Surviving Your Self


Writing is a solitary profession. You face the page, the words head-on, alone with only your mind to feed your message. Letters accrue into sentences while your axons fire, lighting your way. Paragraphs pour forth from your mind in an exhilarating rush, as if tumbling over rocks in the stream and flowing into the story you have been waiting to tell. A tale that someone will read.

Thoughts of that reader make you conscious of your responsibility. Your story is meant to be read by someone who will find it meaningful, funny, entertaining, or inspiring. But will it be? Have you communicated  clearly enough this idea that you feel is so significant? Have you edited yourself closely? Will the publishing gatekeepers see its value? Can your story sustain the expense of making it public? Will your young readers love it… or not?

Doubt is the antithesis of creation. Doubt is the ferocious denier of bold ideas. Doubt is you, uncertain. Doubt is the thing that must be banished.

But how?

Let’s ask Misty Copeland. Misty Copeland who supposedly didn’t have the right body for ballet. Misty who was denied a place. Until the world realized her brilliant ballet style, unlike anyone else’s, and she earned the recognition of being remarkable, unique, fascinating. She did not allow anyone’s denial, including her own, to obstruct what she felt passionate about. Dance is her medium while words are yours, but the battle is the same one. Do you believe in yourself enough to face all odds? To endure for as long as it takes for the world to understand this message that you feel so strongly about?

Who can help you defeat the doubts that every writer has?

Your peers, especially your critique group. A good agent or editor. And of course, yourself. You must believe in what you have shaped on the page.

As far as I am aware, only one YA novel that I’ve read was published with no changes by an editor. That was The Woman in the Wall by Patrice Kindl, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1997. At an SCBWI New England conference years ago I heard the author talk about the path of her novel. The book was accepted, then published, in exactly the form Patrice submitted it. No edits, therefore, no reason for self-doubt.

For the rest of us, the reality is of shaping and reshaping our stories in the hope that we can make our readers feel what we hope they will. How can we circumvent our self-doubts?

Here are some strategies:

  • Join a good critique group. Input from people who read lots of books in the age group you write for will give you perspective. And good critique buddies can recognize when you are susceptible to self doubt. They can help shore up your confidence.
  • Read many books in the age group you write for. This will give you a frame of reference for comparison.
  • Share your manuscript with beta readers. They can give you constructive input.
  • Believe in what you want to say. No one will stand by your story if you don’t first. You must believe in your work. Trust yourself. That’s number one.

And most important of all, never give up. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?


  1. Thank you, Joyce. I created a workshop on yoga and writing. Your thoughts here connect with all I’ve read about trust and the lightness of creativity. Thank you!


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