On Creative Self-Doubt

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

Last month, I got up on stage and performed a twenty-five minute cabaret set. I picked all the songs and wrote the monologues myself. It was the first time I had ever done something like that, but all the components were things I had done individually before. I’ve been singing for over a decade and have been writing stories for even longer. I was proud of my performance, even though I made a few mistakes. It was my first time doing that sort of thing, after all.

My performance was professionally filmed and I recently worked up the nerve to watch the recording. I didn’t like it. I stuttered a lot and my singing was much pitchier than I thought it was. My vocal tone was way worse than I realised and I made a lot of weird facial expressions that made the whole thing hard to watch. I had hoped to use some parts of the video if I ever put together an audition showreel, but that’s unlikely to happen now.

I hate watching videos of my performances. I am incapable of sitting back and enjoying my achievements. There’s always something new to nitpick, some minor imperfection to make me cringe.

I feel much the same way about my writing at least 50% of the time. At any given moment, it’s anyone’s guess whether I’m going to love what I’m writing or want to print it out specifically to burn it. It seems I am constantly swinging between the two extremes in any creative pursuit. I don’t have this issue quite as much with dancing, because I only started like two years ago and no one expects me to be amazing anyway. So in a way, having spent so much of my life singing and writing means I have piled expectations upon myself. I’ve been doing this so long. I should be good at it. Why am I not good at it?

Keeping the self-doubt at bay is an ongoing battle. I’m very much a brute-force kind of person when it comes to internalised adversity. That Sylvia Plath quote pretty much sums up my approach. It takes guts to fight it and keep going. I kick it in the face and force my way through until I feel less like shit. It’s relatively effective.

It was my first time tackling a twenty-five-minute self-devised performance. My voice rarely records well on video and I’m never going to have an accurate sense of what I actually sound like anyway. The audience loved it. They didn’t give a shit what my face was doing. I bounced off their energy and their remarks. We had fun together. So what if it wasn’t perfect? What are the odds of me needing a showreel when I don’t even have that vocal degree I want yet anyway?

My writing doesn’t have to be perfect right now. That’s what editing is for. I have all the time in the world to get things right. People love my concepts when I talk about them. I have days when I love everything that comes out of my brain. It’s okay to be shy about sharing my writing sometimes and it’s completely unrealistic to expect to make bread when I haven’t even finished growing the wheat yet.

I am naturally an insecure person, but I’m definitely not alone in that. Even in my manner of speech, I tend to soften my language and it can be very difficult for me to assert myself, depending on the company I’m keeping at the time. I walk a fine line in writing. Sometimes I can be assertive as all hell and scare people, but other times I can’t help but add little pieces of qualifying language, the maybes and I thinks and sometimeses. Is that even a word? It is now!

Fuck the doubt. It doesn’t even pay rent for the space it takes up in my head. I will keep writing and keep singing and keep fighting for what I want out of life. I am good at things. I don’t need to be the best. I just need to be me. That’s all any of us need to be.

How do you tackle self-doubt? Not only that, tell me something you’re proud of. Big or small. Let’s kick self-doubt in the face together.

8 thoughts on “On Creative Self-Doubt

  1. How do I deal with self doubt? I constantly remember to keep going forward. I can fix stuff later. An example: I have a transgender character in one of my books. He’s my first one, I had self-doubt whenever he was in a scene. I finished (most of) the first draft now I can get him more and more correct.

    Something I’m proud of is I sold 333 (free) books this weekend.

    I’m sorry your performance didn’t go as planned, but the next one will be better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “want to print it out specifically to burn it.” Oh, I know that feeling just too well!

    Maybe it’s just me (check out the qualifying language this morning), but I forget to celebrate the small things. Like finally finishing the story that’s been bothering me for a week… I’m think others might do the same thing?

    Love the Sylvia Plath quote 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, absolutely. There’s a huge pattern regarding how much space the positives and negatives take up in our heads. The small positives often get buried under everything else, but they’re important too. Congrats on finishing that story!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This resonated with me so much!

    I definitely bounce between totally loving what I’m writing or wanting to burn it. On my good days, writing feels so good, and when I finish the scene or chapter I feel like nothing can drag me down. But then the next day, self-doubt reigns supreme in my mind and I can barely put one word in front of the other. From what I can tell, we are very much not alone in this. Self-doubt is part of being a writer – or an artist of any kind, I think.

    There’s definitely this sense of not being “good enough” based on how long you’ve been working at something. I’ve been writing novel-length fiction for 12 years and I’m still not where I’d like to be. But for as many rockstar young writers are out there publishing, there are many more writers who took decades to make their dreams come true. I try to focus on that so I don’t beat myself for being 27 and having only a bunch of trunk novels to show for my life.

    I really love the way you ended this post. As much as self-doubt sucks, we can’t give it the space to grow in our minds. It doesn’t deserve to control our work. Keep on keeping on! I can’t wait to read your stories some day ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Self-doubt really does seem to be a hallmark of creative pursuits. One day we’ll all reach our goals and be amazing, though I imagine this is something we’ll just have to continue battling because it’s rude 😛


  4. Pingback: May Wrap-Up – the story salve

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