Writerly Insecurity

I don’t own it.

There. I said it.

I don’t own being an author.

There are highs, yes. But most of the time, being an author means being shrouded in insecurity while a cloud of self-doubt hovers over you, waiting to unleash a deluge of I’m-not-good-enough. I have a great agent. I’m a New York Times bestselling author. I’ve published multiple books and am still going. And I doubt myself and my abilities every day.

If you’re an aspiring author, you might have thought feelings like this would go away if only you could get an agent. If only you could get a book deal. If only you could quit your job and write full time. What you’ll find is that after each step, after each hurdle you pass, you want more. You want to be your agent’s favorite. You want a book deal that will make others envy you. You want not only to live off your writing, but to become wealthy from it.

Your wants become so bloated and inflated that one small prick of self-doubt will burst the entire structure of who you think you are–or who you’re trying to be, whether it’s a better version of yourself, or another author whose exact publishing gait you’re trying to mimic.

Stop that. Immediately. And I’ll try to do the same.

The thing is, I don’t let all of this debilitate me now, but I did at first. Being a debut author is like getting up every morning and drinking a cup of insanity to start your day off on a leg you don’t even have. Especially if you start playing the comparison game. Comparison is the death of hopes and dreams and worse still, productivity. It’s difficult not to compare yourself to other author/writers. It’s difficult not to feel inferior. I’ve learned to confront those feelings head on, and to dilute them into background noise. And it wasn’t easy.

I still get up every day and write something. That something could be fit for a hot dumpster in July. Sure, I stare blankly at the screen with the best of ’em. I get writer’s constipation (the laxative for me is reading). I still come up with ideas that may be cray cray and un-publishable (ask my agent), but the point is, I’m still generating plots, characters, entire worlds.

Writers, the point is, insecurity is like a cancer that can be kept in remission–or it can take over and quietly snuff out the life of your writing. If writing is what you really want to do, you’ll let nothing stand in the way of it, not even yourself.

Here are a few things that may help:

1.) Don’t view other authors/writers as competitors. View them as assets to your writing career. You can learn something from everyone, trust me. All you have to do is make friends, sit back, watch and learn. You need other authors. They know what you’re going through. Writing is a lonely job. Being friends with other authors makes it less so.

2.) Celebrate the successes of others, instead of being jealous about it. This was a hard one for me, because you’re truly happy for your author friend who just signed another book deal, but you’re also a tidly bit envious. Congratulate your friend. Acknowledge your jealousy. Remind yourself that your own hard work will pay off. Then stick it File 13 and move on.

3.) No two publishing journeys are exactly alike. Make your own list of publishing goals and stick to it. Want to write ten books before you turn 30? Go for it. Want to get published by a certain house? Keep trying. Want to sell a million copies of your book? Me too. The point is, you won’t have any time to focus on anything or anyone else. You’ll be too busy chasing after the next goal. And when you get to cross one off your list, it’s the best feeling in the world.

What advice would you offer a writer struggling with insecurity?

5 Responses

  • Jul 1, 2014

    Great post, Anna! I definitely don’t “own” being an author either — it still feels like an alien concept sometimes, especially when I AM contrasted against other authors who are more “successful” than I am (because I guess some people think that your success validates you as an author?).

    If I have any pointers, it’d actually be from a saying I read on a roller coaster once (Thurder Road at Carowinds). While you’re chugging up that first huge hill to the top, you get the extreme pleasure of reading some of the pointers to help you enjoy your experience while you’re screaming your lungs out on the way down (which, let’s face it, is a lot like release day). It says, “Grit your teeth, bear the load, enjoy your ride, on Thunder Road.” Your own road will be exhilarating and terrifying and rewarding, and sometimes you’re going to have to grin and bear it, but don’t forget to enjoy the ride. Don’t forget that with the bad reviews there are good ones, and with the pressure of writing a second, or third, or fourth novel comes the exhilaration of its debut… There’s really nothing like it. 🙂

    Ashley Poston Jul 1, 2014
  • Jul 2, 2014

    Fantastic post! I’m nowhere near published and am barely into “aspiring” haha, but I already stress myself out really badly about things. Love your advice!

    Emily Jul 2, 2014
  • This post is wonderful. It also wants me to give you a warm Olaf hug now, so…

    There’s too much stress in the world to worry about everyone else’s accomplishments, but it’s human stress to compare ourselves. BAH!

  • Jul 2, 2014

    Thanks guys! I’ll try to share things like this more often. I’m no expert on all things publishing, but I can tell you what I do know, right?

    Anna Banks Jul 2, 2014
  • Jul 22, 2014

    It’s funny how all writers seem to go through the same struggles and anxieties. Reading this was almost like hearing my own thoughts. You could not be more accurate about the temptation to compare yourself with other, more accomplished writers. It’s easy to feel like they are your competitors, but I figure there is plenty of love to go around. In the end, we’re all in this together. I appreciate writers such as yourself who take a moment to share what they know and help lift up others.

    C.R. Shuler Jul 22, 2014

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