When I was eight years old my father took me to the local skating rink. I hired a pair of roller-skates and did my best, hanging onto the wall and trying not to fall over. I was starting to make progress when a girl about the same age as me coasted past and said with maximum-level snark: “Why have you got skates, if you can’t skate?”
I didn’t know this girl and was quite shocked and hurt by her remark. I thought: “Maybe she’s right. I’m making a fool of myself. I should give up.”
Evidently her words have stayed with me as it’s now thirty years later and the memory of what she said, and how I felt about it, still stings a little.
Unfortunately, to this day, I continue to place too much value on what other people think of me and my abilities.
Recently, I’ve had a few wins with my writing. One of my short stories was commended in a competition. I also won a writing prize for a non-fiction piece I wrote. These successes were a lovely surprise, made me happy, and for a little while, made me feel validated. Someone “important” – the judges in a writing competition – thought what I’d written was worthwhile.
However, my elation was short-lived. Because a few days later I received a rejection. This time, someone didn’t think my skills as a writer were good enough. I let this feedback upset me to such an extent that my triumphs were quickly forgotten.
Why do I measure my self-worth as a writer by what others think of me?
Plenty, if not all writers struggle with imposter syndrome and self-doubt. A writer might receive discouraging feedback after pitching their work to a publisher and feel like a failure. Another writer might receive bad reviews for their latest novel and wonder if it means the end of their career. Or perhaps for some writers, it’s not rejections or the opinions of others guiding their feelings of self-worth but something from within – a voice inside their head telling them they’ll never be good enough.
Sometimes when you feel like your writing isn’t good enough, it’s an indicator you need to improve. Maybe you’ve received professional feedback on your manuscript letting you know it’s not ready, and highlighting areas to work on.
Most of the time feedback on my writing is given constructively and I’m grateful to receive it. However, there have been occasions when feedback has been more critical than constructive. And as we know from reading comments on social media or published reviews, there are also occasions when people are mean for the sake for being mean.
I know that focusing only on the negative reactions to my writing rather than the positive and helpful responses is unhealthy. And I know that how I respond is my choice. I can choose to stay awake all night dwelling on it and second-guessing myself. Or I can do a self-check – is the negative feedback actually helpful? Is there anyway I can improve? If not, I can acknowledge the simple fact that not everyone will like what I’ve got to offer, allow myself to feel disappointed for a little while, then get over it.
Best-selling author, Jeff Goins, offers some great, slightly tough-love advice in his blog post Why Your Work Never Feels Good Enough:
“Let’s name this. It isn’t humility; it’s low self-esteem, and it’s unattractive. Please stop it. This feeling of never feeling good enough is common. I’m not sure that it ever fully goes away. But as a creative, you have to learn how to deal with it, or it will destroy you.”
It’s true that even your closest friends will lose patience with you if you’re a mopey-moper all the time (without a valid reason, of course).
Like all creative pursuits, writing is a never-ending learning process. Even some of the best writers – award-winning authors – still don’t feel good enough. It’s about attitude. I know if I want to succeed, I need to develop a thicker skin and not allow rejections or unhelpful feedback have such a profound impact on how I view myself and what I’m capable of achieving.
Even though the little girl at the skating rink hurt my feelings, I didn’t give up roller-skating. I kept practising. And I got a lot better. I even progressed to rollerblades. And I had fun doing it.
By not giving up, I developed confidence in my own ability. I believed that if I kept trying, I would improve, and eventually my self-doubt went away.
While I wouldn’t be any good on skates these days, applying this same mentality to my writing is the only way forward. By continuing to write, I’m becoming a better writer.
And when that next rejection, criticism or snarky comment comes my way (which it will) I’ll just roll with it.