I fell into a pit of despair and self-doubt this week. And I didn’t even see it coming.
I wrote a blog that I was proud of and that I’d been thinking about for some time. But the minute I hit ‘publish’ I felt absolutely ridiculous. Like, who the HELL did I think I was? Who wants to hear what I have to say? I couldn’t believe I’d had the audacity to put myself out there.
I seriously considered chucking it all in – closing down the blog, quitting my writing pursuits, and taking up bird watching or whatever. I just wanted to crawl into a hole and pretend I’d never even tried.
Dramatic enough for you? Well it certainly felt that way.
A few days on, I can look back and see what was going on there. But in the moment it was the most horrific feeling. So for anyone experiencing the same thing – and as a reminder for myself next time this happens – let’s break down why self-doubt occurs and what we should make of it.
At least it proves how much you care
There aren’t many things that bring out this level of emotion in us. I remember feeling a similar sense of self-loathing when being rejected by men. But at least I could tell myself that eventually I’d find somebody else (you know, once I’d got all the listening to power ballads/analysing their text messages/threatening to leave the country, out of the way).
But when it comes to creativity, there is no ‘somebody else’. Writing is what I want to do. I can’t go to a club and meet another calling, can I?! (Just pausing for a minute there to try and remember the last time I went to a club and I can’t. Does visiting a very noisy branch of Currys count?)
But this acknowledgement is a good thing. This feeling means you care because you’re doing what you want to do. The turmoil may feel awful, but it’s a sure sign of your determination to succeed. And that’s something to be proud of. Most people are still trying to figure that bit out.
Creativity is always going to feel audacious
Nobody asks you to put yourself out there. Yes, an editor might ask you to write an article, or a director might invite you to an audition. But they probably only did it because you said you had something to offer in the first place.
Telling the world that you’ve gone ahead and created something is always going to feel audacious. Because in order to do that, you have to believe in yourself. You have to have dedicated real, personal time to a project that you think is worthwhile. And with every creation comes the risk that people won’t be interested in it. There’s no way around it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, it just means you shouldn’t feel bad for finding the process scary.
What do you know anyway?
I wrote just a couple of weeks ago (see, I don’t even listen to my own advice) that a lot of the time you’ll never even know what people think of your work. Just because you put something out there, it doesn’t mean people are obliged to respond. Editors don’t have to reply to pitches. Record labels aren’t required to say whether they enjoyed your song. And people on Facebook didn’t sign a contract saying they would always ‘like’ your updates.
But that doesn’t mean your work is bad. Or that people didn’t appreciate it. They may well have done. You might have had the most profound impact on somebody, they just didn’t tell you. And what does it matter if what you wrote/made/sang only touched three people? Is it only volume that makes something worthwhile? I don’t think so. It’s called starting out, and nobody gets to avoid that stage I’m afraid.
Maybe they’re not your audience, but somebody else will be
Obviously we’re not all doing this for fun – many of us need to make a living from creativity – so we have to find an audience for our work.
I’ve experienced a lot of silence recently. I’ve sent numerous pitches and ideas and, in most cases, heard nothing back. And when that happens it’s easy to think it’s because you have nothing to offer and should quit trying. But that’s not true.
I know from experience that a ‘yes’ always comes in the end. You just have to find an alternative target. So your energy should go into discovering who that should be, rather than feeling like a failure for having an empty inbox.
Take that emotion and put it into your work
All that dramatic energy conjured up with your self-doubt needs to be put to good use. So chuck it back into your projects.
Since finally managing to remove my head from my arse and remember why I do this writing thing, I’ve managed to get back on it. For one thing, I’ve written this. One of my favourite things about writing is that it can help make other people who are like you feel better. I don’t know if it will be of use to anyone, of course, I’m not telepathic. But I see value in it, so it’s worth a shot. And worst case scenario, working through this thought process on the page has done me some good. And I’ve had some right nice snacks whilst I’ve done it.
I’m trying to tell myself that if I can just channel all that turmoil into my blogs/pitches/ideas, I’ll be well away. So bring it on, soul-crushing feelings of anguish and distress, I’m going to make my MILLIONS from you (or something like that…)
Remember: Self pity is no use to you
I wrote recently about the excellent book Big Magic and the many lessons Elizabeth Gilbert teaches about how to avoid letting fear stop you being creative. And amongst them is the fact that self pity gets you nowhere. Feeling sorry for yourself because something you wrote doesn’t prove popular, or because your idea gets rejected, doesn’t help you make any progress at all.
Of course, it’s important to take time to feel how you feel – pretending otherwise is even more exhausting than the self-doubt itself. But once you’ve expressed it, it helps to get your eyes back on the prize and to know that only keeping going will get you where you want to be.
Sometimes just meeting your own needs is enough
I need to write, I do. Some people get creative in the garden, other people take on major physical feats, but for me it’s writing that makes me feel most together. I mean, I hate it too. I despise it. Oh my goodness, the to-ing and fro-ing with an article, the hot hot heat of a lap permanently populated by a laptop, the utter disparity between how phenomenal an idea sounds in my head and how it reads on the page. It’s torture. But a torture I can’t live without, apparently.
So maybe that’s enough. If creativity gives you what you need to get by, that in itself has to make it worthwhile. All the better if people read/laugh//listen/watch/whatever. But if it’s bringing something meaningful into your life, you can’t deny that it has value.
So that’s what I’ll be telling my self-doubt when it inevitably sets in again. Probably about three minutes after I hit publish on this blog, the bastard.