings, but they are necessary and normal. But, I have to wonder if I will ever get to a point where I am satisfied enough to actually get the book out there? Will I always look at it and think things could have been done better?
>This post couldn't have come at a better time. I've been having those thoughts lately about the MS I'm trying to polish, and oh boy, it gets rough sometimes. But this definitely helped, so thank you!
>Doc feels like an impostor? No way. I mean no way IS he an impostor.
>Like most writers, I suffer from the "imposter syndrome," wherein I expect someone to jump out from behind a tree and say, "I know you. You can't write. You're a fraud." How do I get past that? I call my agent, who calms me. Then I take a deep breath, realize I have been lax in including God in my planning, and get on with my life.
>I've always been insecure about my "artistic" pursuits. I love the process but loathe–or at least dislike–the end product. I avoid listening to recordings of my singing, and when my students perform a song I wrote, I want to crawl under the piano and hide. (And I'm almost small enough to manage it, which makes the endeavor doubly tempting!)
I can only suffer reading my writing when I know I can change the cringe-inducing parts. If I ever see a book in print…well, I probably won't read my printed work at all. (Unless I can actually get under that piano and read it. Ha!)
Great post as usual, Rachelle!
>I never think I'll be able to write another publishable short story or novel, but that's what makes me strive to get better!
>Let me count the insecurities – no I won't. I don't think you wanted an autobiography in your comment section. 😉 Needless to say, they're there. Mostly in balancing time and family and writing. I'm so fearful someday my child will grow up to say Mommys books were more important, yet I am intoxicated with writing. So finding the balance is a delicate struggle and sometimes, writing must be sacrificed for a 6AM snuggle – and sometimes my 10 pm "ni-nite" time gets shoved back to midnight.
>This really hit me this morning. I'm putting something on forchristiangirls.org about shyness and insecurity. We all have it and we all fake it.
I still tell myself I am not good enough and I don't know what I am doing, then some wonderful friend tells me I am a good writer. Maybe one day I'll believe them.
>I've had waaay too many insecure moments lately… mostly due to my second and third book not selling and my first book not seeming to sell well. I love this post… it makes me see that a) my insecurity is normal and b) it will make me stronger. So thank you! And, thanks for always calling when I send an insecure email and talking me off of the ledge.
>Insecurity rears its head when I spend too much time stressing about what I don't have or haven't done–haven't been to a big conference or haven't read the book on writing everyone is blogging about. Suddenly I see every little thing wrong with my WIP and lose focus. But I am a fairly disciplined writer with more experience than I give myself credit for. I'm more productive when I focus on my assets as a writer rather than deficits, and that gives me the confidence to work out the deficits.
>I've heard this numerous times. It's great to know I'm in good company.
>Oh my goodness – by far the most insecure I've ever felt was while writing my most recent book.
It's the first book I've ever written as a contracted author and I was an ulcer-ridden head case.
Thankfully, the rough draft is finished and while the story needs a lot of work, I know how to make it better. Which eases a lot of my anxiety.
>What a fantastic quote! I always want to be the kind of writer who keeps my windows wide open. Learning fuels me and motivates me to get out of bed. Sometimes I look at my work and cringe or I wonder about timing and moving ahead on this journey. It’s at those times that I tend to learn the most about where to put my security and how best to keep on keepin’ on. My resolve and resilience is tested.
I’ve discovered a lot about myself on this journey. And I’m gaining a great deal of insight from those on the path ahead of me.
With writing and with the publication process, I find I’m most at peace when I can trust and let go.
>Insecurity is an opportunity to be honest with yourself. With emotions laid bare, you may be able to better connect with your readers.
>Thought some of you folks might like to read a new post from Jean, an old order Mennonite from NYS. She tells her story only on my blog Amish Stories. thanks folks. Richard
>I just signed with a wonderful agent. You would think the doubts get better, and I find them getting worse.I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a horrible judge of my own writing. I often see problems where none exist and then don’t see the real problems. Hopefully I’ll find a better balance as I continue to write.
>I never truly love a WIP until sometime in the second draft. I the first draft there’s always that question in the back of my mind that I won’t be able to pull it off. I always have a concept of where I want to go with it, but getting there is never guaranteed. I believe that’s a good attitude to have. It seems like the people who are the most convinced that they are great are the ones who produce rotten books. It seems like once authors make it and have a bunch of fans telling them how great everything they write is, their work suffers and their writing just isn’t as good as it once was.
>I expect I show my insecurity every time I post here. LOL.
>This is a great post, and it makes so much sense. It’s odd to look at insecurity as a positive thing, but I can now see its purpose. Thanks!
>For years I was afraid of letting anyone read my writing, because I thought it wasn’t good enough. But I knew that if I was ever going to make it as a writer I had to share my work with other people. So I did. I started taking writing classes where we were required to read our work out loud, and that helped. Blogging helped too, and it gave me the courage to submit my work to lit magazines. Even though I still feel insecure about my writing, I feel even better knowing that I’m actually making an effort to share my work with others now.
>If insecurity is a gift, I’m one of the most blessed writers of all time. Those pesky doubts persist in plaguing me.For those who have yet to receive an offer of representation or publishing contract, I can assure you the doubts don’t magically disappear after reaching those milestones. If anything, they intensify because now a writer has to please an agent, editors, and readers. But as Rachelle said, the insecurities can push us to become better writers, so they can be an ally of sorts.
>I have a feeling I’m going to be returning to this post frequently. Great insight!
>I love when you say -“Let yourself feel satisfied for brief moments, then go back to the natural state of the writer: insecure, frustrated, driven.”So true!I do allow myself to be satisfied with my writing…for a time.
>Had one tonight. I shouted at my computer, “This is CRAP!” and then ran out of the office, slammed the door, and then went and rummaged through the fridge. My wife said, “You’re worrying me.” “I just hate my writing,” I responded. She tried to encourage me. “I like your writing. That blog post from today had a really cute picture of a kitten.”Yeah. That was a really good piece, but I regretted the picture of the kitten the second after I posted it. Now I’m glad I left it in, because without it, I wouldn’t be a good writer…
>It’s hard to describe my moments of insecurity. Logically, I know I must be a “good” writer, otherwise I would have never made it through a rigorous university program and I wouldn’t be making money as a freelancer – right? Writing romance is completely different than anything I’ve ever done. It only seems like it would be simple. It is not. I cannot nail the voice and style pitch perfect for love or money. Other romance writers in my RWA chapter make it sound so simple – they just do it, like the Nike commercial. How –??? Is there a romance writer gene? Writing a thesis was less challenging. I just finalled in my first chapter competition (got the news last night – am waiting for final judging). And as much as I hate to admit it, my first thought was, “Are you sure you notified the right person?” :/
>I went through a big moment of this a few years ago, before I’d really gotten serious about this writing journey. I had a book I’d been working on for a while at the time (*cough5yearscoug*) and was really really doubting the story, the characters, etcetera.I had the opportunity to attend a signing by one of my very favorite authors. As he signed my book, I asked him a question about writing that I’d been struggling with. Hearing him say that he struggles with the same thing all the time, but that you have to work through it and use it, really got me out of that funk.Yes, at the time I had permanently shelved my book, but a year or so later (with his words still pinging around in my head), I got an idea to fix one of the major issues with the book. I was in grad school at the time and so wasn’t able to devote a lot of time and energy to it at that point.I finally finished the first draft of that book almost a year and a half ago and have written two novels since then. (One which has been revised several times.) Am I where I need to be writing-wise? No. But each book has helped me to gain confidence in my writing. I know I’m not perfect and probably never will be, but it’s that confidence that’s going to get me through the rough patches when I start doubting my writing again.
>Like a fraud. That is exactly how I’ve been feeling lately. I keep thinking, who am I to think I can do this? Because I don’t want to do it if I’m not any good at it. But I guess that’s where the constant learning comes in…that part I really do enjoy.
>Oh, what a great post. Something I desperately needed to read tonight. Editing is doing numbers to my confidence in writing. It is good to know that I am not the only one who loves my writing, but hates my writing. 🙂
>Thanks so much for this post!! I am having one of those days. I have been writing YA Fantasy for the first time, and I keep listening to this voice telling me that I shouldn’t be writing Fantasy. It’s not me. Yet, I love the story, and I’m in love with the characters. So I take a break from writing, have coffee, talk to someone on the phone, play with my baby, and then go back to writing, pushing myself as far away from the voice as I can by doing what I love. Writing.
>Even though I have an agent, I’m surprised by how my feelings about my WIP’s change.I can read the same version of the same book one day and love it. Then pick it up a few days later, certain I’m a total loss and wondering why my agent believes we’ll ever sell it.When doubts reign, I lean on the conviction from God this is what I’m meant to do, and compare my work against the craft books I’ve read. I look for ways to improve, but don’t get ruthless – because it’s in my heart, not the page, that the problem lies.I’m blessed with serious, talented writer-friends and I watch them ride the same roller-coaster. I realize this is just what we do.Times of doubt are times to put the book away (usually). Or press on and hope that someone with more experience and knowledge than myself will find a way to help me make it better.In short: Never give up.
I love the last line of your comment, never give up. This is such an important item that all of us must adhere to.