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Advice to writers: facing down your self-doubt demon

Story added 5th Feb 2018

Build writing tutor Helen Cox offers her tips on how to banish your self-doubt writing gremlin...

Have you ever met that demon who feasts on the bones of ideas you once had but never fleshed out into a story on the page?

This spiteful imp appears in different guises to all those with creative impulses, but my inner, self-doubt demon is called Gordon and he’s forever dancing around in the black void of my subconscious, singing his favourite song: ‘Your Writing Is Rubbish (La La La)’. Occasionally he delivers a mash-up also featuring his second-favourite ditty: ‘You’ve Got Nothing Worth Saying (Uh-huh).’ He’s the reason why, at times, writing down even fifty words in the right order feels like a victory of epic proportions.

Gordon knows all of my greatest fears. But here’s the good news: he’s slippery. Untrustworthy. Which means I’m not forced to trust anything he has to say about my writing.

The solution to this struggle is simple: create a Gordon-free zone, a safe space to experiment without his judgement and snide comments. A space where I can remember all the things Gordon spends his life trying to make me forget: that I want to write, that writing is a joy, that some of the best writing can come out of trying something out to see if it works and that if it doesn’t, I didn’t lose anything.

Creating a safe space away from your inner, self-doubt demon is easy. Go and find the least intimidating notebook you can find. This rules out any notebook with dreamy, creamy paper that you don’t want to mark or one with an untouchably beautiful design on the front. Find a notebook that has no high expectations about what you’ll write down in its pages and on opening the cover make a vow to never show the raw contents to anyone – especially not Gordon (or insert the name of your own inner self-doubt demon here). If nobody’s ever going to see it, you don’t have to worry about getting anything right. You can write without fear of any consequences. You can - dare I suggest it? – have fun.

To avert the risk of immediately crossing out good writing due to the overly-critical whisperings from your self-doubt demon, make a second vow not to look again at any of your raw writing for at least a week. When you do, extract only words and phrases that you feel have potential, and ignore the rest.

Then write every day.

Write three words. Write a list. Write a paragraph. Write whatever you can, whenever you can and remember that every word is a positive step in the desired direction.

What should you write about? Anything you like! Gordon’s not looking. So you can: describe your favourite painting, argue with some song lyrics you heard, write a list of your favourite words, plot a story and cross out anything that doesn’t work with glee, write a monologue from the perspective of an ancient tree or write an entire story using only ten words.

At some point, you’ll have a full notebook full of ideas that you wrote entirely behind your inner, self-doubt demon’s back - which not only provides you with avenues to explore in your writing, but is also an opportunity to feel pretty smug.

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