This is an actual file on my computer:
I confess that I’ve accessed it more than once.
Truth is, anyone who’s been writing for a while knows there will be moments when you wonder if you’re really cut out to be a writer.
This feeling strikes writers who struggle to finish their first novel; writers who submit their manuscript only to receive repeated rejections; writers who debut with confetti and fanfare and then worry about whether they can make the magic happen with a second novel; and writers penning their twentieth novel who can’t figure out why writing is still so dadgum hard.
We’re all in this boat together, though sometimes it feels like that boat is leaking and we’re sinking.
That’s the moment I open my file and read such tidbits as these:
“I am usually pretty disappointed with the book when I finally turn in the last draft and hear that I can’t revise it any further. I worry a lot that no one will like it and that I’ve failed and that I haven’t lived up to the story.” – John Green, New York Times bestseller and author of The Fault in Our Stars
“Dear God, I am so discouraged about my work. I have the feeling of discouragement that is. I realize I don’t know what I realize. Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted.” – Flannery O’Connor, award-winning Southern gothic writer
“Continuing to write after that heartache of disappointment doesn’t take only discipline, but also self-forgiveness (which comes from a place of kind and encouraging and motherly love). The other thing to realize is that all writers think they suck. When I was writing Eat, Pray, Love, I had just as a strong a mantra of THIS SUCKS ringing through my head as anyone does when they write anything.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times bestseller
“I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don’t know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn’t consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don’t get to make things up anymore.” – Neil Gaiman, New York Times bestselling author of American Gods and The Graveyard Book
“I’m afraid of failing at whatever story I’m writing—that it won’t come up for me, or that I won’t be able to finish it.” – Stephen King, New York Times bestseller and "King of Horror"
Reading their words makes me recognize this fear that you might actually suck is what even highly successful writers feel.
Perhaps it's just part of a good writing process to constantly evaluate yourself and your writing in hopes of turning out the best book you can. And in some of those moments, you'll feel like you come up short.
Indeed, in 2016 John Green described repeated failures in trying to write a book after The Fault in Our Stars and even said might not publish another book, citing his current writing experience as "this intense pressure, like people were watching over my shoulder while I was writing.” (Well worth watching the video here.) Yet his latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down, was released a month ago on October 10 (and, not surprisingly, hit #1 in the New York Times young adult bestseller list).
Clearly, these writing giants aren’t immune to self-doubt and fear of failure. But they keep going. They keep writing.
For me, it helps to have that file to open now and again to remind myself that 100% confidence isn’t necessary to be a good writer. It’s okay to doubt, as long as we don’t let doubt stop us from writing.
Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.
Don't let your doubts be traitors. Don't fear to attempt.
What quotations, encouragement, or reality checks buoy your spirits when you think your writing sucks?
Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.