Wallowing in Self-Doubt

Wallowing in Self-Doubt

It’s 1 p.m. on a Friday. I’m home alone, sitting at the kitchen table, a half-eaten Caesar salad before me. Upstairs, my laptop idles. I know I should be up there, fingers on keys, writing. Yet here I sit.

I pick up Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. I’m halfway through the book, which I’ve been reading in spurts for the past two weeks. As I peruse, my hand flies across the page, a yellow Sharpie marking up entire passages such as:

“This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. … This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

YES. I love Pressfield’s words. This book…it gets me. I feel inspired and encouraged and I know, with Pressfield’s help, I can do this. I can WRITE.


I realize I’ve been staring out the window. Minutes have passed. Somewhere along the way, my eyes left the page and my brain took me on an inspirational journey, one in which I’m a full-time, well-paid, capital-w Writer.

A bird on the feeder looks at me, tilts his head sideways, and flitters off, his beak dribbling seeds as he takes flight.

I should be writing.

Out of the corner of my eye, light glistens off a plastic book jacket: John Dufresne’s Flash! Writing the Very Short Story. I need to read this. My fiction writing has stalled as of late, and I’m intrigued by flash fiction, those stories of a few hundred words or less.

I pick up Dufresne’s book and scan the first chapter. I can’t highlight this time — this book belongs to the public library —but I stop every so often to jot down nuggets of wisdom into my phone.

I’m again feeling inspired…until I get to page 12. Daniel Staesser’s “Narcissus Redeemed,” a work of flash fiction that sets the myth of Echo and Narcissus in a contemporary setting, is printed in its entirety. It’s brilliant.

I’ll never write like that, I think, feeling defeated.

I put the book down and trudge upstairs to my office. Stephen King’s The Outsider, another from the library, sits on my desk. All 560 pages of it, due back in less than two weeks. I need to write, but I also need to read. King says so himself in On Writing:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

So now I feel doubly guilty. I’m not writing and I’m not really reading. When I do read, my mind wanders (because I’m thinking about how I should be writing) and I end up in a staring contest with a finch.

I need to break this vicious cycle. I read about writing, but feel that I should actually be writing instead. So I write, but dislike what I’m writing. In response, I pick up a book about writing in an attempt to better my work, but then feel I should write instead of read. You get the picture.

My goals are not lofty. I’m not looking to be a Pulitzer Prize winner. I just want to do something I enjoy for a living. And I enjoy writing. But lately I’ve found myself doubting my abilities, lacking focus, and unable to churn out work as quickly, or as well, as I would like.

I wanted to write this post as a “How To.” But in this case, I don’t know how to. I’m hoping the answer comes to me soon. Because I’m really tired of staring at finches.


A version of this post first appeared in The Writing Cooperative

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