Writers, like all creatives, often suffer from low self esteem. But there are also times when we feel unstoppable.
John Lennon put it best when he said “Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.”
This quote probably feels as personal to most writers as it does to me. Sometimes we’re on top of the world, and we imagine ourselves watching the trailer for the movie adaptation of our book. We’re proud of ourselves for the stories we’ve created, the characters we’ve given life to, the thousands of words we’ve written, deleted and re-written until the point of madness. We dedicate a huge portion of our days to work hard on something which might never amount to anything for anyone else. But we did it for ourselves. Because we have to write.
And then there are the days when we question everything. There are days where figuring out how to describe a scene feels like trying to see through pea soup. Sometimes we feel crushed by the fruitlessness of our passion, and how it seems like everyone around us is progressing through life, reaping rewards, while we’re still stuck on the tutorial. What successes we do have feel like mistakes. We convince ourselves we just got lucky that one time, and we shouldn’t get our hopes up. That soon someone will realise that they praised the wrong person, and you’ll have to return that moment of fulfillment. Almost everyone feels like this at some point.
And for writers, the best way to combat this is to read.
It sounds so silly, but I promise you it works. Reading will do two things:
a) Teach you how to be a better writer
b) Prove to you that you are not the worst writer
Good readers make good writers.
I would go so far as to say that there’s nothing a writing class can teach you which you can’t also teach yourself simply by reading. This only works if you pay attention and analyze, but it is entirely possible. Look at the way other writers structure sentences, evoke emotion, set the scene, describe characters etc. And look at what you could have done better. If you find a scene which you can visualise clearly and you feel as though you’re being swept along by the story, try to figure out how the author is achieving that crazy brain magic. If you’re re-reading sentences, trying to understand what’s happening, or you’re bored out of your mind, try to figure out why the language isn’t inspiring you.
Your grammar and vocabulary will thank you. Your self esteem will grow, even if just by fractions. It’s a long and difficult journey, but even tiny steps forward edge you towards your goal.
And remember, no author, and no book has ever been unanimously loved. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone has over 5 million ratings on Goodreads, and 1% of them are 1 star. That’s a tiny portion, but that’s also over 50,000 people who found it completely unreadable (And that’s just the Goodreads users).
That quote by John Lennon is great because many people would argue that he is a loser, or that he is God Almighty. So many of the most recognisable figureheads in our culture, the people we aspire to be as influential as, are polarising.
All art is subjective, but as reading is the most time consuming for audiences, disgruntled readers can be brutal with their negative reviews. The easiest way to avoid getting hurt by reviews is to not read them. Reviews aren’t for authors to torture themselves with, they’re for readers so they can figure out if they want to invest time and money in your book. Besides, once they’re on there you can’t remove them, and you can’t change the reader’s mind. Just don’t look. Get on with reading and writing and taking care of yourself.
It’s important to find balance. Low self esteem is harmful, but over-confidence can be just as bad. We should never think of ourselves as infallible. Mistakes, and recognition of mistakes, is crucial for our development as writers and as human beings.
Focus on growth, and accept that you will never know everything. Try not to think of your success as a pedestal, but rather an ancient tree with tangled, knotted branches. You can always climb higher and in different directions. The tree will never stop growing. There is always something new to learn and accomplish.
Whether you’re just starting out as a writer, or you’re writing your 20th book, you should be proud of yourself, and if telling stories makes you happy then keep doing it.
Thank you for reading.