A dog with the American flag

Does self-doubt consume you?

This is first post in this series explained what my inspiration was for writing my first novel while in Afghanistan. The I posted about learning How do you Write a Book?

But what happens when you start to second guess yourself?

The first week of December 2010 I had written over 27K words of my first manuscript and began to panic. Was I really going to do this? Could I really write a book? Who am I? I’m just some Soldier. I have no training on how to write a book. What if I’m just wasting my time? Maybe I should get some help? My mind began to spin as these self-doubting thoughts filled my brain.

Those that write know this already: all writers have self-doubt about their work. Yes, even the likes of Steven King, J.K. Rowling, Nelson DeMille, etc have faced self- doubt about their writing. Heck, Karl Marlantes the author of the New York Times best-selling novel Matterhorn faced 30 years of rejection before someone took a chance on him.

Of course I was in Afghanistan when my panic attack occurred and didn’t know any of this. At this point I had zero knowledge about the writing industry.  I just knew I had a good idea and the discipline and drive to do something with my idea. So I reached out to try and find some guidance.

I thought to myself maybe I need a writing coach.  So once again I did what we all do when we want to learn more. I Googled writing coaches and settled on two folks and contacted them.  Lisa Tener was the first person I contacted. Lisa told me my novel concept was compelling, but she didn’t handle fiction. She recommended I contact Ginger Moran who is an award-winning author, writing coach and editor. At the time I was also talking to a Cindy Shearer who is a writing coach and editor.

After a considerable amount of email traffic with Cindy and Ginger I learned a couple things:

  1. Yes, a knucklehead like me can write a book.
  2. My idea is compelling and fresh.
  3. I’m on the right path. Stop overthinking and just write the first draft.

Cindy and Ginger gave me some great guidance. If it’s in your head, then put it on paper. You can work everything out later. With their words of wisdom I went back to work writing diligently before work every morning and brainstorming throughout the day.

Sure, I still have self-doubt about my writings. When you put yourself out there it leaves you open to rejection. I can tell you first hand, rejection stinks. But what is worse than rejection? Allowing that fear of rejection to paralyze you, being too afraid to try. I’m not going to let the fear of the unknown scare me. Fear won’t keep me huddled around the warmth of the fire.

After all this, I know who I am. I’m a Soldier in the United States Army with real life experience who writes about what I know. I do it for folks like you.

What have you accomplished when you overcame your self-doubt?

What dreams have your allowed your self-doubt to stifle?

Do you have experience you’d like to tell the world?

What’s stopping you?

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41 thoughts on “Does self-doubt consume you?

  1. Kizzy

    This is a good post. I have often struggled with self-doubt. I’m happy to say that I have overcome a lot of it, but I still have far to go.

    I learned once that any time you try to do something new or different fear and self-doubt will arise. I’m learning not to let it stop me anymore.

    Thanks for sharing.
    K~

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Kizzy… I couldn’t agree more. The unknown is scary….do you stay by the glow of the fire because it provides warmth or do you venture out into the cold looking for new adventures? It is a scary unknown world out there.

      Reply
  2. Leila Gaskin

    Fear fuels my writing funks. Fear of rejection, of sounding stupid, etc. Then, I get tired of the fear. I use the energy the fear wasted and renew and refocus myself. Does the fear go away? Not really, I just get better at handling it.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Great point Leila….there comes a time when you just have say….”Who cares what he/ or she thinks….I’m going for it!”

      I love when someone tells me I can’t achieve something or they doubt me.

      Reply
  3. Louisa

    Anxiety and self doubt affect me every day as a writer — will I ever finish these revisions? Will an agent ever pick me up? It takes effort every single day to keep going… Congrats to you, Kevin, for overcoming self doubt and reaching out to a writing coach! I am thinking of doing the same thing to help keep me motivated.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thank you Louisa. You know… I think there is a time to follow your heart and go at it on your own but also a point where you need to get some help in areas that are unfamiliar. I think back to when I installed a new garbage disposal in my last home….I did a good job…got it pretty darn close but couldn’t get the water hook up correct. I had a plumber come in…and show me how to do the rest. There is a reason that there are experts out there. It only cost me a fraction of having him do the entire job and I learned how to do it for next time.

      Reply
  4. Patti Mallett

    Thanks for sharing this! I woke up with doubt strapped to by back this morning. But you are reminding me of what I know to be true!! As well as demonstrating that we must be proactive!!

    May the Good Lord Bless and Keep YOU!!

    Pressing on….

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thanks Patti. I think we have all been there. The only logical solution is to forge forward. You can do it!

      Reply
  5. James McCann

    Great post!

    For years I sat with an unfinished novel and despite encouraging words from a major publisher (I submitted some early chapters) I persuaded myself I couldn’t do it.

    Now I have just 2 1/2 chapters to go and I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to editing, checking it all makes sense then finally submitting it.

    Good luck with your project!

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      O wow James! You were so close. So glad to see you are back at it! What is the worst that could happen? I say the worst is not trying!

      Reply
  6. barbara longley

    Your post struck a chord! I’ve written 4 full length novels thus far, and every time I begin a new manuscript I have a panic attack. Before I become immersed in the characters, the plot, all of that, I fear I’ve “forgotten” how to write. I fear I don’t have any talent, and that I’ll never get anywhere with my writing. It’s interesting to hear a fellow writer describe the panic they go through.
    I’m happy to say that I am published now, and I also have an agent. Do these small successes put an end to my self-doubt? Phhbbllt. Nope. Write on, Kevin! I can’t wait to read that book. (Wait. Is it available yet?)

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hey Barbara…I know, sometimes I feel the same way about my military career …am I ever goood enough for this job or promotion? Now I’m repeating the whole process with writing.

      Reply
  7. RD Meyer

    The key to being successful is to push past self doubt, regardless of what you’re pursuing. The way I see it is that if I don’t believe in my writing, that will soon become evident, and then no one else will want to read it either.

    How do I get past it? Two ways:
    1. I write stories I would like to read.
    2. While I want to get published and will work my ass off to get there, if it never happens, my life will not crumble.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thanks for the tips Russ!

      If you never put yourself out there then it will never happen for you, right?

      Reply
  8. Angela M

    I haven’t been paralyzed by self-doubt, but I did burn myself out badly by writng in a vein I didn’t enjoy (journalism). I have more than enough doubts to go around, though I write what I love now. Who wouldn’t? When someone reads my writing, it feels to me like I’m standing in front of that person in my underwear, perfectly vulnerable. Somewhere along the line I decided I can’t get anywhere if I don’t grit my teeth and put myself out there. No one gets pubbed without taking some risk.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      You are so right Angela. Putting yourself out there can be the hardest part of this whole process. I was so scared when I fort of went “public” with what I was doing. It was good for me though because now I have to forge forward!

      Reply
  9. Adriana Johnson

    Kevin,

    This is very compeling to me and very encouraging. I struggle with self doubt all the time. I have been critized in writing in a horrible way in my past. Do to that I work on fighting fear and pushing foward. Thank you for bein a writing word of encouragment and sharing your experiece. When we are transparent with the world others see and lifting up happens. Thank you for sharing.

    Adriana

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thank you for your kind words Adriana. This entire process has been quite a journey and I’m happy to share it with everyone. I can say now that when someone closes a door on you….. two more will open if you keep pushing forward.

      Reply
  10. Wendy Reid

    Good post Kevin. I don’t think there is an author out there who hasn’t faced many rejections and periods of self-doubt. My beta reader is also a good friend who continuously gives me support. That helps a lot…to have someone who believes in you, even when you have a hard time believing in yourself. :)

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Wendy! thanks so much. Your so right. I found that person, Ginger Moran, who believed in me! More on that later but she was the first person to make me believe I could do this.

      Reply
  11. Mary Carver-Stiehler (Writing as Mary Moriarty

    We all get hit by that self doubt monster from time to time throughout our life, in every walk of life and situation. I know I did when I first started writing and still do going through the academy. I was even so bold to voice it the other night in front of the guys and my officers… Believe it or not it was a good exercise for all of us and even the Chief has those feelings.
    It made me feel really better since if I thought I had self doubt creeping in before the next two months will be even worse and I am going to need every bit of confidence I can drum up.
    You go through things Kevin most of us will never have to go through and you have taken those times and experiences and are using in such a positive way. You are like my officers says “Yes, I feel like that a lot…” It’s helping me to move forward.
    So continue to push ‘self doubt’ to the back burner so to speak and continue to write and share because it not only helps you but all of us who are fortunate enough to read what you write. And you are writing an incredible story that needs to be told.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Mary. Thanks for sharing you story. It is nice to know we aren’t alone in this internal battle. It helps me to forge ahead.

      Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Lara. I was struggling for some guidance at the time and wish I could have chatted with some writers. Twitter would have been great….. there is such an awesome on line community of aspiring writers!

      Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      The only failure is the failure not to try Ken.

      I made that decision right before I returned home last year from Afghanistan. I promised myself I would see this through.

      Reply
  12. Elizabeth Tai

    I’ve been a journalist for 12 years; longer if you want to count my freelancing years. I’ve written hundreds of articles, a novel, a couple of novellas and short stories and I’m *still* assailed by self doubts. What prevents me from giving in to it is very simple: I have deadlines to meet, and your editors are not going to care if you feel shitty about your writing. They care that you meet said deadlines.

    When it comes to my fiction, however, I find myself fighting a tougher battle. ‘Surely this isn’t worth the bother? Who the hell is going to read this? Your idea is stale!’ For many years I was crippled by it, then only recently did I decide to throw caution to the wind and say to that little voice: Thanks for your input. I’m gonna write now, thanks.

    Focusing on the enjoyment I get out of creating something out of nothing helps. Not caring if people love it is another, though I’m not doing it that well (what writer doesn’t want folks to like their writing?). The point I’m making is this: Focus on writing for yourself, focus on the joy of creating something. And ignore that voice … as best as you can.

    Looking forward to reading your work one day.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thanks so much Elizabeth….what great advice! I truly believe the only failure in life is the failure not to try. When I laugh at something I wrote or get emotional ……. it makes it all worth it!

      Reply
  13. Pingback: What Not to Do When You’re Writing a Novel | | Kevin HanrahanKevin Hanrahan

  14. Pamela Beason

    I don’t know any writer who doesn’t doubt themselves during a writing project. I always start off thinking my idea is brilliant, then 3/4 way through, ask myself “Why did I ever think I could write?” And then, when I read my finished books later, I think, hey, this is pretty good! And others seem to think so, too, because my books are selling well. Continuing to write past the doubt is what separates authors from wannabes.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Pamela. You are so right and I love your last comment. I think writing is like anything in life- you get what you put into it! I’m running a spell of self- doubt now as I sit here waiting to hear back from agents. I was thinking the other day though. At what point does this go away? My answer to myself- probably never. Unless of course your name alone will drive your book to the NY Times best seller list. But in the end if you believe in yourself and your writing then you will persevere. That is what I tell myself.

      Reply
  15. WordNerdGuy

    Hey Kevin:

    Yes, self-doubt consumes me…and then I set it aside and get on with the work of writing. Every day that I sit down to my WIP I wonder what the hell I’m doing, what the hell I’m thinking, and who the hell do I think I am that anyone would be interested in reading about this.

    After that, I start typing.

    Good post and thanks.
    Keith

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      I’m the same way Keith….. this writing world is so full of highs and lows. It just isn’t something I am comfortable rolling with. In my full job I can takes lows easier….maybe it will come in time for me in this world as well?

      But I like you just keep typing and forging forward. Thanks for your kind words! :-)

      Reply
  16. Kathy Orlinsky

    A few years ago, I started writing a daily science blog. For a long time, I worried that I was unqualified, that I couldn’t do a good enough job, etc.

    Then I heard Neil Gaiman talk about how everyone feels that way, and it’s called ‘imposter syndrome’.

    I still feel inadequate sometimes, but I remind myself that these feelings are normal and I just keep doing my best.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Kathy. Imposter syndrome….that is fabulous. I need to go Google that.

      It is funny I used to think the same thing when I first became an Army Officer…… then when I received my evaluation reports I would be like…..really are they talking about me!

      Now I’ve just decided I belong anywhere I decide to be! Get on my team or get out of the way!

      Reply
  17. Cheryl

    This is so true Kevin! All writers experience this, and tend to over think. Self-doubt and the fear of rejection can be paralyzing, but if you have a story to tell you just have to put it out there and see what happens. You may not always get the reception you wanted, but never let that stop you if you believe in yourself and the message you want to send. You never know, you might get an even better reception than you ever anticipated! But you’ll never know unless you put yourself out there. I commend you for taking on the challenge of writing, and encourage you to keep up the good work ;)

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Cheryl. thank you. I made a promise to myself while in Afghanistan that I will see this through. It would be very easy for me to stay in my insulated and comfortable military world but then I would never know……. and would be left wondering “what if” the rest of my life. I knew then I couldn’t live like that. I must be doing something right though because I seem to be making progress in this journey! :-)

      Reply
  18. Todd

    Hey, as long as you do it for yourself, any fear of rejection is rendered impotent. Believe in your creative nature. It’s in us all! I’m reading (or, listening to) Psycho-Cybernetics…a classic first published in 1960. I encourage you to look it up if you aren’t already familiar with it. Your book will never be all things to all people, but so long as you are contributing value (which I believe such creative expression will do) to some of us you are doing what we were created to do. Be encouraged! I admire what your are doing. It is an inspiration to many, obviously. That said, your book has already been quite an accomplishment in my judgement.

    Reply

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