Beating Self-Doubt

by Cary Christopher and Lisanne Harrington

With June’s topic being gloom and the two of us being horror writers, you’d think maybe we’d focus on building up the gloom and doom in our descriptive writing. That would be the easy way to go with this topic for sure; however, this time around we want to talk about something a little more serious. That would be the doom and gloom that we as writers sometimes feel about our own creations.

Unless you’re part of a writing team, fiction writing is, by necessity, a mostly solo endeavor. When you have an idea for a story, it’s you and you alone who will tease out the details, plot out the twists and turns and put actual words on the page. If you’re like Cary, then unless you’re absolutely forced to submit a first draft, you will go over and over a chapter before you’ll even remotely consider sharing it with someone else. It’s in that shadowy time between creation and first revision (or even the fifth, sixth of seventh if you’re like Lisanne) where gloom can creep into the picture.

It Happens to the Best of Us

Pulitzer Prize winning author John McPhee, who writes mostly nonfiction and is one of the most prolific writers of our time, famously said there are two types of writers: the overtly insecure and the covertly insecure. We will fret over the smallest things, and procrastinate out of fear that we’ll screw up a story we think is good so far. We are the only audience who reads our work in those formative stages of creation and it’s very easy to fall victim to the feelings of gloom and doom.

That chapter is just not good enough. Those characters just don’t feel real. The dialogue sounds contrived. The description in that scene sounds like something from a high school creative writing assignment.

Those are just a handful of the doubts that have probably crept into your head while reading something you’ve written the day, week or even years before. Who knows? You may be right in that assessment, but you may also be completely wrong. Before you give in to the temptation to just delete everything and start over, what do you do?

Find a Trusted Confidante (Or Even a Group of Them)

One of the most important things a writer can do is find other writers they trust to give clear, honest opinions. How do you do that? You find a writer’s group where you can share your work. It could be a Write-In or a Read and Review group like those found right here on the O.C. Writers Calendar of Events. It could be people from a class you’re taking or it could be something you find in an ad online. The point is to get out and share what you’ve written. It’s the best way to know if you’re on the right path.

This is especially true for those who write horror, suspense, or humor. Having someone you trust read your work and tell you whether it hit home is a huge help to your self-confidence. Better yet, if you read it aloud and actually hear your audience laugh or gasp.

Writers are People, Too

Finding a group that gives you what you need can also be tricky, because as McPhee said above, many writers are insecure about their own work. They may be willing to hear honest feedback about their own work but may have trouble sharing their opinions about yours. Or they may be so insecure about their own work that they tell you everything’s great, you don’t need to make any changes, just so that if you review their work, you’ll also pat them on the back and tell them how wonderful they are.

Beware of people like that. They can only do you harm in the long run. The only way to navigate this is through time and getting to know your fellow writers. You’ll find that some will be cheerleaders, some will be straightforward and some will be a good mix of the two. All three are important to have around you.

It Takes as Long as it Takes

When Lisanne was just a fledgling writer, she worried about how long it took to complete a novel. It seemed to take forever as she agonized over every little word. This is where the gloom can really set in. Will I ever finish? Will anyone actually read what I write once I do? And if they do, will they like it? Will they believe in my monsters? Are my monsters believable? Will readers willingly suspend their disbelief? Or will they laugh and call it garbage?

Likely many of you reading this feel the same way.

Nora Roberts averages a novel every forty-five days. FORTY-FIVE DAYS?? That’s insane. It took J.K. Rowling six years to write Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Most writers fall somewhere in between the two extremes.

The point is, don’t let those feelings of gloom and doom get you down or make you think you aren’t writing fast enough. Take the time you need to write a compelling story. Rushing through it will undoubtedly be noticed by your readers. Trust yourself.

It takes as long as it takes.


Cary Christopher, Author

Cary Christopher, Author

Cary Christopher was born and raised in Florida and Georgia but has called Southern California home now for almost 20 years. He’s written extensively about music, movies and pop culture online and for various publications around SoCal. Now he primarily writes for his blog ( His new novel The Wash is available on Amazon.

Link to my Amazon Authors Page:


Lisanne HarringtonAfter sixteen years as a paralegal, I staged a coup and left the straight-laced corporate world behind forever. I now pander to my muse, a sarcastic little so-and-so who delights in getting the voices in my head to either all speak at once in a cacophony of noise or to remain completely silent. Only copious amounts of Diet Cherry Dr. Peppers and hamburgers will ensure their complicity in filling my head with stories of serial killers, werewolves, and the things that live under your bed.

I live in SoCal, in the small town I fashioned Moonspell’s Wolf Creek after, with my beloved husband and persistently rowdy, always-has-to-have-the-last-word Miniature Pinscher, Fiona.


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