How to Conquer Self Doubt And Just Write

There’s a monster hiding under my desk. He lurks there, waiting for the right moment to attack. He’s an ugly little bastard, too. I have a lot of names for him, but for the sake of not overusing profanity in this blog, I’ll call him by his real name, Self-Doubt.

(Secrets to querying literary agents: 10 questions answered.)

Most of you might think that after two decades in the business, after hitting list that I only dreamed about hitting, I’d have managed to kill the gremlin. But you’d be wrong. That sneaky little devil won’t die. He keeps popping back up.

GIVEAWAY: C.C. is excited to give away a free copy of BORN AT MIDNIGHT to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: lizcolebourn won.)





Guest column by C.C. Hunter, author of the New York Times
bestselling series, Shadow Falls. C.C. has had to slay a lot of
gremlins on her climb up on the publishing ladder. Her fourth
book in the series, WHISPERS AT MOONRISE, releases
October 2, 2012. Right now the first book in her Shadow Falls
series, BORN AT MIDNIGHT, is on sale for $2.99 where ever
e-books are sold. Find C.C. on Twitter here.


I think self doubt is something most writers face throughout their careers. And by careers, I don’t mean from the point that you become a published author, I mean, from the point you start writing. I think the inability to fight the gremlin is one of the biggest things that prevent a writer from becoming published. And it’s probably one of the reasons published writers stop writing. That’s right, this monster doesn’t care what you’ve accomplished. All he wants is a big bite out of your confidence.

He’ll tell you that whatever you’ve got on that computer screen is crap. That you just need to delete it.

He’ll convince you that no matter how good of an idea you may have, it’s probably already been done.

He’ll whisper in your ear that you’re wasting your time, that cleaning out your grout in your kitchen tile with a toothbrush is much more important. Sometimes he possesses your family and friends and they’ll say things like, “How long are you going to put yourself though all this pain before you find something else to do with your time?” He’ll stare you right in the eyes and tell you that your dreams are silly and you’ll never reach them. He’ll make you believe that the one negative review out of twenty good ones is the one you should listen to. If you let him, he not only can slow you down, he’ll rob you of the joy and passion you feel for writing.

(How to Deal With Writing Critiques.)

Now, that gremlin is always close by, nipping at your toes, giving you moments of doubt. I think that’s somewhat normal. But let that creature scramble up your leg, hang out in your lap, or even worse, let him climb up on your shoulder, where you can listen to him all day long, and you’ll soon be playing Russian Roulette with your passion for writing. Because writing with a self-doubt gremlin sitting on your shoulder is about as easy as brushing your teeth with a brownie in your mouth.

So how do we slay the gremlin or at least keep him at bay? Below are five tips for overcoming and preventing self-doubt from chewing on your sanity.

1) Be Aware of Peer Pressure.

We preach this to our kids but so often we forget that the bad habits of the people we hang out with are as contagious as a stomach virus. If you’re hanging out with negative people, people who have lost their ability to chase their dreams, you’re at risk of becoming just like them. Find positive people who validate your dreams and work ethics to share your life and support your journey.

2) Ward off the message that you don’t know what you’re doing by continually growing as a writer.

Read how-to books, take classes, attend those writer meetings and listen to what other writers offer as advice.

3) Mentor someone else.

Nothing can inspire you more than helping and encouraging another person. Telling others that they have to believe in themselves is a sure fire way or rekindling your own self-confidence. It also creates karma.

4) Be leery of ruts.

If you’re not feeling the passion for your writing, try spicing things up by doing something different. Try writing something in a new genre, or try writing something in a different point of view. Nothing can get you out of a rut quicker than feeling challenged.

(Learn how to protect yourself when considering a independent editor for your book.)

5) Accept that sometimes you are going to fail.

That you’re going to make mistakes. That you’re going to get rejections—that it might take you years to accomplish what you want to accomplish. Understand that you aren’t the first person to get fifty rejections, or a hundred, or even a thousand. The truth is, the number of rejections you receive doesn’t matter. You are not defeated until you let yourself be defeated.

Writing isn’t for wimps. Chances are, you’ll face those gremlins, not once but many times, so just be armed with good friends, knowledge, Karma, a sense of adventure, and perseverance. And never, ever lose your sense of humor. And now that I’ve shared with you my tips for slaying gremlins, I’d like to hear some of yours. How do you tackle self doubt?

GIVEAWAY: C.C. is excited to give away a free copy of BORN AT MIDNIGHT to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: lizcolebourn won.)



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26 thoughts on “How to Conquer Self Doubt And Just Write

  1. NoxPerpetuo

    My favorite way to deal with rejection?
    Celebrate it!
    I’ve got a running count of the number of times each piece is rejected, and another count of the total number of rejections I receive. When I pass certain thresholds, I use it as an excuse to do something fun.
    Also, I keep all the rejections in a folder. When I have enough, I have a bonfire, and feed them to the flames.

    – Nox Perpetuo

  2. LarissaClark

    OMG – “He’ll whisper in your ear that you’re wasting your time, that cleaning out your grout in your kitchen tile with a toothbrush is much more important.”
    This made me laugh out loud. Thank you for this article and the comments, they help a lot. I’ve been writing for over 15 years and published in over 20 countries, but the gremlin still shows up every freaking day. Especially when someone criticizes something or points out a mistake…that’s when the cute little innocent mogwai turns into the drooling, slimy gremlin. Annoying! But good to know I’m not alone at all.

  3. suntez

    All day – the gremlin has been on my shoulder, pulling at my hair and jumping all over my desk… interrupting my writing, shaking my confidence and trying to steal my dreams! And his screeching is so LOUD – it’s deafening! So I searched for help and came upon this article written 2 years ago. Sometimes taking a walk is helpful, sometimes a swim, a drive, or other activity will clear my head. But it’s hard to remember that when the gremlin’s screeching, so it was helpful to read that I’m not alone in this. Thanks for the tips CC, and thanks to the commenters too. I have pushed the gremlin off my desk… it’s time to get back to writing.

  4. Digby

    Oh yes, the gremlin elbowed his way in. He confiscated my writing space. He shoved me out of bed so I couldn’t sleep. He filled my head with his nattering. He almost won: I felt like giving up. And then I remembered this advice: Don’t give up on a bad day. From the book Immediate Fiction.

    I need perspective when I’m filled with doubt. So I take a long walk. By the time I’m back from my walk, I’m back at the keyboard.

  5. Armaita

    Thanks for the thoughtful tips on foiling the Self-Doubt Gremlin.

    During my writing process, Self-Doubt rears his ugly head whenever I submit a query letter or manuscript to an agent. I wonder, ‘Is the story good enough?’, ‘Why would anyone want to read what I wrote?’, and ‘Will I ever get published?’

    My current strategy (further updates as progress is made) is to delve into the hazy and complicated world of self-publishing instead. If I write it, I tell myself, readers will come… and if they don’t, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of seeing a writing project through from the first seed of an idea to its fruitful completion.

  6. Linda.H

    Thanks for your words on self-doubt. I know that feeling all too well. As a wanna-be writer I wanted to spark my creativity a bit and did Robert Lee Brewer’s first PAD challenge. Then I couldn’t stop. I just kept writing poetry. This part year, with the encouragement of Khara House (who posted the first comment above) and others I met through the challenge, I began submitting to literary magazines. I never thought any of my work would be accepted. But TADA! I actually have work out there, in print and online, and even won a short story contest.
    Sounds like a happy ending, right? WRONG.

    I now want to get back to my original goal of writing a middle-grade novel, but that nasty gremlin is tugging at the hem of my shirt, taunting, saying “Poems be not a novel. You can’t do it” (insert evil laugh here). Sigh.

    By the way, Born at midnight looks like a great book for my daughter.

  7. Debbie

    My gremlin confuses me by trying to convince me to perfect one genre before moving to another. But, since that freezes my creative spirits, I’m hoping to convince myself otherwise. It’s a work in progress, and I’m striving to be strong in my focus towards not just success – but enjoyment.

  8. satkinson78

    Sorry, C.C., I just realized that I addressed my last message to the wrong person. I really do apologize for that! I got a little bit confuzzled there for a minute.~ Susan

  9. satkinson78

    I think, unfortunately, that I have let that little ugly gremlin crawl up onto my shoulder entirely too many times! In fact, he’s clawing his way up my arm as we speak (shaking arm while trying to type…ouch! He has sharp little claws, he does!) Your article couldn’t have come at a better time, Chuck. The only thing that helps me when he gets up there is to push on and keep writing, even if I think it’s bad writing. I have to write SOMETHING! If I can’t write on my current piece, I work on something else: a character sketch, or a poem, a journal entry, SOMETHING that keeps my pen on the paper. Or, I pick up a book about technique and read through it. I love Writer’s Digest books. I go through their list and pick something and order it and within days, I am reading my way back into writing something. In either case, I find that “Some way” to get my fingers clicking or my pen/pencil moving. Thanks for the great post!

  10. CLKone

    Thank you C.C. Your portrayal of self doubt is masterful. Not only have you put a clear face to the threat, defined the strategies of this opposition to confidence and mapped the assault from toes to shoulder; you have outlined an action plan for victory over the enemy.

    Your blog just took out an entire phalanx of the gremlins in my house. And a good thing too, as my defensive writing skills have been weak.

    Here’s a few slay tactics that work for me.

    1. Read a daily diet of posts such as yours. Hearing that even a published author is challenged by the whispering thought that an idea has probably already been done, can empower a writer to squash the attack.
    2. Remind yourself that there is no one out there with your exact set of experiences, skill, and perspective. Look at all the varied ways a group of writers craft stories in response to the same core idea of a prompt!
    3. Find a workable routine for writing and stick with it. The consistency of a schedule gives structure and continuity to writing and contributes to a can do attitude.
    4.. Reread previously written pieces that received praise. Reviewing areas of strength in your writing can defuse the negativity bomb at your ear.
    5. Develop a decisive plan for processing constructive critiques and a filter that screens the input. We are all eager to hear how others respond to our work. The trick is to decide which feedback best demonstrates an appreciation for what you are trying to accomplish with your writing.
    6. Put some time between reading the feedback and revising based on the feedback. Gremlins love revision time.

    Nothing really new here, but for me at this time in my writing, these are prominent. In case anyone is wondering, yes, structure helps when the doubt gremlins puff up and spew venom in my eyes.

    The best way to rid the gremlins is to write over them.

  11. Heart2Heart

    I agree that writing isn’t for wimps! I have connected with other writers and that is the impetus to get me going again. It is so good to cheer someone else on that it spurs me to get more writing done. It is truly invaluable.

    When I find myself in a rut, I enter a contest!

    Thanks for your timely article and happy writing!

  12. BookLover2

    Oh, this is so true!
    I’ve been stuck on my first novel for a while now. That little monster keeps whispering in my ear and sometimes even yells in my face, at the top of his lungs.
    I try to beat him back by reading great articles about successful writers, reading information from helpful professionals in the writing industry, reading “how-to” books and watching webinars geared toward perfecting the craft of writing.
    He’s a tough one, that little monster, but I’m hoping I can overcome his whispers and threats and get back to writing my book. If I can weaken him, I might be able to shove him into a locked cabinet and bury the key! 🙂

    Thank you for sharing your tips!

  13. Lilia F

    The gremlin gets particularly loud when a professional (agent, publisher, whatever) tells you “back to square one.”

    Since we’re having commenting fun, I’ve been scouring the web for tips on how to make the most of a character’s death. Suggestions? Hints? Cheat codes? Thanking in advance.

  14. lizcolebourn

    Thank you CC for your advice! I’m not a published writer, but I’ve been writing a story for a couple of years. In good moments, I feel like the story is good, the hook is worthy, and that I might just get published. But then I get bogged down and feel ridiculous. I haven’t known exactly what was plaguing me. I often called it, lack of talent or lack of focus. Who do I think I am? is something I often hear in my mind. But now CC that you’ve named it, I think I’ll be successful defeating it. I look forward to flicking that little green bugger off my shoulder!

  15. cc hunter


    Thank you everyone who stopped by and posted. I love hearing from other writers. And all the suggestions are inspiring and the stories of others who struggle always helps us all feel less alone. I’m a terrible speller and deal with dyslexia. So I know all about those kind of struggles, too. And it’s so true, sometimes all you need to do is take that leap of faith.

    And burrowswrite, I actually have a lot of male readers. Yes, there is some romance, but basically these books are “coming of age” stories. Stories about characters, all sorts of relationships, and character choices. It may not be your cup of tea, and that’s okay, but for $2.99 for the first book –e-book– you should be able to give it a shot. Also, right now I have on sale a boxed set of three books, Love, Laughter and a Little Murder, of my adult romance novels for $1.99 –e-book– and in the back of it are eight chapters of Born at Midnight.

    Thanks again everyone for stopping in.


  16. writingitout

    Recently, I fought this monster in our biggest battle yet. I suffered from a powerful block for some time, but was able to fight through it. I overcame and started writing fluently again. I had been debating for some time if I should start sharing my work. This beast kept telling me that I was no good, why should I even think to share? Everyone will hate whatever it is that I ever post. I’ll be the biggest humiliation in the history of humanity. One day, I decided to yake the plunge and share. I was feeling very confident that day; that is, until I hit the “submit” button. I was scared beyond belief. But then, something wonderful happened. I was getting inundated with compliments, that I should share more. I really wasn’t the laughing stock I thought I’d be. This made my self-confidence grow immensely. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still plagued by this self-doubt demon every now and then as I post something, and there’s days I think that my writing is a bunch of gobbledygook. However, I found that my best remedy is to take a leap of faith, put my work out there. There will always be people who don’t like it, but there will also always be people who will. And a kind compliment always outweighs a negative remark in my book.

  17. Adwy

    Thank you. This is something I have been battling for the past few weeks on my revision draft. At one point, I just wanted to delete the whole thing, and rewrite it again. Reading this article created a depth of perspective on my attitude towards writing. Being a beginner it felt more discouraging to have this particular demon sitting by you but I keep telling myself that it is either the demon or my love for writing.

  18. ckbrooks

    I live with this monster hiding in every crevice that it can wiggle into. The worst part is that it tends to get the upper hand of me more times than not. I am a writer and a painter but I can’t seem to break the hold that self doubt has on me. I don’t show my work to anyone because that reaver from the underworld grabs ahold of me. It’s nice to know that even seasoned writers face this burden still. I did read this because I am a avid CC Hunter fan and I am glad I decided to follow this link

  19. ThunderFlash

    Your books are amazing and I love to read them. Cc Hunter that article describes exactly how and what self doubt is. I have had a few moments of doubt in my abilities of writing poems and saying things the wrong way. I’m also a bad speller this tends to put pressure on writing anything. I enjoy reading about how Kylie perseverance through all the confusion and chaos that she deals with. Thank you for writing your books and your perseverance though your own self doubts.

  20. N. L. Armitage

    For me the situation with self-doubt is that, while I am confident in what I write, I am less confident in it being recognized. The market is so saturated (some might say over-saturated) with self-published and traditionally-published titles that I always fear that mine will get lost in the mix. I’ve spent months researching about promotion and marketing, and I understand the importance of an eye-catching cover and an interest-catching description of the story, but I still worry that it will be difficult to reach enough people to read given that it feels like everyone is already overloaded. Perhaps this stems from the fact that I am in charge of my own promotion, and I am naturally a bit introverted by nature. I am networking, but it is a slow process. I’ve spent several years writing the story, so naturally I have made a substantial emotional investment in it. When it’s like that, I think it’s easy to fear everything that might or might not happen. I feel pressure because, not only because I want my works to be international best-sellers, I fully believe that they can be. Anxiety sucks too!

  21. sabenz

    This article came at the perfect time! I had a brief moment to sit and write and when I was pecking away on the computer that nasty gremlin, who by the way has grown the last few weeks, sat on my desk looking at me, Pointing a finger he said, “You can’t write, you’re mediocre, no one will want to read or like what you write….ever.”
    Lo and behold Chuck tweeted this article! Divine intervention? Happy coincidence? Who cares! It was here when I needed it. Thanks Chuck for informing us. Thank you CC for writing it and telling your story! Now to go and change my karma, God knows I need to 🙂 Oh, and I was looking for a book to read, off to buy one of yours!

  22. Khara House

    What a great, and timely, post. I’m currently hosting a Submit-O-Rama encouraging writers to face the fear of submitting their work by taking on the challenge to submit as much as possible in a month, and this is a big discussion topic. There’s so much self-doubt and fear that we as writers have to face … and it’s so very hard to take it on! I’m always thankful for a post like this, for the encouraging word it provides for writers just when it seems we need it most! Thank you both, Chuck and C.C.! ~Khara H.


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