October 30, 2018

Writer Confidence: Do You Self-Reject?

Bundle of barbed wire with text: Do You Self-Reject?

Writers often suffer from self-doubt. We’re not sure if our story idea is strong enough or interesting enough. We don’t know if we’re the right person to write our idea. We don’t think our story is any good once we start writing.

And on and on it goes…

All that self-doubt can lead to a problem where we reject ourselves before others do—or before they even can. In other words, we can decide not to try for opportunities, and we can make that decision even before seeing how we measure up or before letting others make that judgment about us.

The Publishing Business Requires Confidence

To succeed in publishing, we need confidence in many areas:

  • our story idea
  • our ability to develop the idea into an interesting plot that works up to a satisfying ending
  • our ability to develop compelling characters
  • a belief that we’re the right person to tell the story (and sometimes we’re not the right person, especially if we’re writing “outside our lane”)
  • the appeal of our writing voice
  • our writing craft
  • our feedback partners, such as being able to trust our beta readers or critique partners
  • our revision and editing skills
  • our ability to learn and weigh our publishing choices
  • our ability to get an agent and publisher or our ability to self-publish
  • our story’s appeal to others (agent, editor, reviewers, readers)
  • a belief that our story’s appeal will make it worth the time, money, and energy to market it
  • Etc., etc.

A lack of confidence in any one of those areas (or many others) can hold us back from success, as we can decide not to try. To not put ourselves or our story “out there.”

Many of us who struggle along these lines turn to perfectionism with the hope that holding ourselves to impossible standards will help our confidence. After all, if our work were “perfect,” we’d feel better about it, wouldn’t we? (*narrator voice* Not likely.)

A Lack of Confidence Can Lead to Self-Rejection

If we lack confidence, we can struggle to make the journey through all the necessary steps to be successful. We might self-reject before we complete our stories, make them better, and get them published.

Being a successful author requires confidence—without it, we may self-reject. Click To TweetFor example, if we lack confidence in our ability to discern the good and useful feedback from the bad during our editing process, we can become paralyzed on what changes to make to our story or writing. Our thoughts can circle endlessly on what advice to take or ignore, or we might not trust our ability to fix whatever isn’t working. We might instead decide the story is irrevocably broken and shove it under the (metaphorical) bed, giving up on it despite all the time and effort we’ve already spent on the draft.

If we lack confidence in whether others would actually like our story, we might not query agents or editors. We might accept crappy contracts, thinking our story doesn’t deserve better. We might not enter contests, assuming we couldn’t measure up. Or we might self-publish, thinking that “easier,” but then neglect to send it out to reviewers or set up marketing to spread the word.

Heck, writers can even self-reject before they consider themselves writers. They might think that they could never be a writer. Or that they have nothing to say that others would find interesting.

Personal Experience Can Strengthen Self-Doubt

For many of us, the self-doubt we experience doesn’t just come from thin air. We have reasons for the fears we have.

Maybe our family isn’t supportive. Maybe a teacher told us decades ago that we couldn’t write. Maybe we think writing would require quitting our day job (it doesn’t), and we don’t want to give up our source of income. Or maybe feedback we’ve received was particularly mean-spirited.

Any of those conditions—or countless others—can exacerbate our self-doubt or eat away at our confidence. In turn, that triggered lack of confidence can then lead to self-rejecting behaviors.

Personal Experiences of Marginalized Communities

For authors from marginalized communities, self-rejection can be even more prevalent. Without examples of stories from similar perspectives around, it can be hard to see what’s possible, leading to self-rejection of story ideas before they even hit conscious awareness.

Worse, experiences with bigoted, uncaring, or even just socially clumsy individuals can reinforce beliefs about whether insights from those outside the dominant culture are respected or appreciated by the population at large. Those experiences and reinforcements can then lead some authors from marginalized communities to consciously limit the kinds of stories they write.

Some might feel forced to abandon their unique perspective when it comes to storytelling if they ever wish to be published. Yet others might feel pressured the opposite way, to “represent” their perspective, and thus feel obligated to ignore any of their story ideas that center the dominant culture.

These situations can be so fraught that authors from marginalized communities might wonder if they’re doomed. Expectations from all sides can weigh down and disregard personal preferences or beliefs that personal identity shouldn’t direct writing/publishing choices one way or another.

Self-Rejection in Other Areas

Not surprisingly, we’re vulnerable to self-rejecting ourselves in ways other than just our stories. If we assume no one cares what we have to say—or whether we even exist—we might:

  • struggle with social media
  • delay setting up a website, blog, or other home-base platform
  • think we’re not qualified to offer advice or services
  • Etc., etc.

If we struggle in any of those areas, we might ask ourselves if self-doubt is to blame. Recognizing that we’re rejecting ourselves—that we do have worthwhile things to say or experiences to share—might help us overcome our limitations.

On another level, many authors try to pad their writing income by offering their expertise, such as website design, cover images, editing services, etc. But first, we’d have to believe that our knowledge or experience is valuable.

Years ago, I wrote a post about how to tell if we might make a good editor. Every year for NaNoWriMo, I encourage my blog readers to share their expertise in guest posts. With both of those, I saw writers dismissing their abilities or what made them unique. I know and understand how hard it can be to believe in ourselves.

Good Things Can Happen Only If We Try

If we don’t try, we automatically “lose.” Yes, putting ourselves out there always comes with risks, but on the other hand, not putting ourselves out there erases the possibility of benefits.

If we don't try, we automatically lose the opportunity for good things to happen. Click To TweetBelieve me, I have to give myself this same pep talk. I’ve overcome many of those self-rejection hurdles, but others still stop me cold.

For that reason, I’m proud of all the new guest posters in this year’s crop of guests who will be filling in for me next month during NaNoWriMo. These writers fought against the specter of self-rejection (some of them struggling with it in their proposal email or in the comments of my “call for proposals” post) and came out the other side, victorious.

Because of their courage, we’re going to have a fantastic selection of topics, far beyond anything I could offer from my personal experience. We’ll all be better for their generous sharing of knowledge. Kudos to all of them!

Like them, I hope all of us can discover how we do have valuable things to say, and I hope we all can overcome the problem of self-rejecting. The world will be better for it. *smile*

Do you struggle with self-rejection? In what way or at which stages? How have your personal experiences contributed to your self-doubt/self-rejection? Has self-rejection held you back in writing, publishing, or any related aspects, like offering services? Have you been able to overcome any aspect of self-rejection, and if so, how?

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Bran Ayres
Bran Ayres

This is definitely something I struggle with on a daily basis. Self-esteem and confidence are already something I’m short of, so add the inherent difficulties in writing and it’s easy to tank myself in a hurry. I appreciate the reminder that my words are worth reading and that I do have things worth saying. ^_^

Julie S
Julie S

Yes, I think what you’re talking about it a variation of Imposter Syndrome, though I could be wrong. Or just plain lack of confidence. I’ve sputtered. I’ve delayed with posting up a website or activating on it and an emailing client. I’ve procrastinated with a reread/revision of a finished draft. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the things you need to do in order to be a small business. I waste a lot of time.

Anyway, this is a very relevant post, thank you for writing it.


Hi Jami, thanks for always having interesting topics to discuss, it’s been most helpful. Self-rejection is/was my middle name! Because of my self doubt, I’ve wasted valuable time improving my writing. ‘I’m not good enough to get published ‘, ‘My grammar is horrendous ‘ , ‘My story is weak’. I had every excuse in the book. But I love to write. I’m deathly slow, but creating stories and characters makes me happy. I’ve recently decided to write for me, publishable or not, I write for the love of it. And If the only ones that ever read my story are my family and friends, so be it. Ignore the demons in your head, and just have fun. I mean, how many people can say they wrote a book, published or not?

Deborah Makarios

Recently I found myself worrying – in one of those bouts of melodramatic self-doubt that regularly afflict me – that my writing was so bad it would bring undying shame on my family. Cue Mushu from Mulan: “Dishonour on your family! Dishonour on you! Dishonour on your cow!”
I immediately decided I needed a Dishonour Cow to sit on my desk and soak up all that incipient dishonour, thus freeing me to get on with the writing without worrying about it.
So now there is a fat little knitted cow sitting on the edge of my workspace, looking darn cute while it waits for the dishonour to roll in!

Kaye Brundidge
Kaye Brundidge

Wow…I wonder if you have been looking over my shoulder as I sift through the comments and critiques, compare it to my vision of what the story is, and try to get my first thriller novel published. It’s really tough, as you’ve accurately identified all of the things hat are stacked against us as we struggle towards completion with a publication-ready work. This article was right on time!


Too true! Thanks for this. And amen to Deborah Makarios. I need a whole HERD of dishonor cows! MOOO!


Interestingly, writing is one of the very few areas in my life that I don’t feel insecure about, because I’ve had mostly compliments from others around me, many of them highly flattering comments too. So I’m fortunate that I’m surrounded by supportive people. I know that I have weaknesses in specific areas of writing, such as setting descriptions, or varying the body language of my characters. But I accept that we all have weak points in our writing. All we have to do is to take our time to edit our stories, and to keep learning. Anything can improve with practice. What I feel more insecure about are my counselling abilities. I have grown a lot more skilled as a psychotherapist, and I’ve become more confident than I was before. However, I had some terrible, scathing experiences with my previous supervisor, and I’m still fighting against the memory of her criticisms. Not that she can’t criticize me, but because of what she said, she made me feel inferior and inherently flawed as a human being until I realized otherwise. I realized later that her main complaint about me was due to a big misunderstanding, omg. But it was too late to change her written evaluations, and I was too emotionally exhausted to deal with her anymore. My current supervisor seems more promising, because he at least is able to express his dissatisfactions whenever they arise, rather than pretending to be perfectly happy until evaluation time like my ex-supervisor. However, my…  — Read More »


My comment was too long, so here is the rest of my comment:

Btw do you consider Christians to be a majority group? I’ve heard of “white Christians” being seen as the dominant group. But what if you are a POC Christian? Also, I don’t feel like I am in the majority, since most of the people around me are atheists or agnostics. I feel that many in my social circle despise Christianity as well, which I understand, so I am often a closeted Christian. I am actually more open about my queer and trans identities than about my religious identity for this reason. D:


[…] Cathy Yardley wonders if writers should trust their guts, while Jami Gold reflects on writer confidence: do you self-reject? […]

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