Received a note the other day from a would-be journalist suffering from self-doubt, wondering if they could ever get over it and if there was a secret to doing so.
So, here’s the secret:
Everyone thinks they suck. Everyone.
Those people who say they don’t ever think they suck? They’re lying. Or they’re awful writers.
Self-doubt is not necessarily a harbinger of brilliance, but unalloyed arrogance is a harbinger of idiocy.
Self-doubt is worse than others’ criticism – a lot worse – because it hobbles you before the race even begins. It stops you doing anything and therefore prevents either success or failure. And failure can be your friend: because if you’re failing, you’re learning*.
In writing, the only thing that is guaranteed is that if you write nothing you will achieve nothing. If you are writing for publication – or for a living – then it is better to have 100% of something flawed than 40% of something perfect.
As Bruce Springsteen told me on the phone the other day: “There is no right way, no pure way of doing it. There is just doing it.”**
So, write and write and write. If it’s finished and awful, well, at least it’s finished. And you can learn – from the reaction of readers and from the perspective of your new self, after time has passed. And if you really, truly do suck – well, finding out will free you to do something else.
Or you can hold the words inside, agonising over them, beating yourself up or raging against the success of people you consider less talented.
They may well be less talented. But when the cursor blinked, they didn’t.