The wall of Self Doubt (and why you need to get over it)

I hit the wall this week.

Not a real wall. A metaphorical wall, if you will. The Wall of Self Doubt aka ‘Why did I ever think I could write a novel?’ aka ‘I’ve probably ruined my entire novel with this rewrite’ aka ‘I must have been out of my mind to jump on the writing train’.

The Wall came out of nowhere. I came back from the writers’ retreat in Ireland feeling pumped. Full of ideas. Full of energy. Full of confidence.

And then just like that it was gone. The ideas, the enthusiasm, the energy, the motivation, the confidence. All of it. The Wall appeared, and instead of bouncing back or climbing over it, I crumpled. And let the good stuff drain away.

For the past week, I’ve felt exhausted by early evening. I’ve fallen asleep reading and turned off the light by 10pm. I’ve woken at 6am each day. Still tired.

I haven’t wanted to write. Truth is, I’ve been almost scared to write. Instead of enjoying the process, I’ve been fearing the process. Unable to look at my manuscript. Worried about what my author friend who’s currently reading it. She said it said the bones of a good story. Bones? Bones! That’s the word I chose to focus on. Even as an editor for Serenity Press, my confidence wavered. Who was I to think I could help make someone else’s work better?

My husband asked me why I was so quiet. I get that way sometimes. I don’t always have something to say. Sometimes I like and need quiet. But he sensed there was something more.

‘It seems almost like you need reassuring,’ he said, pulling me into his arms. I relaxed against him and thought about this. And then it hit. He was right.

Reassurance is what I needed. Now, I’m not fishing for compliments here. I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I’m just floundering a bit and I need to grab hold of something so I can climb over the Wall. Only I can do it. Because it doesn’t matter what anyone says … I have to believe it myself.

I have to say, ‘Look here, Self Doubt, I know you like my company. But just for a while, how about you give me some personal space instead of squashing me.’ And, ‘Look here, Wall, you may have knocked me over, but you won’t keep me down.’

I can’t let the Wall do that. I need to get over it and get back on track. Because I’ve got something to say. A story to share. More than one. I’ve got words calling to be coaxed into life. I’ve put myself out there as a writer and I start believing in myself again.

And I will. But there’s something I have to do first. Something that will help me climb that Wall. I have to find my balance so I don’t get to the top and teeter-totter back down again.

Instead of forcing myself to write, I’ve focused on building myself up. Meditation, reading, chilling out with my husband, buying the Le Creuset stovetop kettle I didn’t need but have been eyeing off for ages (yep, I fell for the retail therapy trap). I’ve listened to a fantastic podcast called So You Want to be a Writer by Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait (this week’s episode, A Playlist for Writer’s Block) gave me hope as well as answered some questions I’d been mulling over. I read Natasha Lester’s latest blog post ‘On Throwing Away 75,000 words’ which was a bit of a ‘wow’ moment.

And I read and re-read some lovely writerly advice from none other than J.K. Rowling, which although it was shared on Twitter, was clearly meant just for me. Well, it felt like it, anyway. (Below is a video I made of her helpful tweets.)

I’m feeling stronger, more balanced, every day. I’m almost ready to climb that Wall. I’ve done it before. Who knows … next week I might be waving at you from the other side. That’s the plan.

Sharing this vulnerable part of me is another step of the way.

What do you do when you hit the Wall? 



Monique Mulligan

Monique Mulligan

15 Responses

  1. Thanks Monique, I needed to hear this too. I suffer so much with self doubt and after reading your post I am reminded that every writer at some point in their career have suffered with it too.

  2. Writers conferences and retreats are wonderful things, busy and vibrant. It does mean that as writers, we go from sitting alone at a computer – often in a dressing gown at noon with bed hair – happily writing in our solitude, to being surrounded by people full of ideas and opinions. Is it any wonder we come away on a super high that inevitably drains into self-doubt? I won an award at my very first writers conference. There I was, a complete unknown, standing on stage surrounded by hundreds of people who knew what they were doing…I didnt. I was clueless, and yet, I was the one holding the trophy. How the heck had that happened? To top it off, I’d just received my first publishing contract. And yet, all I wanted to do was run, hide away. Until I remembered one simple thing. I Loved Writing. It’s true, I had no idea what I was doing, and no idea if my newly minted contract would achieve either sales or acholades when released, and you know what? That was okay. I.Loved.Writing. Creating stories gave me pleasure and would continue to give me pleasure even if my gorgeous test reader was the only person who ever read them! As for skill and proficiency? I could learn that. I could learn the rules, as long as the process of learning gave me as much pleasure as the writing itself. It turned out it did. The more I learned, the more I loved it. The more I loved it, the more I learned. I’ll never stop writing. I’ll never stop learning, and I’ll never stop loving every step. As for you, my dear Monique. I’ve seen your editing skills first hand, and I’ve read your stories. You’re pretty awesome, and if there are some days you don’t believe that? Well, that’s okay too. Because tomorrow is a fresh day, with new skills to learn and new stories to tell. And there will always be people around to give hugs when needed.

    1. You’ve completely got where I’m coming from. That energy and excitement can’t last and it does drain away, sometimes a bit too much.

      And yes, it’s okay to have those mentally exhausted, ‘can’t deal’, ‘everything sucks including me’ days. They don’t last. Not for me, anyway.

  3. there’s always a commitment I’ve made which has to be fulfilled. So, even if it’s done by rote, it helps get over the pit of doubt. It’s the same with exercise, you have to do it out of habit until you find the joy again. A little simplistic, but I hope you grasp the gist of what I mean.

  4. Thank you for being open and honest about your own self-doubt. I hope it helped you to write about it. I can see from the comments that it definitely made others, like me, feel less alone.
    I don’t have any brilliant solutions but I agree that time away from writing is sometimes just what we need, as well as turning to the wisdom of other writers. I love Anne Lamott’s book ‘Bird by Bird’ … it’s my go-to book whenever I lose all faith in myself!
    Wishing you glorious writing days ahead.

    1. Thank you also. It did help me – it was like a release, being able to say how I felt, and then let go. I realised that the Wall was inevitable after months of working flat out. And a break is exactly what I have allowed myself. Two wonderful friends came and had tea with me today and we did nothing but drink tea and talk. Very much needed.

  5. Monique It was so brave of you to write this- from my perspective its heartening to know that busy, productive you can feel this way, You’ve had a tremendous year, achieved a lot and expect far more of yourself( I think we all do). The retreat wasn’t such a retreat for you, as you were hostess as well as cooking and then the London Book Fair was a big event too.
    So take the downtime play, read, research, cook, chat and mostly just allow yourself this space.
    Your blog alone shows your writing talent- I have confidence that you will be back!

  6. Great post, Monique. Finally had a chance to read it and I can totally relate to your feelings of self-doubt and the temptation to question everything we’ve ever worked toward.
    Keep on at it!

    1. Thanks, Lauren. Writing is so hard – at the moment, I feel like I can’t trust my own gut, so I have to walk away. But, hopefully, not for long.

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