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?