The Artist’s Battle with Confidence and Self-doubt

If you’re someone who has a career or hobby centered around artistic expression (dance, writing, music, performing, or any of the visual arts), you know that each time you put your work out there, a little piece of your soul is on display. Those moments can fill the most highly regarded artist with self-doubt.

Vincent Van Gogh was the poster child for insecurity. A tortured artist who cut off his own ear, spent time in a mental institution, and is said to have committed suicide. He lived with angst, doubt, and pleas for acceptance.

Despite all Stephen King’s success, in a 2014 Rolling Stone interview King tells Rolling Stone, “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.”

Maya Angelou once admitted, ““I have written eleven books, but each time I think, “Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”

Maya had what they call Impostor Syndrome. I understand.

It’s six years and nine books later for me. My books are nicely reviewed and I’m proud of my hard work. One would think I’d feel validated and successful in my writing career. And to some degree I do.

Yet with every new book comes an avalanche of anxiety. Starting with the moment I finish one and send it off to an editor–whose job is to show me where I still have work to do. Because I KNOW a critical eye will only improve my manuscript. In fact, it’s part of any writer’s process. Still, once that manuscript is sent, I pace like an expectant father in the hospital waiting for news of a baby’s arrival, with as much worry as a new parent might have. I think of everything I probably could have done different, better.  More nail-biting comes with pre-release reviews. Will it be with a thumb’s up or down? Feed me reviewers! I’m like Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, and the reviews are the food that’ll (hopefully) boost my self-esteem. Yup, feedback validates my writing ego.

I wish I was a writer who didn’t need external validation to avoid feeling like an impostor. Instead, I’d love to have the self-confidence gene that I see in many others.

In the past nine months, I’ve pushed my writing boundaries into a more complex novel. It’s been scary, unfamiliar, and forced me to think outside of what I already know. The jury is out on if I succeeded (currently waiting for the editor’s feedback.) In many ways, I did have success. I finished the book, told during two different time periods through three POV characters. I’ll pat myself on the back for getting that far. Only that alone doesn’t make me feel validated. Frankly, I’m a little annoyed with myself for my fears.

This morning as I drove, the DJ on the radio gave me reason to pause when he said (and I don’t know why)…

“The very thing that gives you validation can take away your validation.”

It was as if the universe  heard my worries and sent me a light bulb moment!  I immediately saw why it’s important I believe in myself. Because nobody can steal faith I have in my abilities. If they try to and succeed, I’m the only one to blame.

From now on  I’m going to spend a little time working on this with a daily affirmation about believing my myself and my skills. Hey, it can’t hurt.

Anybody else out there struggle with self-doubt? If so, what advice do you have to deal with it?  

15 responses to “The Artist’s Battle with Confidence and Self-doubt

  1. Excellent article. For the past few weeks I’ve been wanting to find a way to ask other writers if their confidence level about their work ever slips. Thanks for sharing your experience. I really appreciate it, especially the examples. To know that these greats (and you) had doubts about their work just like me, makes me more aware that I need to beat it the hell down when it tries to rear it’s ugly head.

    • Hi Nana! I’m so glad you stopped by and commented. I honestly debated on if I should share this about myself, but as I started to see some of the names who feel this way, I knew I wasn’t alone. You’re so right– it’s about beating it down, not letting it own us. And obviously you haven’t been, because of all your book success, too. But it would be so nice to feel more relaxed and confident in general. Lol, that’s all 🙂

  2. I’m going through this right now with my second book. I’m feeling like it’s not good enough. Daily affirmations works and I constantly ask myself what do I enjoy reading? Did I like the story I just wrote? Does it truly represent the characters thought and action?
    Then I pray over it and release it because I believe it’s my best. I’ve also come to realize my best a year ago may not be my best today and that’s okay. It shows growth and more possibilities to become better.

    • Sounds like you’re doing everything you need to do. One thing you said “I believe it’s my best,” if you’ve done your best, then that’s really all you can do. It’s why I like getting input, either from other writers I trust or an editor. Because having someone you trust tell you where you need to edit/fix your story is one way to grow. How wonderful that you can see you’re growing over time! Sounds like you’re doing this the right way 🙂 Good luck to you!!

  3. Terri-Lynne DeFino

    Another “get unstuck” affirmation from the you know whos!

  4. Every day Sharon. I read somewhere that creative people are driven with the need to show themselves and yet hide themselves. xxxxxx

    • That’s exactly what it is, isn’t it? It’s not like we’re hiding at all, and yet the insecurity is real.

      • It’s murder. Then there’s the seven stages of suck, starting with I (Big letters there) wrote this. (Wow) passing through the ‘I wrote this ?’ to the ‘How could I write this?’ And you are right there are those out there who blab about their work without the least crumb of self doubt. They have written these wonderful characters they are in love with etc etc. Personally I find their work difficult to relate to because frankly sometimes we need to take the damn blinkers off. So self doubt is no bad thing so long as it doesn’t cripple us xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

      • That’s an excellent point! Over-confidence can lead to an inability to see where you need improvement. Nope, can’t relate to that one bit. I might love my story, but am always open to suggestions for improvement. I guess we know our concerns don’t cripple us, because we keep writing and keep putting our work out there.

  5. I spent all day battling this monster (the doubt demon I call it), only for me, it’s during the writing process. And he’s LOUD. I came to the same conclusion today during my shower. though, so your post is like a confirmation I needed. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  6. Sharon, we do cos we must, I think. And yeah, we can only improve by having self doubt. xxxx

  7. Kristi Rhodes

    Sharon, it was great to read that Stephen King and Maya Angelou both have the “writing fear”. I guess it’s universal and a part of the process. Your idea to start each writing day with an affirmation is brilliant!

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