Tackling Self Doubt


I wish I could say it gets easier. That you reach a point where it goes away. But no matter where you are on the path to publication, there is self doubt. I faced it when querying,  indie publishing, and promoting.

It creeps up on you, steals over your heart, tilts your perception, and sends you into a funk.

I just tackled a pretty nasty bout of self doubt–the kind where I convince myself that I’ve accomplished nothing. That everything I’ve done to date was a waste of time because there were no real results. The next conclusion is that if I accomplished nothing, I must suck at what I’m doing. And then I start thinking I need to do something else, but there’s nothing else I want to do.

This negative thought cycle feeds on itself. Growing stronger and stronger until the way forward feels doomed. Hopeless. And there is no other way.

Because it’s all unfolding inside my mind, there’s no escape. I can’t just walk away from the naysayer because the naysayer is me.

So I wallow. I let myself feel every second of it.

It usually lasts a few days. Because that’s how long it takes me to realize I don’t want to feel this way.

Then I reach for things that will make me feel better.

1) Talk to friends and family.

I send uber dramatic texts about sitting on a snowpile and crowning myself the Queen of Desolation.

But we keep talking until someone says something that undermines my negative thought process. It doesn’t have to be much, just a few bits of logic that I can mull over and eventually use to turn around my own thoughts.

2)  Watch My Little Pony.

I need a simple world of happy endings. My crit partner recommended this kid’s show to me. And she was 100% right.

3) Listen to music that inspires.

I loved Magic Knights of Rayearth as an anime. The opening song always felt so positive–it’s my go to song when I lose faith.

4) Read any positive feedback received.

I read my 4 & 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads over again. Sometimes I reread Harlequin’s offer email. Or ICM’s offer of representation email. It helps to remind your mind that things have gotten done and progress has been made, even if you aren’t exactly where you want to be. You are somewhere different than you were a year ago.

5) Find something to control and control the heck out of it.

This weekend, I dusted and vacuumed my room and cleaned and organized my closet. Five hours of organizing.  Accomplishing something improved my mood.

6) Write.

That’s what I love most about being an author. And when I’m doing that everything else falls away.

What do you do to beat back the self-doubt demons?

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72 Responses to Tackling Self Doubt

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    I’ve been facing a few of those self-doubt demons myself, convinced that the premise of my recently finished novel isn’t as good as I thought it was. Now that thought is creeping into my current WIP. “Who would want to read this?” I think. So it’s nice to know we have company. Like you, I combat it with writing and creating. Keeps the mind moving forward instead of getting stuck in a wallowing cycle.

  2. kathils says:

    Argh! WP ate my first comment. *groan* This line “even if you aren’t exactly where you want to be. You are somewhere different than you were a year ago.” is pure gold and deserves to be pinned on the wall. And the image of sitting on a snow pile and crowning yourself Queen of Desolation made me chuckle. Not because it was funny at the time, but because I’ve been on that same snow pile, glowering at the reflection of myself in the ice mirror and deeming said self worthless.

    I think the battle with self-doubt will never end. I’d have to say, though, I fight it pretty much the same way. If it’s bad, I usually lose myself in something else, something I can be successful in. Then I come back to it and kick its arse. Or at least shove it in the corner for a while.

    • Darn WP. So annoying! Thanks. That was the one thing I couldn’t see. The fault in my logic was that I convinced myself I’d made zero progress. That incorrect premise set off a firestorm of negativity. Oh it was hilarious–my crit partner was guffawing over that image too. She got that text. It’s so ridiculous and drama queenie but I really felt it in the moment. So glad you’ve been to know I’m not the only one who’s been on that snow pile. 🙂

      I agree. It’s something we just have to learn to combat. Finding success somewhere else gives us the confidence to come back again. 🙂

  3. Cleaning is always good. I also find a good workout helps the endorphins to get going.

  4. TBM says:

    Glad to know I’m not alone. I eat lots of chocolate and try my best to push the thoughts aside and continue writing.

  5. Wendy Mauro says:

    It sounds like you are out of the funk already, so good work, Kourtney. Of all the new authors I have met this year, you are by far the most proactive and most organized in your promoting your work, and you make it look easy, even though I know how hard you have worked. Your writing is fun and interesting, and I loved Six Train – and look forward to a sequel! Look at your blog – all the places you’ve traveled, the people you’ve met since becoming a published author. Measure your success in the sweet experiences you’ve had on the journey. And keep writing!!!

    • It was a short but miserable funk. Took me 3-4 days to shake it off. Aw, thank you so much! I can’t wait to get to drafting the sequel–I love those characters. You’re right. It’s so easy to let Mr. Negativity annihilate all my accomplishments. I had an amazing year. Made some wonderful friends. Grew a readership. Of course, I’m not at the pinnacle of my career yet–it’s way too early. You just hear about people blowing up and can’t help wondering why not me. But you are right, the success is in the experiences of the journey. 🙂 Hugs!

  6. It’s obvious to us looking in how much you’ve achieved Kourtney. You’ve written a wonderful book, published it, promoted it and made so many connections all over the world (and that’s without the offer letter from Harlequin!). Many of us write. You’ve not only done that, but made so many things happen under your own steam – you have a lot to be proud of. 🙂

    • Aw thank you Andrea. 🙂 You are right. Things moved forward really well. Just not as forward as I had hoped. But I did accomplish a lot more than Mr. Negativity was giving me credit for. 🙂 I wrote for years before I was able to take it to publishing and promoting. I think that’s the best part–the writing. I’m so glad to have a month before the next event to be writing! 🙂

  7. I love #5, Kourtney, that’s what I do too! Self-doubt seems to lurk in the shadows of many aspects of my life, no just when it comes to writing. 🙂

  8. Arlene says:

    Kourtney, it amazes me to read about authors such as yourself who are so good at what they/you do still struggle with these feelings. I consider myself an amateur (and I’ve been hearing that word in my head a lot lately until I got such positive feedback on my last two posts that made me say, ‘Really? People think I’m better than I think I do. Maybe I should go with that!’)

    Now, I’m definitely not putting myself in the same category as you — you are many steps above and ahead of me, but since you asked, this is what I do … for me it’s the going back to writing. When I think I’m not that good, then I better practice more and I hit my journal. I write more poetry, I practice descriptions (and I need a lot of practice there), I practice rewriting dialogue or I just write out my feelings so I can let them go. That works for me. I would love to be able to turn to offers of representation and the like, but I don’t have any … yet 😉

    I guess self-doubt is part of the life of an author. I think of that SNL skit from way back and feel like we all need to look in the mirror and say it … “I good enough, I’m smart enough and dar-gone-it people like me (and my writing).” I think I totally aged myself with that one.

    • Aw thank you Arlene. There are so many stumbling blocks along the author journey. They don’t disappear, they just change as we progress. 🙂 I disagree about the amateur thing–I read your short story about the high school shooting–it was riveting. I usually skim long posts and I read every single word of yours. 🙂 Your story had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I think you are a writer who hasn’t yet pushed into the publishing sphere, but you are a very talented writer.

      Great advice. I like that you journal and write poetry too. It’s important to try different forms and feel good about them.

      Those things come later–I had 7 years without offers of representation. Sometimes I’d read nice personalized rejection letters. Sometimes I’d just bury my head in a new project. If you stick with it, you will get there. 🙂

      Definitely. Especially because there are so many highs or lows. In school you get an A on a final and that’s it. Nothing can alter that. As an author, you get an award (yay!), the next month sales tank (boohoo!), then you get a contract finalized (yay!), but your agent quits agenting (boohoo!). So many ups and downs. It’s really hard not to think what’s happening is a reflection of you and your work. LOL–Arlene I remember that skit too.

      • Arlene says:

        Thanks again Kourtney for the positive feedback!! It means a lot.

        Maybe all we need to do when we have self doubt is to tell another writer because we are so good for each other’s confidence 🙂 Look at all the great feedback you’ve gotten on this post! 🙂

        • Arlene, your story really blew me away. I hope you will submit it to contests and to publications for short stories. I felt like I was right there beside you. Terrific emotive writing.

          LOL. It definitely helps to have cheerleaders. For me, I have to wallow a few days. I can’t be yanked out of it. I have to climb out of it. 🙂 But feedback from fellow writers and friends helps tremendously when I’m ready to climb. 🙂 Hugs!

  9. Do you watch Mike and Molly it always puts a smile on my face. She’s a writer too on screen. You’re doing awesome at self-pubbing. Those feelings are so hard to shift but shift they must.

  10. jmmcdowell says:

    I can totally understand where you’re coming from with this post. I spent most of 2013 wrestling with self-doubt and lost confidence, and felt like I wrote nothing. I’ve had to remind myself that I did write Meghan’s Buried Deeds during that period, and I did some rebuilding of Death Out of Time in the fall.

    But it flared up again over the holidays, and I’m only now coming out of it, working on the rebuild of Summer at the Crossroads.

    I’m still dealing with those feelings of “this is crap,” but I’m also trying to put your 6th point into practice—just keep writing. No story is done after the first draft. But we can’t make it good until that first draft is done!

    • JM, you amaze me. You have a full time career and yet you still carve out time to write and revise–that’s a major feat. I was in awe of your serialized story on your blog–I could never do that.

      It’s so hard. No matter how many people believe in you, when you don’t, it’s incredibly hard to forge ahead. I spiraled for months when I got that rejection after the revise and resubmit on Six Train. It tore a hole in my confidence that I never thought I could repair. But I gave myself some time to wallow and then I forced myself to the next project–a second pass at DM. Writing reminded me of what I love. It recentered me.

      We should have a pact to email each other when self doubt is winning. Just to help give each other perspective. 🙂

      Sometimes I think maybe I should tweak this in Six Train, then I remember it’s published. 😉 The first draft is like our first time doing anything–an epic disaster, but a good try. And we can learn from it and get better. And there are always bits of gold in there that we can polish and shine up. Keep writing!

      • jmmcdowell says:

        I think that pact is a great idea. 🙂 Support from a great writer like you goes a long way toward easing that climb out of the wallow! I really like a few bits of what I’ve written for SATC’s rebuild. They’re what keeps me going for “just a bit more” in a writing session. This time around, I know they still face revision and possibly ending up on the cutting room floor for the final version. So I’m trying not to fall in love with them. 😉 But if we can write those good bits, we can do it again, right?

        Yes, we can. When we kick self-doubt out of the picture for a while. I suspect most of us will never tame that beast completely. But maybe we can move through its grasp more quickly if we persevere.

        My email is always there when you need a pick up or sounding board! 🙂

        • Shall we seal it in virtual spit and a handshake? 🙂 Aw thank you. Yours helps me so much too JM. That’s wonderful. Sometimes that’s all we can do, just try a little more. And eventually all those little mores add up. It’s hard. Sometimes I love a sentence and it just doesn’t survive every round of cuts. And it’s really hard to let them go. I paste them in another .doc for future use so they aren’t lost.

          I have months of great confidence, but self doubt can creep in when we aren’t looking. Nah, I consider it part of the process. Sometimes doubting myself wears at me until it spurs me to break through barriers and go places I never thought I could. I don’t think it’s a bad thing unless it overwhelms and stops you.

          Thank you. Mine is there for you too! 🙂

  11. K. Lyn Wurth says:

    Once again, Kourtney, you inspire (me) others by being real…
    My favorite line of your post, “I send uber dramatic texts about sitting on a snowpile and crowning myself the Queen of Desolation.”
    So that was you in the next snowpile yesterday…fortunately it’s getting up into the 50s today, and the snow is melting. Or maybe that’s just an effect of attitude change.
    This is the challenge we face, as we build worlds in our minds, and our minds threaten to tear them down even faster.
    Keep believing, friend. You do. You are. It is more than enough, to put it into words.

    • Thanks. I always struggle with how much of the negative stuff I should share. I don’t want anyone to think I’m all poor me. But I also don’t want anyone to think it’s all ribbons and balloons everyday. I try to balance the two.

      LOL. Yup. We’ve got 5 foot high snowpiles from the plows. In my imagination my faithful retriever, Reagan sits beside me on the pile. 🙂

      We’re in for another snowstorm here. But it’s very bright and cheerful again in my room. Daily doses of My Little Pony are really important.

      Thank you Kelly! You inspire me with all you’ve accomplished. It’s so wonderful to share this author journey with you. Hugs!

  12. davidprosser says:

    I just admit that I write for myself so that as long as I’m writing I should be happy. That somebody else chooses to read my books and maybe revies or comments on them is just a really nice bonus.
    xxx Huge Hugs Kourtney xxx

  13. Self doubt creeps its icy fingers through all our bones I think Kourtney, I paint… and take time out to please me…. which is just what I have done.. and I come back refreshed and full of confidence…

    Keep doing what your heart tells you to do, and all will be well in your world..

    Much love.. Sue xox

    • Great advice Sue! Taking time for what we love and immersing ourselves in it really does help. I am so jealous of you painting. I used to dabble in it but I’m not talented there.

      Such great words. 🙂


  14. diannegray says:

    Writing is full of self-doubt that comes and goes in waves. I love the way you go through the motions of how to get out of it (My Little Pony is brilliant!). I spend a lot of time sanding and painting (yes – I’m building a house) so my self-doubt has been on the back-burner for a while which is a good thing.

    • Waves is the perfect metaphor to it. Sometimes it’s all calm and then tidal wave. 😉 Thanks. I didn’t to do a “poor me” post. I wanted to talk about it and share my ways of dealing instead. Oh that sounds like such satisfying work. I wish I were skilled like that. Getting them on the back burner is so essential. Glad you’ve been able to do that as you craft a house. Wow.

  15. I think you’re incredibly brave to have taken the risk that you have. You obviously have the support of your parents, and you’ve touched a lot of readers with your work. I know none of this impacts the income bottom line, but we live in a culture where “success” is often measured by this unfortunate yard stick.

    I think no matter what profession you pursue, there will be days or bouts of self-doubt. When you were living in New York, did you ever meet a happy corporate lawyer? Know any disillusioned doctors? In my profession, most of the formerly impassioned teachers (who were going to save the world, one child at a time) are doing what they can to get by, the joys of public service long dried up, thanks to soul-crushing politics, standardized testing, and endless, endless, paperwork.

    All you can do is celebrate the good moments, as you already do, and try your damndest to get through the bad ones. Keep looking at those Amazon reviews and offer letters. Most importantly, listen to your heart. If your heart’s telling you this is what you’re meant to do, then do it, and know that you have a lot of people who believe in you! xo

    • Thank you Gwen. Those things really do matter. It’s really about how I internalize the sales numbers and the income as a reflection of my accomplishment. It’s sort of like looking in a funhouse mirror. Things get distorted and seem worse than they are.

      Definitely agree with that. Every person has to face self doubt. Even those with well paying jobs. I know I did. I wasn’t fulfilled as a person in my last career. It’s why I opted to let it go. I wasn’t happy. And I thought writing would make me happy. It does. Even when I’m frustrated I love what I do. Publishing and promoting is a different beast and it’s taken me for a ride this past year. 🙂

      Very true Gwen. Aw thanks for believing in me. It helps to have friends like you in my corner. And writing is what I love. It feels like what I was meant to do. Like the career I should have been building all along. Just took me some time and courage to believe in it and me. Hugs!

  16. EllaDee says:

    Self doubt finds all of us to some extent from time to time. Depending how it manifests and about what, I talk it over with someone, do the next thing on the list and keep going – a tangible way of saying “take that, I’m ignoring such stupidity”, do something entirely differnt and give it space.
    Self doubt is just another form of fear.
    Fear only has as much power as we give it.
    Sometimes I say-think “ignore this thought, it’s just a fear, send it back to where it came from, highest good no harm be done, in love and light”.
    From Dune there is a Litany against Fear
    “I will not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. I will face my fear. I will let it pass through me. Where the fear has gone, there shall be nothing. Only I will remain.”

    • EllaDee–this is why I love your blog so much. Such great wisdom here about self doubt being fear. I love that quote too. I’m going to revisit this post to reread your comment when self doubt rears its head again. 🙂

  17. Harliqueen says:

    Self-doubt can be so debilitating, but you have some good tips for getting over it! I loved my little pony as a kid 😀

  18. Mae Clair says:

    I think it’s only natural that we sometimes doubt our abilities. When I fall in a slump like that my best coping mechanism is to just keep writing. Creating stories is something I did long before seeking publication so I look for the joy in the creation process and story-building.

    You’ve accomplished a lot, Kourtney and you seem to have a really good support base. I think many people feel writers should be insanely successful but the reality is it’s a lot of hard work. It’s only natural we have down moments!

    • Mae, you are very smart–going back to what you love. 🙂

      Thanks. I am incredibly lucky to have such wonderful blog buddies. Yeah, there is that pressure to blow up because all people read about are the stories of blowing up. They don’t realize that’s 1-2% of the writers out there. Agreed. I let myself feel it because it’s just part of the ups and downs. Then I dig my way out of it. 🙂

  19. Lori D says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Kourtney. It helps to see we authors are not alone in facing the devil of self-doubt. There surely can’t be a devil worse than our own egos fighting us all the way.

    I have an indie author (fantasy) in my writer’s group who is actually making money. She never, ever, ever appears to have self-doubt. She is very confident in her work, at least on the outside. She doesn’t share it if she feels it on the inside. It makes me feel completely incompetent at times. (And, yes, she’s a good writer)

    Having said that, I’ll share what helps me, which may sound crazy. My favorite TV show has the most well-rounded, character driven stories. The plot is secondary to the very distinctive characters. Since my writing is deeply emotional and character driven, watching that TV show (over and over again), helps to inspire character ideas for me and gives me hope.

    • Lori, I really wanted the blog to be an honest account of my author journey. There are some incredible highs, but that means there are some bad lows. There is a lot of pressure to always be positive and only share good stuff online, but I think it distorts the author experience. We have bad times. I can’t speak for that author–she may be gifted with extreme confidence or she may just not share the lows.

      Not at all! I used to bury myself in Vampire Diaries because I love the plotting and it sparked my own creativity. Shows are a different medium for playing with writing techniques but as a writer you see all the threads being woven. 🙂

  20. Sheila says:

    I wish you could say it gets easier too. 🙂 It sure is the hugest obstacle and the publishing process doesn’t help. Whenever you start to feel that self doubt creeping in, just tell yourself you wrote a book that people loved. And really, that’s all we’re trying to do. When I feel self doubt, I read over my writing and I know that I at least love some parts of it. Even if I’m the only one – that’s still something. 🙂 If that doesn’t help, I like to think of that Sesame Street song, “Just sing, sing a song. Don’t worry if it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear…”

    • Aw thank you. I will remind myself by reading your beautiful review. 🙂 Sometimes hiding in the writing is the only way to deal with the ups and downs of the business side. That’s a great song. The writing has to be the pillar of who we are and the other stuff has to be adornments. Big Hugs, K

  21. Chris Edgar says:

    Heh, it occurs to me as I read this that, these days, I care very little — perhaps too little — about “results,” in the sense of getting validation from people who listen to my material. My biggest joy right now is in the process of writing, and hearing what people have to say about my writing seems secondary. But who knows, maybe that will shift.

    • I don’t mean results to be about someone validating my work. Sure breaking the NYT Bestseller list would be amazing and will remain a long term dream, but what I was getting at here is more about feeling that I have moved closer to my end goals. A sense of real progress being made. I hope that your process always stays that way, you will be a lot happier for it. 🙂

  22. Melissa Perreira-Andrews says:

    I am so happy I am not the only adult I know who turns to My Little Pony when the going gets rough!

    • LOL. Not at all–I used to play with them in the 80s and now I return to them when I need cheering up. 🙂 You are in excellent company–my crit partner writes amazing YA fantasy and she’s the one who got me hooked. 😉

  23. Pete Denton says:

    I have moments when the self-doubt has left me and I can rattle through writing or editing. Then the demon returns from its loo break and it all returns.

    I do like that you channel it and I could do with a good clear-out at home. Might channel it that way. 🙂

  24. 4amWriter says:

    I keep writing, and usually I start a new project. Sometimes breathing life into something that isn’t already “tainted” with our self-doubt helps us remember that we’re actually pretty darn good at this writing gig. Of course, because I deal with self-doubt a lot, I have umpteeunth projects waiting for me to keep going on them, lol. Whether it’s poetry or a memoir piece or a new novel, just writing something new is a great antidote.

    • You are so right–having another project in the wings is key. When I just had my one manuscript–everything took on a do or die feeling. And having a new place to go work helps battle the self doubt another project can cause. Yes, switching gears and getting back to what we love–the writing–is an important thing. Whether it’s flash fiction, a poem, a short story, or even a journal entry. Just writing without any thought of an audience is awesome sometimes.

  25. Great post, Kourtney! I faced some hefty self-doubt recently, too. I love what you shared about positive distractions and writing in response – both help me! I generally remind myself that I’m doing work I believe in, and that’s what counts. Proactivity goes a long way… as does going out to have goofy fun with friends. I also remind myself that self-doubt is normal and will pass, if I let it.

    • Thanks August. 🙂 I think we need to make a pact to email each other when those moments happen. Because from the outside you look so put together and so confident and you’ve always got so much stuff happening, I can’t imagine you ever having self doubt. Which ofc is silly because we all have those moments. I didn’t want to do a woe is me post about it. I wanted to talk about how it feels but also how to deal with it. 🙂 That’s a great piece of advice–the actual words you say to yourself should be emblazoned above my desk too. Spending time with friends is a great suggestion!

  26. Aquileana says:

    Hello Kourtney..
    Well we all experience self doubt sometimes. Nothing wrong with it , as we are not goddess… I just try to think in a sort of balanced way: I mean;: a major positive moment will arrive after those times when we feel down or just overwhelmed..
    I love your tips above. Watching Little Pony, that was cute . I watch an aussie cartoon called Bananas in Pajamas (have you ever seen it it is really brilliant!).
    Tip number four makes sense!!
    As regard to five, That´s a good strategy, as you can feel you are still the one who decide.
    Of course “Write” is the logical consequence of the previous tips. I would say, a sort of natural corollary starting with the points you have formerly highlighted.

    Big smiles for this post, Aquileana 🙂

    • Hi Aquileana,
      Nice perspective–self doubt and confidence as complements. I’m not sure one could exist without the other. 🙂
      I’ve never seen an Aussie cartoon but that is a cute name!
      Glad you like the post.

  27. benzeknees says:

    Thanks for the great advice – I will have to try some of these tips!

  28. Pingback: The doubt doldrums | Harvesting Hecate

  29. Karin Van den Bergh says:

    Hi Kourtney. I got redirected here by Andrea Stephenson (Harvesting Hecate). I will take some time to browse through your blog. This post really speaks to all of us, whether a writer or not. It’s part of life, right? The controlling part made me chuckle..I might wanna try that one next time.

    • Hi Karin! Thanks for stopping by! Andrea is so awesome–I’ve got to check out her recent post. Still trying to get out from under all the work I missed while away. I’m glad you liked the post. Definitely, true. Self doubt can get to anyone at any time. Yeah, I find I need an outlet for my controliness. 🙂

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