The Downsides of Writing: Underwhelm and Self-Doubt | author’s note


The cursor is taunting me. #feeltheslump

I think you could safely call it a slump. It’s a nice descriptive word, slump. It sounds like what it is.

Lately I’ve been somewhat underwhelmed with myself as an author, besieged by doubts. Who did I think I was, that I could really do this? At some point someone will catch onto the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing (many of my critical readers probably already have), and I’ll be kicked out of the club. The club that I don’t actually belong to anyway.

I’m not a great marketer of my books. I don’t join in online author groups and forums, and I’m dismayed and intimidated by articles about how to increase my readership through social media. I’m not sure where to start, and to be perfectly honest, I’m not willing to put in the time and effort to figure it out. That’s my choice. With a full-time day job, I can either give my available creative energy to promotion or to writing, and I’d rather write. Of course, I could hire someone to do this stuff for me. It sounds like a great idea, except oh wait it costs a lot of money to hire consultants and experts, and I don’t currently have an agent willing to do it on commission.

The point is, I could be doing much more, if I chose to invest all my extra time, money and energy into promoting my books, finding an agent and building up followers–and I’m not choosing that. Which means I’m kind of failing, right?

It doesn’t help that I’m at that same sticky point in my story I seem to get to in every book I write. About halfway through, a few months stretching between now and when I feverishly threw down the first five chapters. I believe I’ll get past it. I’m determined to work it out and finish this story. But in this inspiration-lacking wasteland, vulnerable and slightly desperate, I get assailed by doubts. Will this book be any good at all? (No. None of your others are any good either. You might as well give up.) Will anyone enjoy it, or even want to read it? (Nope. You’re a fraud.) Am I wasting my time? (Probably.)

It’s times like this when the accomplishment of writing and self-publishing 10 books doesn’t seem to matter at all. All the people who liked my books seem to fade away, all the people who hated them–or worse, choose not to buy them–loom large and God, maybe they’re right.

Maybe some self-doubt is just unavoidable in adulthood. Don’t we all sometimes feel like we’re faking it? We go along for a while, pretty sure we’re handling things OK, stumbling and soaring in turns, and then something hits us and we look around sheepishly, wondering if suddenly everyone is going to turn accusing fingers on us and shout, “LOOK!!! SHE HAS NO IDEA WHAT SHE’S DOING!!! SHE CAN’T HACK IT AS AN AUTHOR/IN HER JOB/AS A PARENT/IN LIFE!!! SHE HAS FAILED ADULTHOOD!!! FAIL FAIL FAIL!!” and we get some sort of demotion to the can’t-hack-it caste of society.


Most of the time I’m confident enough in myself that the doubts don’t bother me. Most of the time I can laugh about how neurotic I’m being and recognize that pretty much everyone goes through this at some point, in some way. I have to believe that almost every writer in the history of time has had at least one moment when they thought they were a complete effing failure and might as well give up. Even the biggest successes by any measurement, geniuses and Pulitzer Prize winners, must have had bouts of overwhelm, days when they were challenged by low sales or problematic plot twists or their own complex egos.

That helps some. Not because I’m in the same league, but because the fact that I’m experiencing these doubts doesn’t automatically justify them. It gives me perspective to imagine that Austen had days when she felt her writing might be a waste of time, or Gaiman has to shrug off a stinging critical review and meet his editorial deadlines anyway. That may be the only thing we have in common as authors, but it’s enough to take me out of my own dark little cave of negativity and try to remember why I started this in the first place, and how extremely lucky I am to have the opportunities I do.

I love to write. That’s always going to be true, even if I’m underwhelmed, overwhelmed, full of doubt and totally blocked. Amazon has given me the opportunity to distribute my books to the public, some of whom have enjoyed reading them. That’s also true, and will be true no matter how few sales I have, how many people don’t enjoy them or how much or little I tweet.

It’s a downside of being someone who writes, who’s driven to writing. The doubts and fears and discouragement that come along for the ride. It’s not going to stop me from doing it. I’m not going to pull my books from Kindle or throw my unfinished novel in my desktop Trash bin. I’m going to keep working and trying and promoting and reading marketing articles that depress me.

If it helps at all to hear it, wherever you are today in your life or career or masterpiece, I think we all go through slumps. ALL of us. And it will end. And maybe you can use it for a book someday.

– Emily



4 thoughts on “The Downsides of Writing: Underwhelm and Self-Doubt | author’s note

  1. Emily,
    Even your doldrums are beautifully written! Keep up the good work. I’ve been out of the kindle habit for a while, but should get back into it. When I do, I’ll check out your new books.


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