I struggled with my confidence when I first started writing. Every time I had an idea for a short story or blog post, I told myself that nobody would want to read it. I often discarded ideas before even giving them a chance.
Whenever I did pursue a writing idea, I’d struggle with the actual writing. I’d type a sentence, delete it, type it again, and delete it again. And that was on the good days. Sometimes I’d just endlessly stare at a blank screen, unsure of how to begin.
I left more projects unfinished than completed. On the rare occasions that I did finish writing something, I was often too scared to publish it anywhere. I told myself that if I submitted it, it was sure to get rejected. If I self-published it online, it was sure to get ignored.
The trouble throughout each of these steps was that I was listening to my inner critic — the voice of doubt inside my head that tells me I’m not good enough. It’s a common problem for writers, and it can be absolutely debilitating.
Stuck In Self-Critique Mode
A certain amount of self-awareness is a good thing for writers. I used to read for a literary magazine, and was constantly amazed by how many writers submitted stories without even bothering to proofread them. Some seemed to only have a passing knowledge of the English language.
Unfortunately, too much self-critique can quickly do more harm than good. The inner critic disguises itself as a voice of reason and self-awareness, but it is actually a completely irrational thought process.
When we tell ourselves that our writing is worthless, it keeps us from even trying. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because we’ll never become better writers if we’re too petrified to write.
Learning to write at a truly top level requires years of writing badly, then decently, and then well. There are no shortcuts through this process. If we are scared to write badly, then we will always write badly.
To grow as a writer, I had to learn how to silence this inner critic.
Focus on the Process
One step that I’ve taken is to place my focus on the writing process, rather than the outcome. Instead of worrying about whether my current project will be any good, or if anyone will want to read it, I try to enjoy the actual writing.
The actual process of writing is fun, which is the entire reason most of us were drawn to it in the first place. When I write, it helps me organize ideas, expand my creativity, and work through my problems. Even if I never published a single thing that I wrote, going through this process would still benefit me as a person.
I try to keep all of this in mind as I write. It helps me to stop worrying about perfection so much and get some words on the paper instead.
Save the Editing for Later
Another great piece of advice that I’ve heard is to save the editing for later. I try to always write first, without going back to edit anything aside from major typos. Sometimes, I’ll even leave them. The actual editing always comes later.
The trouble with editing as I write is that it continually places me in the “critical” mode of thinking. Not only does this disrupt my writing flow, but it also discourages me by making me too focused on the flaws.
Editing is a necessary step for any good writing, but it should come after the first draft is written — not in the middle of it.
The most obvious step I’ve taken to get past my inner critic is also the most helpful — simply writing more. It was hard at first, but the more often that I write, the easier it is to stop thinking about it hyper-critically.
If I were to only write one day each year, then I would obsess over every single word. I would end up slowing myself down so much that I wouldn’t finish anything.
Instead, I write nearly every day. This lowers the stakes dramatically. In the worst case scenario, if I write something absolutely terrible, I can just delete it and try again the next day.
You Are Your Own Harshest Critic
Whenever I start getting my old feelings of self-doubt, I remind myself that I’m my own harshest critique. Several times, I’ve been on the fence about whether to post or delete something, only to have it become one of my most popular articles ever. None of us tend to be any good at judging our own work.
When you learn to stop listening to your inner critic, you’ll likely be surprised how well readers will respond.