Several people I know are going through revisions right now based on feedback they received from beta readers, agents, or editors. Every one of them is dealing with the “I suck” issue along with that.
Yes, sometimes feedback can be a bit too mean or blunt, but that’s not the problem here. No matter how kind or helpful the comments are, we still feel like crap when faced with the fact that our writing needs work.
How Do We Know When Our Work Is Ready to Share?
Whether we’re perfectionists or not, we’re usually not going to send our writing into the world until we think it’s near perfect. “Near perfect”? How do we know where that line is?
We rely on our instincts to judge whether something is working or not, and we rely on our skills to fix what we find. So we send something out when our instincts tell us it’s near perfect, and when our skills make it the best we can.
What Feedback Really Tells Us
And then what happens? We get feedback pointing out how this part doesn’t flow and that character is unlikable. We get comments about how we need to deepen the emotions in this scene and raise the stakes in that scene.
In short, feedback tells us our instincts were wrong.
Whoa… Think about that for a minute. (And let’s ignore grammatical flubs that come from a lack of knowledge.) For deep analysis of the quality of our writing—the characters, plotting, and emotions—our instincts are the one and only tool we have for judging our own work.
When we get feedback that our one and only tool—that tool that told us we were ready to share our work because it was “near perfect”—was wrong, we’re going to react in an understandable way. *cue panic, self-doubt, and “I suck”itude*
The Self-Doubt Monster
We wail, how can I ever know if my writing is any good if I can’t trust my instincts? How can I trust myself to know how to fix these issues? Sure, I think it’s better now, but I was wrong before. What if I’m making it worse? I might not even be able to tell because my instincts are Just. So. Worthless.
This is the source of our self-doubt. What can we trust if we can’t trust ourselves? We might struggle to write, edit, or revise anything because we can’t trust that our changes are actually fixing things. And how can we ever submit anything if our internal “near perfect” grade is delusional?
Every time we get feedback going beyond cut-and-dry skills like grammar usage, we will struggle with self-doubt. We will feel like failures on some level.
Feedback comments like that hit us with “I was wrong” messages on two fronts at once, the writing itself and our judgment of the quality of that writing. Again, think about that. Deep feedback makes us doubt both our muse (the subconscious source of our writing) and our self-editor (the conscious judge of our work). A double dose of doubt—just what we need. Not.
How to Beat the Monster
For some of us, a major draw of traditional publishing is getting external validation, because we don’t trust our internal judgment at all. I understand that reason, but I also find it sad. Traditional publishing can be a great thing for some authors, but putting our sense of self-worth into the hands of others isn’t healthy.
Self-doubt can be debilitating and paralyzing. Sometimes, we don’t want to move forward because we’re afraid we’ll make it worse and be too blind to realize it. Or we’re afraid of wasting time with edits that don’t help. Or we’re afraid to try again with a submission when our judgment is crap. In short, we’re afraid of ourselves.
Writing is a risk. We’re constantly taking the risk of wasting time, being rejected, and being told that we’re not as good as we think we are.
There’s only one healthy way through that self-doubt, and it doesn’t come from external validation. We must accept the risk and ignore the fear.
Maybe that means we say, “So what?” So what if we waste time? So what if we need to have another round of edits because this one didn’t fix it? So what if we get a rejection? None of those things are the end of the world unless we let them drive us to quit.
We have control over the self-doubt monster. We choose whether we allow negativity to take over, our fears to hold us back, or the risks to paralyze us.
Yes, learning that we’re a terrible judge of our own work sucks, but it does get better. We learn more about characterization, plotting and pacing techniques, and emotional triggers so we’ll have less of those issues in the future. We learn about our weaknesses and work on them.
The gap between our judgment and the reality does narrow with experience. But we’ll get there only if we beat back the monster and keep moving forward.
Do you feel self-doubt after receiving feedback? If the comments are “kind,” do you still feel it? How do you deal with self-doubt? Do you have techniques for making your internal judgment more objective? When is “pushing through the fear” harder? Easier?Pin It