Lack of (self-)love

I read somewhere recently that you have to be a bit arrogant to be a writer. That perhaps explains why I’ll never be a very good one.

Because I’m absolutely crippled by self-doubt. Whenever I submit a pitch and don’t get a reply the same day, my brain tells me it’s because it was so laughably bad that the editor in question didn’t even bother replying to say ‘no’. Or, if it’s a new publication or website, that they hate my other work so much, they’d never deign to even consider letting me write for them.

I can cope a little better with rejection. I’ve pitched four times to one website, with polite and fairly prompt replies (in the negative, naturally) from the editor each time. For some reason, I can more readily accept that when it happens. Later on, however, I’ll draw on these experiences – usually after another pitch has gone unanswered – to convince myself that I’m essentially unemployable.

It’s a vicious circle, because I’ll then be reluctant to approach others, my brain telling me I shouldn’t bother because it will only end the same way. Perhaps this is partly down to a string of bad luck over the past year or two. One magazine I was getting plenty of regular work from folded; another two editors I built a good relationship with moved on to pastures new; I wrote for another magazine three times without ever being credited or paid; I got regular work blogging for a network that went under (owing me roughly in the region of a grand); I wrote a number of pages for a pair of bookazines, neither of which wound up being published. Couple all that with my health problems, it’s perhaps little wonder I’m struggling to feel good about myself.

Ultimately, I don’t really want to give up doing what I do, partly because there are moments when I realise I’m not actually too bad at it., but also because I love videogames and love writing about them. These days it’s rare I get to write about the things I really want to write about, but that’s the nature of the beast as a freelancer: you get what you’re given.

I imagine I’m not the only one who struggles with their writing demons like this, and I’d welcome hearing from anyone else who feels similarly. And if anyone has any advice for trying to get past this frustrating lack of confidence, please do let me know.

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6 comments

  1. I always wonder if there’s something a bit warped with my thinking, that it’s hearing successful people talk about failing (and carrying on regardless) which motivates me far more than hearing them talk about suceeding! In the hope you’re similarly oddly wired…

    Firstly, if you haven’t read Stephen King’s On Writing, I warmly recommend it. There’s a lovely passage describing the process of pitching his work and having it rejected or ignored.

    Not quite the same, but reading Neil Gaiman’s pep talk to those participating in NaNoWriMo was a similarly heartening piece of honesty, so figured I’d add a link for that whilst I was at it…

    http://www.nanowrimo.org/node/1065561

    Keep going! Keep doing what you love. Appreciate the self-doubt as the thing that keeps you on your toes and makes you constantly evaluate how good your writing is and what you could do to improve, but don’t credit it as anything more important or relevant than that.

    • Thanks! I’ll read the Gaiman piece shortly. And I’ll definitely look up On Writing, too. You’re right in that I find reading about people plugging away despite rejection is more inspiring than reading a piece about success.

  2. I think a lot of freelancers feel the same way. I certainly do. Freelance paranoia, freelance self-doubt, freelance fear… it afflicts all of us to one degree or another.

    Not sure there’s really a way to defeat it – you just have to plug on regardless, ignoring the rejections and career troughs. It’s the only way forward.

    Obviously that’s easier said than done. I’m rubbish at it myself. In the last year, I’ve gone from having three regular decently paid gigs to scrabbling around for work. I hate pitching for new stuff. HATE IT! But if I don’t suck it up and get on with it, then I may as well give up and get a day job.

    And I’d really hate to have to do that…

    • Very true. I think it helped just getting all that said. Not many people I know in real life that can really empathise.

      I think part of it is to do with a phase I went through where editors were regularly approaching me for work, whereas recently it’s been more the other way. Feels like a bit of a step back, though obviously the current economic climate (and the slashing of freelance budgets) is partly to blame for that.

  3. Can’t really add to the already very sensible and correct comments! But just wanted to send my support and understanding in comment form 🙂

  4. Like you, it’s the lack of a reply that bothers me most, much less so than rejections. There can often be something positive in an editor writing to say why a pitch isn’t ‘quite what they’re looking for’.
    I empathise with the feelings of self doubt that you talk about here and I believe that many more writers (more than would be comfortable admitting it) often experience these same feelings. Part of not being comfortable with talking about it is our ever-online status and the perception of needing to project a super-confident image, that ‘I have work, therefore you should give me more work’ appearance.
    Perhaps a smidgen of arrogance can help us all to be better writers but by doing something that’s enjoyable and requires us to live ‘by our wits’ we’re all displaying a healthy dose of good, old-fashioned confidence in our ability to do a job. Arrogance? Pah, we’re just all brilliant, no?!


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