Every day on my Twitter feed I see posts from fellow writers chronicling their feelings of worthlessness, distress, and crushing self-doubt in regards to their writing and by extension themselves. As writers we place a lot of value in the success of our words, and whether we are published or not, those words mean the world to us. But the thing that has been bothering me lately is the sheer magnitude and prevalence of these crushing statements along with the number of other people who are relating closely with them.
If you engage at all on social media, you’ve probably seen these posts before, and not just within the writing community. It seems creativity of any field is often gripped by the clammy, cold hands of emotional turmoil, much like the graphic below.
I see posts such as this liked and re-tweeted in the hundreds of thousands sometimes, and it got me wondering ‘what is this doing to the minds of newly aspiring authors?’ I would like to make it clear than am I am not writing with the intent to shame those who feel the need to post these despairing tweets. I think it is great that so many people feel safe enough to reach out to a broader audience and let their struggle be known and in turn feel validated and understood when they see so many others sharing their crushing anxiety. It helps to know you aren’t alone, and that the world you live in isn’t just your own private hell. Others are struggling too, and knowing that helps. The reason I am writing this is because I remember a time when I was living under that crushing insecurity myself, and I can’t imagine ever going back to living that way.
I see every day posts that share these kinds of feelings, often pulling in humor to soften the blow that many relate with all too well. I see these posts from friends who are just starting their writing career and from authors who’s works I’ve followed a long time. I’ve noticed this mentality in writing classes I’ve taken at Ball State, and I’ve seen it in Facebook groups and writing workshops. The thing about this that worries me the most, is that it seems that many young writers latch onto this idea that a “real writer” suffers, that the road to success if paved with insecurity, and that if they don’t feel crippling self-doubt then their writing can’t be any good.
As someone who is living with PTSD among other chronic anxiety and depression inducing disorders, this thought terrifies me. Not because I believe it myself, but because I know how horrible it is to live like that, and how it becomes a trap from which it feels there is no escape. Reading and writing has always been my escape. It was my way to get away from the aspects of life I needed a break from, and now it is one of the most joyous activities I can undertake. That doesn’t mean it always comes easy, but it does mean that I don’t feel bad about myself when I don’t accomplish something immediately. The thought of writing becoming my own personal damnation is one agonizing enough that I understand why so many people give up before they ever even let themselves truly begin.
I want you to know that it’s ok if you’re still working on first drafts, and it’s ok if you’ve written books before but have yet to be published. Every time I go back to edit or write something new I can see the improvement in my writing, because I see the value in it. I stopped caring about whether I would ever be a best-seller and started writing for myself. I started writing the things that brought me joy, or the stories that helped me process my own trauma. These things are hard, but they are also very rewarding, because I allow myself to see the ways in which I grow and improve myself through then, and I hope that one day someone will read and benefit from them too.
Some people think that once they are published the anxiety will fade away, that by surmounting that seemingly impossible hurdle they will finally feel like a writer. But, if years of therapy and studying psychology on my down time has taught me anything, it’s that basing your self-esteem on an “if this happens” basis doesn’t really fix anything.
Sure, getting published might help your self-esteem, a little, but once the initial excitement wears off you soon realize that the joy of that moment was too fleeting. Now what lies ahead of you is having to write another book, because the most successful authors don’t stop at just one. They keep publishing, and they keep improving their craft. Struggles with self-esteem and anxiety come from a place much deeper rooted than simply the fear of not getting published, and reasonably if getting published isn’t really the root of these feelings then achieving it also won’t solve them.
Plenty of published authors express feelings of worthlessness even after making it big. Waiting till you’re published to start learning how to feel good about yourself and your writing is more than likely just going to land you in a world of pain with the added stress of now having published work out there and feeling that an expectation has been set.
It’s ok to share your struggles and to reach out for help, but don’t forget to remember this too:
While it is true that the craft of many great writers has been inspired by suffering, there is a big difference between writing from these experience and feeling that you have to continue living in it in order to be a good writer. I feel like suffering as a writer (or artist) has almost become some social rite of passage or else viewed as a necessary evil in order to be great, but suffering doesn’t create greatness. Sometimes it opens our eyes to a reality we didn’t know before in a world otherwise blind to other’s suffering, but there is so much more to be learned in the recovery from that suffering.
So don’t just stop at sharing those feelings of self-doubt. Find ways to heal from it, however works for you, and in turn you can help others recover too. Life doesn’t have to be this way. We’re a community full of suffering, but if we can be here for each other when we’re joking about our lowest point, then we can also stand by one another and support each other on the journey out of self-shame and towards healthier relationships with our
work, our community, and ourselves.