Back when I was in my late twenties, I went to a career counseling center and took a personality test that was supposed to tell me what career I was best suited for. When the results came back, I learned that I would make a great cosmetologist. Since I had three successful cosmetologists n my family already at that time, I wasn’t really surprised.
What did surprise me, however, was the other end of the list, which showed the career that least suited my personality: Writer.
Well, crap. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was four years old. I got pretty upset with the whole Meyers-Briggs testing people and decided that they knew nothing about me, despite their being pretty much on-target with the cosmetology recommendation.
Looking back, I have to say that I understand those results now. I am, after all, a social creature. I love being around people. Talking to people. Making people happy. This is why I thrive in customer service jobs. It’s why I am a fantastic retail salesperson but failed miserably as an office worker staring at a monitor in my solitary cubicle for forty hours per week.
Writing is not a social career. Sure, we can interact with each other in writing groups and online forums, but it’s not the same as that one-on-one personal interaction with others. The act of writing is a solitary, lonely activity that does not bring out the best in me. It brings out the urge to call my friends and tell them about what I’ve just written, or to go post a stupid question in an online forum just because I feel the need to talk to someone, anyone, about anything.
I’ve been lucky in recent months to find a couple of writing groups that seem to understand this need for human interaction. I even got to attend a four-week writing workshop this summer, where I got to meet other writers face-to-face and watch their eyes glaze over in person when I droned on too long about one of my projects.
Oh, yeah, I know it happens. I’m just able to deny it when it happens online.
As much as I love the interaction with other writers, there is a downside. And I’m not talking about things like internet trolls or spite reviews or any of those behaviors. Yeah, I know those things happen, too, but I do my best to stay firmly entrenched in my own denial when it comes to them. Denial is something else I’m very good at.
For me, the downside of all of this interaction with other authors is my tendency to compare myself to them.
For the most part, I can be pretty realistic about my expectations. I’m a slow writer, producing only one or two short romance novels per year. I’m an unknown, and I’m still learning as I go. I can’t afford any kind of extensive advertising campaigns to boost sales, either. I don’t expect to sell tens of thousands of books or hit any bestseller lists (not yet, anyway).. At this stage of my writing career, I have no delusions about supporting myself with the money I bring in from Amazon each month. I’ve had months in which I’ve made a couple hundred dollars, and months in which I’ve made a couple dollars.
True story. June and July of this year brought in almost enough to pay the rent. August and September sales barely paid for my coffee.
That’s to be expected at this point, however, and I’m okay with it.
Until, that is, I encounter my fellow “newbies” asking questions about the 500+ sales made in the first two weeks. I’m happy for them, of course, but oh, wowza, does that just suck the confidence right out of me! I start comparing myself to them, wondering where I’ve gone wrong. Are my books too short? Too much sex or not enough? Should I have done more editing? Are the plots weak?
And the biggee: Am I really not any good at this at all? Is it time to give up and learn something less painful, like sword-juggling?
Then I start comparing myself to other writers who talk about writing ten or twelve novels in a year. Seriously?! I start doubting my commitment to my craft. I wake up early to write before my kids get up for school. I write during the half-hour between jobs, and I write in the evenings on the days my kids are with their dad. I write in ten-minute increments if that’s all I can squeeze in.
But is it enough?
Seeing the numbers and word counts tossed about by these prolific folks always chips away at my confidence. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough, I tell myself. Maybe I’m wasting my precious writing time on things like blogging or going to writing forums. Maybe I should get up even earlier or go to bed a little later. Maybe I’m just not trying hard enough.
Those little nagging self-doubts creep in, and I don’t know how to fight them. All the reassurance, all the compliments and glowing reviews in the world can’t stop them. I am my own worst enemy, my own biggest critic, my own weakest link.
I am gradually learning that I have to stop comparing myself to other writers. I can –and should– learn from them, but the only way to restore my confidence is to compare myself to myself and no one else. Is this book selling better than the last one? Is it better than the last one? Am I still getting better at this every day?
Have I done the absolute best I can do at this time?
If I can answer yes to all of those, then it has to be enough.
How about the rest of you? What triggers your own self-doubts and chips away at your self-confidence? And how do you fight it?
This has been my monthly post for the Insecure Writers Support Group. If you are a writer struggling with insecurities or just in need of a little support, please check out this FABULOUS group of wonderful people!