How Writers Can Stop Being Consumed by the Fear of Not Being Good Enough

Although I have always considered myself a writer, I have also spent many years not writing. In fact, for most of high school, college, and my 20s, I didn’t write at all. Not one story, not one poem. During that period, I was mostly entangled in living the life of a depressed alcoholic, while trying to keep my shit somewhat together in the meantime. So, you could say I didn’t have time to write, but the truth was that I was really in no place to write.

I didn’t start writing seriously—and by seriously I mean that I committed to sitting down and doing it at least once a week—until 2006, one year after I got sober. Two things happened when I committed to the practice of writing. Number one, I found that it was hard. It challenged me on nearly every level and forced me to look honestly at my addictions, my demons, my self-loathing, and my depression. Number two, it felt better than anything I had ever done before. It felt like a huge relief to open doors within myself that had been closed for years and let all those long-buried thoughts and feelings pour out of me onto the page.

I spent 2006 until 2008 writing a huge sprawling mess of a memoir about my drinking days. I wasn’t thinking about revisions. I wasn’t thinking about publishing. I wasn’t even thinking about showing it to anyone, ever. It was just for me. My manuscript was this totally private place that I went to record the things I had seen and felt and lived through. It was a special, intimate refuge where I could be completely myself, drop out of daily life for a little while, and slow down enough to sift through my feelings and make sense of my past.

Then, I finished it. And then, I started another manuscript. Then I started a writing group. I got more and more dedicated to writing until I decided I wanted to try writing fiction, and I loved it. Then I started a blog and then I started coaching other writers. Things just sort of snowballed until I was at this point where I was waking up every day with multiple writing tasks already on my plate. This was a very good thing. I loved writing and I had always wanted to be a writer, so I was extremely grateful that I was living a life that included writing in so many different ways.

But something else happened, something not so good.

The more experienced I got with writing, especially after I published and started having to approach it from the business and publication side of things, the more I realized I was losing touch with that quiet, special, safe sanctuary that writing had always been for me. Much of the time, when I wrote anything now, I knew I was writing for an audience and so I always had the reader’s potential reaction in my mind. Sometimes the reader was an agent, or the judges of a writing contest, and sometimes they were the consumers on Amazon, browsing around looking for their next great story. But almost always, there was this someone  who I was already picturing reading my stuff, and on some level, I was already worried about pleasing them.

I was already afraid that I wasn’t good enough.

When I stopped and searched around inside myself about how this made me feel as a writer, I saw that I had gone from feeling nourished and inspired about the practice of writing  to worried and doubtful about my abilities as a writer. And as long as the focus stayed on this self-doubt about my abilities, my experience of writing was way less fun than it had been before.

I think this is an easy trap for any of us writers to fall into. We start out doing it because we love it, and because we need  to do it. It’s essential for the health of our mind and heart and soul. Writing is the way we make sense of the world, and the way we make sense of ourselves. But somewhere along the way we get caught up in looking around at what everyone else is doing and if we should be doing it that way and if other people like our writing and if we’ll ever get their approval, or more sales, or some sort of award, or on the bestseller list, or whatever it is that our mind has grasped onto as our version of “winning the game.”

We get caught up, and then finally consumed, by the fear of not being good enough.

But the thing is, no matter what “winning the game” means to us, it is, at the core, all the same thing. It is an illusion. There is no winning the game. There are only events that happen, and then they pass. We get the approval, for a little while. We get the agent or the spike in sales or the award—or we get the rejection, the disappointment, or the lack of interest—and then it’s over, and we’re left again where we were before, alone with ourselves and our writing.

It can feel very disappointing and disheartening, if we have lost touch with the real reasons behind our commitment to the practice of writing.

No matter how lost we get in the comparison and achievement game that is so prevalent in our society, the truth is that writing is a sacred act that is a gift to each of us from the Universe. It is a safe place we can always go to soothe our troubled hearts and minds. It is a source of energy that feeds our imagination and creative spirit. And it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing or how they’re doing it. The practice of writing fits each of us, uniquely, like a glove, no matter who we are or what our experiences in life have been. And when we are able to pause from the frantic busyness of our lives and really see that, the fear of not being good enough gently falls away. It becomes obvious that there is no “good enough.” There is only whatever you are right now, in this moment, and whatever that is, it’s okay.

This is the important truth we must always come back to as writers. Writing is a practice that is a gift given to us. It is a refuge and a place of nourishment. It is a home where we are always welcome, and where it is always acceptable to be totally ourselves, no matter what that looks like to the rest of the world.

There is no “good enough.” There is only you, right now, and whatever that is, it’s enough.

Lauren Sapala is the author of  Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers, a guide to help any HSP, INFJ, INFP, or introvert writer move past resistance to selling and marketing their work. She is also the author of  The INFJ Writer, a writing guide made specifically for sensitive intuitive writers.