While I was in Melbourne on the weekend, I spent some time with writers at all different stages in their careers and something I kept hearing was that one of the most important things for writers is to believe in themselves: to have self-belief. But I don’t know if it’s really one of the MOST important things. In fact, sometimes I think the opposite is true. I didn’t get my books written solely because of self-belief. I got them written because I kept doing the work, regardless of what I believed about it and about myself. Let me explain.
The Inner Voice That Says Your Writing is Rubbish
I think every writer is all too familiar with this voice. It’s the voice that says, “nobody will ever publish this book, you’re wasting your time; it’s a terrible story and it’s badly written.”
I’ve written about the inner voice before, but here’s the kind of thing my inner voice would say to me, back when I was writing my third book, out of contract and hoping to get not only a new agent, but also a deal at a different publishing house to the one that published my first two books. The voice in my head was constantly telling me that nothing I wanted would ever happen. That I’d published two books and I would never publish any more. That I’d have to find something else I loved to do because I wasn’t going to be able to be a writer any more if this book didn’t get published.
Does that sound like self-belief? No, of course it doesn’t!
But did I stop writing and pitching and planning? Again, no.
Which is why I think one of the most important things for writers to have isn’t self-belief; it’s self-discipline.
Self-Discipline is the Only Way to Fight the Negative Inner Voice
So, if most writers experience this voice, then how do we manage to finish a book and put it out there? I can’t speak for other authors but, for me, it’s that I just keep plodding on regardless of whatever the voice in my head is saying. I write on regardless of what I believe about myself and my writing on any given day. I acknowledge that yes, it’s possible I’m writing rubbish but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing.
Sometimes the inner voice tells us good stuff. Sometimes I hear my inner voice say, “wow, that sentence was fabulous,” or “that’s such a great idea for the plot, God I’m a genius,” but I ignore that stuff too (well, mostly!). Again, I just keep writing. I don’t dwell on the supposedly fabulous sentence. I don’t pat myself on the back for having a great plot idea, I sit down and put it into words.
So that’s why I think it isn’t self-belief that gets me to the end of a book, it’s the sheer bloody-mindedness to keep writing anyway, no matter the prospects, the possibility of it being rubbish, no matter the potentially wasted time. So it’s self-discipline that wins out every time over self-belief.
I wanted to write this post for all of those writers out there who keep hearing that they need to have self-belief but who think there must be something wrong with them because they just don’t have any, or not much at any rate. Know that I’m right there with you. And, next time you sit down to write, try telling yourself that it doesn’t matter what you think or believe, you’re just going to write anyway. Bring writing and self-discipline together and forget about everything else.
What do you think? Am I giving self-belief too much of a hard time? Do you agree or disagree that self-discipline is more important? Or, do you think there’s another attribute that’s even more important?