When the topic of self-esteem is brought up, writers tend to fall apart–the unsuccessful and successful alike. At least, that has been my experience, along with the experience of other writer friends. We constantly question the quality of our work, cringe at bad phrasing or word choice, and tend to see mistakes as if we were standing in the blinding sun, while readers were standing in the cool shade of ignorance. In other words, we see quite a few glaring mistakes that readers completely miss or ignore.
This makes us, as writers, our own worst critics. That is most definitely not a new idea, but it’s still true. We are highly sensitive to our flaws, and highly aware of our failings, and we have the tendency to believe that others see us exactly the same way we see ourselves–as if all of these flaws and failures are on public display in the Hall of Shame. Most of the time readers don’t see these flaws, and only notice them when we point them out, or when someone else (usually a critic) points them out in our stead.
And believe me, criticism is one of the most destructive forces pitted against self-esteem. All it takes is one critic or editor uncovering the heart of the problem, then setting fire to it. We fall into ruin. We don’t want to write anymore. Certainly not with those scathing, demeaning “why are you even writing?” remarks circling like the Ouroboros in our heads. By the time we’ve worked back some self-esteem, we remember those remarks and the cycle of self-hatred begins anew.
My self-esteem is probably no better than the average writer’s. In fact, mine tends to be so bad that I stop work on my novels for long spans of time. A negative feedback loop ensues: The more time that passes without a single sentence added to my novels, the less of a writer I feel like and the lower my self-esteem goes. I start to doubt whether or not I can write anything at all, and question my status as a “writer.”
Many writers, if not ALL writers, will trudge through a period such as this. But what to do about it? It might help to seek support from friends or family. Sometimes it helps for them to simply remind you of your greatness. Other times, when you lack that support network, you just have to work through it, especially when handling rejections. No matter how painful, You have to put down a sentence. Oftentimes, simply putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys or touchscreen) is the most agonizingly difficult part. And finally, when all else fails, you just have to tell the little editor squealing inside of you to FUCK OFF. After all, nothing is ever finished until you say it is, no matter how many revisions it takes. And yeah, you do actually need to have some clay to work into a finished pot. Doesn’t matter if the clay is complete shit–you still need it present in order to shape it. The same goes for words in a story.
There might be at least one upside to all of the fretting and self-esteem issues, however. Hyper-awareness of your writing means that fewer problems are likely to see print. The more we strive for perfection, the closer we approach it, like the graph line that never quite reaches zero but gets awful close. At least it can be said of the hyper-aware writer that he/she isn’t sloppy.
However, despite that “silver-lining,” we need to keep our hyper-awareness in check as writers. If we don’t, we might never finish anything we start, or stat anything at all. And that would be utterly tragic.