Do you ever spend hours, days, weeks pouring your heart and soul into your writing only to go back, read it and think, “Oh my God, what was I thinking? This is crap. I have no talent. No one will ever want to read this.”
Well, guess what? You’re not the only one!
I love to write. I love the creative process and making the story come alive on the page. For me it is not just the destination (the finished story), but also the journey getting there (developing characters, and hammering all of those twists and turns into place). But I often find, especially during my editing process that doubt creeps in. I start wondering what the heck I’m doing. Wondering why I ever thought that I could write a book.
Recently, while going through one of these moments, a friend introduced me to a new type of encouragement in the form of John Steinbeck.
John Steinbeck? Maybe, the Pulitzer Prize winning The Grapes of Wrath will ring a bell… or Of Mice and Men or East of Eden or The Winter of Our Discontent or Cannery Row…
John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962, and even he harbored doubts concerning his ability to effectively bring the written word to the page. While working on The Grapes of Wrath, he composed letters and wrote in a journal. Some of this material was later published in Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath 1938-1941. Throughout this journal John Steinbeck writes about his struggles, worries and self-doubt.
The following are a few quotes from Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath 1938-1941:
June 14, 1938–“Yesterday was a bust. I could have forced the work out but I’d lost the flow of the book and it would have been a weak spot.”
June 18, 1938–“If only I could do this book properly it would be one of the really fine books and a truly American book. But I am assailed with my own ignorance and inability.”
August 1, 1938–“I didn’t work then [July 25] or all week. …Hope to lose some of the frantic quality in my mind now. It’s just like slipping behind at Stanford. Panic sets in. Can’t organize. … I’m jumpy. …Don’t know who will publish my book. Don’t know at all. No reason to let it slide though. Must keep at it. … Wish I could control the jumping jitters though.”
August 30, 1938–“I’m having a hell of a time concentrating with so many things going on. … I hope this book is some good, but I have less and less hope for it.”
September 26,1938–“This book has become a misery to me because of my inadequacy.”
So the next time you doubt yourself, remember, there are other incredibly accomplished authors out there who have also acknowledged uncertainty when it comes to submitting their work. When you start to question yourself just remember:
1. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Your voice is your own and it is unique. Why do we have so many different types of writers? So many different genres? Because there are so many different types of readers!
2. In the words of Nora Roberts, “Write the damn book!” Forget about everything else and just get your ideas down on the page because you can’t edit what doesn’t exist. You can always cast off what doesn’t work later.
3. Trust you instincts. Everyone worries about breaking the rules. Ignore the rules because they are intimidating, and that can lead to insecurity. Instead focus on telling a great story. Once the story is on the page you can obsess over comma usage and dangling participles.
4. Make time for yourself. I know it sounds difficult, and it is, because life gets in the way, but consistently setting time aside for yourself and scheduling around that time will help you to put words on the page.
5. You are not alone. Believe in yourself. Everyone has experienced moments of self-doubt or insecurity, even someone as accomplished as John Steinbeck. If he can do it, so can you… So keep writing!