When you doubt if you're good enough
As writers, we all wrestle with doubt. So what can we do with it?
I didn't think I could be a writer until my senior year in high school.
Sure, I read the classics for fun as a freshman. But the gap between my appreciation of literature and my ability to write anything meaningful seemed vast.
An uncrossable Rubicon.
But one teacher in particular—Mrs. Holt—called me out of my introverted shell and into the world of the possibility of being a writer with four simple yet heartfelt words.
“You’re a good writer.”
Fast-forward to today.
When I work with new authors to copyedit their manuscripts, they often want to know what I think about the book as a whole.
For years, I would offer my two cents. If the work wasn’t up to par, I’d still try to be encouraging. I know how hard it is to put your heart on a page for others to hear it beat.
But copyediting and providing broad feedback on the substance of the work are different beasts. It’s the forest versus the trees. So while I now decline to provide such feedback (unless that’s part of our contract), I understand the impetus for the question.
At the back of our minds, we’re all asking the same question.
“Am I a good writer?”
I launched my freelance editing career in 2014 because my wife believed in me.
Well, she believed in me so long as I could turn a profit within six months.
An understandable timeline.
During that time, I joined a small mastermind group of three guys I’d connected with online, all of whom were pursuing writing in some form or fashion.
None of us had published anything “big,” so to speak, but we gathered virtually every so often to discuss what we were doing and what we wanted to do.
Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I have a hunch the guys would agree with me.
Back then, the question behind all of our questions was the same.
“Are we good writers?”
Our meetings dissipated over time as we each got busy with work and life, but we’re still connected online.
And these guys are killing it today.
Chris Morris has three books releasing in 2024, including Resilience: And Other Lessons I Learned from the Psych Ward, which was represented by Mary DeMuth, another author who’s encouraged me over the years.
Kent Sanders is a full-time writer and recently experienced the successful release of The Faith of Elvis, which he co-wrote with Elvis’s stepbrother Billy Stanley.
Jim Woods has been a longtime encouraging voice for writers and helps authors get their books into the world. He took maybe the most daring step of all of us and ventured into fiction with Bite the Bullet, a Chicago-based crime thriller.
Guys, can I tell you something true?
You’re good writers.
And I’m not saying that (although I am); the world is saying that.
And even though we don’t talk as often as we used to, seeing your continued success continues to inspire my own writing.
Here’s a final note for every level of writer to consider.
Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters was never supposed to be published. After all, it’s a collection of private letters from Steinbeck to his editor. But we should be glad they were eventually released to the public because it reveals Steinbeck’s unvarnished thoughts on his writing.
And remember that East of Eden is one of his later books, written years after the success of The Grapes of Wrath.
About East, a magnum opus of a book and one of my all-time favorites, Steinbeck wrote, “This is the book I have always wanted and have worked and prayed to be able to write. We shall see whether I am capable.”
In other words . . .
“Am I a good writer?”
The work before you is not about removing all doubt.
It’s to do the work despite your doubt.
And to find encouraging voices along the way.
P.S. Who’s encouraged you in your writing life? Hit reply and let me know.
P.P.S. Thank you, Drake, for the article prompt. We still need to get to a Mavs game.
✍️ Writing advice ✍️
This is a thread, so click the tweet below to read the full advice, including when to use each and how to make all of those lovely punctuation marks on both Mac and PC.
🔥 This week’s best passage 🔥
“ . . . in a genius move of utter simplicity God had set the high bar for Christianity by saying Love your neighbor like yourself, and you read that and looked over at your neighbor, Patrick Plunkett picking his nose and pressing the pickings on the underside of your desk, and by virtue of nothing more than carnal reality that bar got that much higher.” —Niall Williams, This Is Happiness
🧹 Housekeeping 🧹
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