Episode 2: Self-Doubt
The second episode was released on the same day as the first. No fucking around for this guy! Here, I talk about self-doubt. What it is, why we have it and how to overcome it. Self-doubt can be detrimental to a writer and their career. Follow along as we demolish this beast once and for all.
You can listen to the episode right here. The transcription is below the player. Feel free to add your comments using the comment section below.
Episode 2 Transcript
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00:00 [JT Pledger] Welcome to Freebie Friday! Let me ask you a question. Where would you be able to take your writing if there was no such thing as self-doubt? That’s what we’re gonna talk about today in episode 2. Stick around.
00:38 [JT Pledger] Self-doubt is arguably the biggest killer when it comes to writers. And this is any type of writing whether it’s creating a novel or, you know, a marketing piece, or blog. Self-doubt creeps in and it can kill the process. It can cause depression. It… it’s detrimental and I’m fairly confident that almost every person that sits down to write something that other people are gonna read experiences self-doubt in some form.
01:22 Today I want to talk about self-doubt. I want to define it, I want to explain how it affects you as a writer. I also want to go into it a little deeper, I want to identify what exactly, you know, it is and what it means. And then we’ll talk about ways that you can fix it or “get over it” as it were. Umm, so that’s what we’re gonna do.
01:55 And we’ll start off with a basic definition and, and I love these, you know, somebody’s “oh well what does this mean?” Well, let me pull out my pocket dictionary.
Dictionary Definition: Self-Doubt
02:07 The pocket dictionary definition of self-doubt basically is “a lack of confidence in your abilities,” and for writers basically in a layman’s definition, we’ll put the pocket dictionary away now, self-doubt is this internal feeling that your work doesn’t matter or it isn’t good enough or it’s not quite finished.
02:41 Umm, an example of this obviously, speaking mainly to novel writers, you go through so many drafts from your very first original rough draft trying to get to that final draft, that’s all pretty and polished, and you want to have this perfect book, you know?
03:05 And you get to that point, and you’ve had it edited, and you fixed all the edits, and you’ve, you know, sent it off to your beta readers, and you get all the feedback and you continuously make changes. And you write “The End” and you’re excited; you’re happy; you do a little dance in your office.
Then, It Hits You
03:25 And then the next day you go open up your email and you want to send it off to these prospective agents or publishers, and before you can hit “Send” there’s that little thing in the back of your head that goes “well… there was that thing in chapter 2 that could be better.” Or “maybe those beta readers weren’t right and the original version that I sent them was better, let’s have another look.”
03:55 And this is how it affects writers. And this isn’t just novel writers, this is anytime you put words down. I don’t care if you’re writing poetry or if you’re writing an email, you know, those email campaigns they’ve got to attract customers (exasperation) it… it’s hard. Writing is hard, and anybody that tells you that writing is not a special skill, they’re full of crap, basically, right?
04:29 Writing is very difficult and self-doubt is the number one reason why it is so hard.
How Self-Doubt Affects Writers
04:37 So how does it affect us as a writer? The first thing it does is as you’re writing, you know your first draft is not gonna be the one you turn in. That’s fine. We all accept it. There’s going to be multiple versions of this and we get that. But it puts this little seed in your brain that it’s not finished. And so you move through the drafts. You…you make your corrections; you fix your grammar; now you shorten a sentence here, you add a paragraph there. Whatever it is that you got to do to get it to where it’s complete.
05:15 And that seed is still there. It’s bugging you. In the back of your head, something is just, it’s not right, it’s just not right. And you, you have this overwhelming urge to edit and fix or even start over from scratch.
05:38 I can tell you I have done this many times, especially in my copywriting career. Because you know “I’m being paid for this right now, as soon as I turn it in, I’m getting a paycheck. If it’s good enough.”
It Becomes Frustrating
05:55 And that’s, you know, that big trigger–If it’s good enough–so eventually you continually go through these little edits and these changes and these little fixes and these tweaks and it becomes frustrating.
06:13 And you get sick of it and you start thinking “well maybe I’m not gonna be accepted.” “Maybe, maybe the editor that I’m sending this article to isn’t going to like it because it’s not quite perfect.” “Maybe the agent isn’t gonna like this book because these chapters aren’t quite perfect, or the character is not developed well enough.”
06:39 And eventually, if this continues on, you have basically one of two options; you’re either going to fix it to death or you’re gonna give up.
06:49 And I have seen far too many writers, and many of them my friends, who have this amazing idea for a story or they’re, you know, copywriters or ghostwriters and they…they have these great articles and reviews and by the time they’re done they just “I can’t do this, I can’t do it, this is too hard, that’s too difficult, I give up, I’m gonna go back and work in the warehouse at Walmart.”
07:23 And if that’s what you want to do, that’s fine. But if you can identify that the problem is not with your writing it’s with your mindset, we can fix that and you can stay at home in your sweatpants writing for a living.
It’s All In The Mind
07:39 And I think that’s all what we want to do and that’s why you’re here right now. So how do we identify it? It may sound easy, you know, when you think about it; when you’re not writing to think about self-doubt like “Oh I can…I can pinpoint that down, I know that, you know, if I’m writing and I’ve edited the same chapter 14 times,” or “I’ve replaced this headline, you know, I’m on my 97th version and I’m gonna A/B test this one twice.” And that would be able to tell you right then well, you know there’s some self-doubt in there.
08:18 But when you’re actually doing it and when you’re actually sitting behind the keyboard and you’re typing the words and you don’t recognize that this is going on inside your own head. You’re concentrating on the words, you’re concentrating on the deadline, on the project itself. And you succumb to your subconscious who’s in the background whispering “it’s not ready, it’s not good enough.” You know? And, and you don’t recognize it as you would if you were on the outside looking in.
08:53 So there’s things that you can look for while you’re writing that would tell you “hey this is me just doubting myself.”
Starting Over: A Sure Sign of Self-Doubt
09:02 And the first thing obviously, if you’re constantly starting over. If you’re stuck on the headline or you’re stuck on that first sentence in Chapter One and you just keep ‘highlight…delete…rewrite…highlight…delete…rewrite.’ over and over and over. Or maybe you make it most of the way through and then you just kind of throw your hands up and you’re like “ah this is, this is crap!” *Close close down Word and go have a cigarette and a cup of coffee and come back and start again. That’s a big sign of self-doubt.
Continuous Edits, Too
09:43 The second sign is that you actually finish but you continuously go back and edit. And it’s similar to the starting over. It’s…it’s the same process it’s just in a different format because the work is done at this point. You’re just tweaking. You’re, you’re, you’re nitpicking and you’re going back and maybe you’re going back over the same area, maybe you think there’s this problem because in the first draft there was a problem, or you had a beta reader or somebody looking over your shoulder that had to read the sentence twice and you “Oh my God!” You know? “I read on an article on Google that if somebody has to read something twice it’s not good enough and I need to fix this right now!”
10:29 That editing over and over and over and over and over is another big sign.
Don’t Question Perfection
10:38 A third sign is when you start questioning if a particular portion of the project is perfect. And I will tell you right now for my years of experience and interviews and talking with my writer friends and networking and on the Facebook groups and everything else…if you don’t know this by now you’re gonna learn so pay attention real quick…in writing: There. Is. No. Such. Thing. As. Perfection.
11:16 And I’ll say it again for those in the back: “There’s no such thing as perfection.”
11:24 If you are a copywriter, a ghostwriter, a marketing guru, social media manager, people don’t want perfect; they want results. They want you to meet deadlines. “I’m gonna send you this article, okay John, and you’re gonna write it for me. I need it to be 1,500 words long. I need it to be about cat litter and I need it by Friday.”
11:56 And you’re sitting up midnight Thursday night sweating because the conclusion isn’t good enough. They don’t care, they don’t care. They want something to put on their website so that their visitors have something new to read. And they can engage them that way. They don’t want perfection, they want results, they want their work turned in on time and complete and that’s all you have to do.
12:25 You have to get to the end and you have to be done. So you don’t start questioning if it’s perfect. If you’re questioning if something is perfect you’re on the road to self-doubt.
Finishing After Completion
12:38 And finally the last identifying marker is finishing the project, or the novel, or the script, or the email campaign–whatever it is you’re working on–if you finish it more than once after it’s “done.”
12:58 Now, what does that mean? It means you you’ve done it. You have your title, your headlines, your first opening paragraphs, your, you know, first 50 pages that draw the reader in; you’ve made it all the way through. You’ve written “The End,” you’ve clicked “Save.” It’s done. And then you go back and you finish it again and then you go back and you complete it again.
13:26 How many times do you have to write “The End” before it’s over? The answer is 1. So, if you are more than that you’re on the road to self-doubt.
How to Fix Self-Doubt
13:40 So how do we fix self-doubt then? That’s, that’s the big thing. We know we have it we’re writers, we get it. We’re gonna have this little gremlin inside our head bouncing around saying “we’re not good enough, we’re not perfect.” How do we beat him down and keep him at bay long enough to send that email with the document attached?
14:03 The first thing is the easiest thing, and it’s also the hardest, depending on where you are in that self-doubt path. The first method to fix self-doubt is to get to the end and be done with it. That’s it. You finished your edits, you finished your story, you finished your article. Be done. Don’t go back. Throw it through your grammar checks, your spell checks, make sure that your paragraphs are no more than four sentences long if you’re writing an article. Make sure you have enough headings if it’s a blog post. Make sure your chapters are in order and all of them are numbered if it’s a novel.
If You’re Done, Be Done.
14:46 But when you’re done, dude, be done. Click “Save,” close it, go have a beer if you’re old enough in your area. But be done and that’s it. Click “Send.” Wait, wait for it to come back and have somebody else tell you that it’s not ready.
15:12 Until then it’s done, move on. Go to the next story, go to the next article, the next client. Go have lunch at Olive Garden. Whatever. Just be done. And you’d be surprised how difficult that can be when you are deeply ingrained into the self-doubt.
15:33 If you’ve had that since, you know, the first draft or the first line; that little niggling in your, in your brain, going “Hey hey hey! This isn’t good enough!” But do it. If you get frustrated don’t delete it. Finish it. Save it. Close it. Send it off and walk away. And you’d be surprised, that if you do that often enough, how few of your articles come back.
You Aren’t Alone
16:05 I’ll tell you from my personal experience, and the reason that I’d started doing this podcast here is, I struggled with self-doubt for years. I have a drawer over here, I know you can’t see it, but it has probably about 50 stories in it. All various stages of completion some of them are three pages some of them are 400 pages, none of them are done. Every single one of them got shut down by self-doubt. So, I know. I’ve been there.
16:40 I know how much it sucks and if I had started back then what I started a few years ago just being done and sending it off, those wouldn’t be in the drawer. They would be on people’s bookshelves or in stores or at a secondhand shop selling for 25 cents somewhere, but they would be out there. And that is the whole point. Get it out.
Create Your Own Deadlines
17:08 The second thing you can do if you’re struggling with self-doubt, or think you are, give yourself a deadline. Don’t go by the deadline from your client or your publisher or your agent or wherever your deadlines come from.
17:23 Give yourself a deadline. So I’m gonna use copywriting as an example, I know we got a lot of copywriters here. So you get a new assignment from your client, you know, “here’s…here’s this 1,500-word article I want you to write about cat litter and I need it by Friday.” Okay. Give yourself a deadline of Thursday; “I’m gonna have this done by 10:00 a.m. Thursday morning, and I’m sending it off.”
17:52 And then that way when Wednesday night comes around and you’re rolling through the final lines and you’re looking down and you go have your coffee and take a little nap and you come back you finish it up and it’s 9:30 on Thursday and you click send, you’re done. You’re done. Walk away.
Stricter Deadlines Work
18:08 But giving yourself a harder deadline than what your client gives you kind of forces you to be done sooner than your subconscious wants you to. And in doing so you, you not only show up great for your client because, you know, you meet all of your deadlines ahead of time, but you beat your self-doubt because there’s…It’s over, you know, you gave yourself four days instead of five. You didn’t have enough time to plant those seeds, you had to get busy, you had to get to work. You had to pump these words out and do the research and find the links and put them in the article and make sure everything was formatted and “oh oh deadlines, my deadline, my deadline, send it…off, done, and then you can forget about it you can move on.
18:59 And when you do that I will almost guarantee that 95 to 98 percent of everything you send off will not come back. It’s great, it’s fine; you’re great, you’re fine. Be done, send the work off.
Don’t Seek Approval
19:21The third option is to not seek approval. And I say this because, this one is geared more towards the, the long-form writers–This is your novelist, your screenplays, your whitepaper writers–We have a tendency to want to have as many people read it before we’re done as possible to make sure it’s as good as it should be, and that everything flows, and the timeline is correct, and all the open-ended questions get answered, and on and on and on and on and on.
20:00 But look. That is seeking approval. I’m not telling you not to have beta readers and editors. Absolutely. Use them, utilize ’em. Great! They’re wonderful resources and we’ll talk about some of those in later episodes, but right now when your final draft or your final version or that final form of that article and a whitepaper is done, don’t send it off again.
20:24 Don’t say, “hey, I know you read the first one. I made the fixes, can you read it again?” No. Don’t do that. You’re seeking approval. You want it to come back before it goes to whoever is supposed to go to and you want to hear those words that “oh, it’s great, it’s perfect, I love it! Your fixes were excellent! You did a fantastic job! This is beautiful! This is gold! If I had a website that sold cat litter I’d buy this article from you!”
20:57 You don’t need it. And when you do that you’re setting yourself up for more self-doubt because if it does come back again and they go, “Well, I got stuck on this one paragraph. I had to read it twice or three times to make sense….” Yes, it’s important (I can hear you back there) “that’s important to know.” Let it come from the person who is responsible for signing your paycheck, not your mom. Unless your mom’s signing your paycheck. But let it come from the person who’s responsible for posting this article, this whitepaper, who’s responsible for publishing this novel, whatever it is. Let them be the ones to tell you.
21:47 Because if you’re seeking approval you’re not gonna get it. There’s always going to be something that comes back and you’re gonna be right back in that same loop of editing editing editing, over and over and over, until you get frustrated and give up. And we don’t want that.
Only Fix What You Must
22:05 So just be done, send it off and don’t worry about it again unless it does come back from the person that’s signing your paycheck. And then only go through and fix the things that they highlighted.
22:20 Don’t go back over the entire project. If your editor or your client comes back and goes “hey it’s great but we need you to fix something in paragraph three.” Go to paragraph three, fix it, resubmit, and don’t get caught in that loop.
22:42 And that, that’s the biggest thing. Just getting caught in that loop and if you can recognize it before it happens, you are ten steps ahead of every other writer out there.
22:55 And if you’re not among those numbers take notice of what you’re doing and try to break the cycle. It is difficult. It took me a couple years of practice to break the cycle. Self-doubt is tough, but you can do it.
23:15 I did it.
23:16 If I can do it, (laughing) anybody can do it, okay? So pay attention to how you’re writing not just what you’re writing and if you notice these little things coming in that are triggering the self-doubt, break the cycle. Be done with it and good luck to you, because I know how tough it is.
What Is Your Experience with Self-Doubt?
23:52 But if you, if you have an experience with, with self-doubt I would love to hear about it. I’m not sure where all of you are or where you’re listening to this podcast from, but you can go to ExtraDraft.com. There is a Freebie Friday course and it is obviously free. Just become a member of the site. You’ll have access to it and once you sign up, every episode has a link to a forum. And if you have the time stop by the forum and drop a line and and tell us your experience with self-doubt.
24:23 Are you struggling with it? You know, are you past it? Did you, did you beat it, you know, like I did? Were you able to get by it, and if so what did you do? What were your tricks, you know?
24:36 But yeah, let me know. Stop by…stop by the website, say hi, and uhh, let us know how you’re dealing with your self-doubt. And uhh, we look forward to seeing you there and I look forward to seeing you next week on episode 3.
24:53 And uhh, if you are signed up for the newsletter, Wednesday or Thursday, depending on how busy I get, uhh, you’ll get a newsletter explaining what episode 3 will be about.
25:06 Until then, have fun: write words.