Getting over the self-doubt hurdle

My novel for NaNoWriMo is at 11, 719 words. So far, I’ve struggled to write as much as I would have liked. I’ve put a lot more pressure on myself as this is my second time writing a novel. I’ve had a lot more self-doubt.

This novel also involves a lot more research than the last. So far, I’ve needed to know about life on the international space station, the IVF process, NASA, NICU and Australia’s plans to break into the space industry.

In the previous novel, I was able to just write. I made things up and fixed them later. I can’t do that this time. I’d have nothing to write about.

As a result, every time I begin a new chapter, I feel like I’m writing from nothing. A novel is such a big task to undertake, I’ve found it’s easy to doubt how the novel will come together as a whole. It’s hard to hold together the plot.

I resonated a lot with a quote Griffith Review shared today for #novellanovember. They quote Nick Earls who says “if you’re like me…you reach a point in the first draft [of a novel] where the beginning has drifted from view but the end is still a long way over the horizon” (GriffithReview, 2018).

While Earls’s quote is in support of the shorter Novella format, it still very much resonates with how I’m feeling now. I’m a messy writer. I go in with a rough sketch of the overall plot and that’s it. The first 20,000 words are my chance to get to know the story and learn who the characters are (and learn about their hobbies and work, which are usually new fields to me).

I find that process equal parts exciting and scary.

My problem is that I set my expectations too high for what is, really, my first chance to explore a new world and meet new people. I find that, in order to stop doubting myself, I need to give myself permission to be terrible. I need to give myself permission for the first draft to suck.

This is how I manage self-doubt in my work:

Manage your expectations

I break my goal down into smaller pieces.

An  80,000 word novel is a scary target. Breaking it down into 500 word writing sessions make it seem less intimidating.

If I’m having a bad day, I do 200 word writing sessions. I still get 1600 words a day done (most of the time), but the smaller target stops me from feeling too overwhelmed with it.

Don’t overwhelm your senses

Write somewhere quiet.

It’s tempting to write in a nice cafe but, if you’re like me, you might find it distracting. I’m an observer. I walk into people (staff and students!) at work all the time, because I’m too busy trying to take in everything around me.

When I’m out, I listen in on conversations, I trace the patterns and textures around me. I try to commit everything to memory.

You won’t find it surprising then, that I write best when I’m at home and it’s quiet. I’m lucky I live in a wonderful house and my study has views of the city.

You don’t have to write at home, but I suggest finding somewhere quiet so you don’t end up feeling too overwhelmed.

Practise self-compassion

When I feel myself doubting my abilities, I find it’s important to recognise how I’m feeling. I need to name what the feeling is so that I can create some distance from it.

It’s easy to take criticism personally. It’s easy to believe the negative things you’re telling yourself. It’s much harder to practise self-compassion. Plenty of other people out there will judge your work. There’s no need for you to be one of them.

So what is self-compassion? According to Dr. Neff, it’s “to treat ourselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion we would show to a good friend—or even a stranger, for that matter” (2011, para. 10).

When you find yourself being critical, try to bring to mind what it feels like to be with someone who cares about you. Extend that same compassion towards yourself and keep writing.

Take a break

If you’re still having trouble writing, it’s okay to walk away.

You’re allowed to take a day off. You’re allowed to take a week off. Don’t get so caught up in your imposed deadline that you work yourself to death, especially if you’re doing #NaNoWriMo.

I got no writing done yesterday because I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Instead I caught up my mother, had a bath, and binge-watched shows on Netflix. Writing is hard work.  It makes you cognitively tired. Sometimes your brain just needs a break.


Have any tips of your own? Comment or tweet me @kazzalo




GriffithReview. (2018, November 7). Brisbane-based writer @nickearls makes another appearance for #NovellaNovember with today’s note on why he chooses the #novella. Find the entire note here: [image file]. [tweet]. Retrieved on Wednesday 7 November from

Neff, K. (2011). Why Self-Compassion Trumps Self-Esteem. Greater Good Magazine. University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 7 November 2018, from

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