Voices of Insecurity

Do you struggle to fight off voices of insecurity as you write?

From my conversations with fellow writers and creatives, I know I’m not alone in this. These whispers of inadequacy can stop the flow of words and ideas into our first drafts and can undermine our effort to editing and revise and polish are stories. They can make it harder to distinguish between helpful and harmful critiques. If we heed them, they may keep us from ever submitting stories, or submitting them to the best possible markets.

I’m fighting those voices, that inner-critic in a big way as I write this post. I think to myself, this post sucks. There’s nothing here that anyone cares about, that will help other writers. You’re being too personal, and not professional enough. You’re too wordy. etc., etc., etc.

If I reach back far enough, I can trace much of this inner critic to paternally and religiously-induced guilt and perfectionism that I’ve internalized over the decades. I remember, in particular, my dad encouraging me to write an autobiography when I was nine. When I finally presented to him the first few pages, he seemed disappointed, and said nothing to praise my efforts. The project died. I had a similar experience when I presented one of my first sketching experiences. “The nose is too long, out of proportion,” he said.

I’ve had to work hard to not pass this on to my children. I think I’ve been successful there. Just recently, I’ve had the absolute delight to hear about the from my teenage son about his progress on his novel. I get updates every week, and I’m glad that he considers me a safe place to share his thoughts. At some point, he’ll need an editor, as we all do. But right now, his ideas are flowing like a fast mountain stream, and I refuse to stop that clear current.

I’m trying to extend the same sense of nurturing to the creative-child within me. To this end, I’ve done the following:

1) I connect with writers and artists and readers who sustain and support me as a creative. When they offer criticism, it’s to improve me as an artist and to build on my existing strengths, and not to tear me down, or to create me in their image. Social media and conventions are great for this.

2) I tend to minimize my interactions with those who drain my creative energy. Perhaps this is selfish and uncharitable, but I know the limits of my emotional reserves and I protect what I have.

3) I try to diminish my sense of perfectionism. I remind myself that the greatest paintings, sculptures, films and architectural marvels began as messy thumbnail sketches and studies. The words I put down now don’t have to be the ones I submit to editors.

4) I do my best to try nurture and support other creatives. It’s one of the main reasons I’m an Inkpunk.

So, those are a few of my strategies. I’d love to hear from you all. What are the critical voices in your past or in your present life that undermine your creativity? What strategies do you have to silence or subvert them?

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  • Meryl Motika

    I find that many posts about creative writing also apply to my research writing, this one more than most. Insecurity is a huge demon for me. The strategies you list are good ones for me as well, in particular connecting and discussing projects with other people. I’ve also found it sometimes helps to write a list of the things I’m afraid of. Details, like “I am afraid I can’t judge the quality my own work on x topic, so I will not be able to tell what to do that is useful as opposed to trivial or illogical.” Writing them down makes them easier for me to bear even if the fears don’t go away.

    • John Remy

       Meryl, that’s a great practical tip. I find that mentally acknowledging/facing my fears reduces my anxiety, but writing them down is an even more active, achievable task. Thanks!

  • I have to admit I rely heavily on my mentors and friends in the industry. My self doubt has a BIG BOOMING voice but luckily I have fantastic supporters who know how to make it shut the hell up. 

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  • I think insecurity — and the drive to push through that adversity — is one of the marks of great potential. That’s what I tell myself, at least. Like you, I frequently question the quality of my work, worrying if it’s good enough. It can be paralyzing at times. I have to remind myself that I’m writing the best I can, right now, and the only way I’m going to improve is to keep working at it.

    It’s the same thing that keeps me submitting work in the face of rejection (mostly). Each finished work represents the best I had to offer at that moment in time. Some stories haven’t been edited in two years but are still in circulation but I keep them going. I know that I could make them better today but my insecurity would put me into an endless cycle of self-doubt and revision if I let it.

    • John

      Adam, this is a great pep talk. I may modify and print out a couple of lines from your comment and post them somewhere I can see them. (this was easier when I wrote at a desktop with a big CRT monitor)

  • I don’t feel my writing is bad when I’m actually writing. I feel it away from the keyboard when I think about everything I’ve done that isn’t selling. I don’t have any strategy except to keep writing and submitting anyway. It’s the “glutton for punishment” strategy.

    • John

      Hmmm, so in addition to being sadists, we writers must be masochists as well? 😛

  • Yup. This is the one I struggle with most:

    “I try to diminish my sense of perfectionism. I remind myself that the
    greatest paintings, sculptures, films and architectural marvels began as
    messy thumbnail sketches and studies. The words I put down now don’t
    have to be the ones I submit to editors.”

    I think, also, it is important to affirm to yourself that you are a writer, to allow yourself the space and time to write, instead of pushing it down the priorities chain as just a hobby, or similar. Allowing yourself to be a writer in name an nature sometimes takes a lot of courage.

    • John

      Thanks, Sophie. It can be a struggle to affirm writing as valuable when society devalues it (unless you’re a Hollywood or NYTimes bestseller name).