Despina Karintis was a closeted cinephile who channeled her obsession and took up the craft of screenwriting. Her adventures across the globe, including sliding down glaciers, skirmishing with sharks, and nearly drowning in a desert tinaja, inspired her scripts in the Action/Thriller and Comedy genres. Despina is Co-Founder of Story Broads and hopes to broaden the horizon of women in film for generations to come. Twitter: @Wonder_Writer
Ahhh, self-doubt. Good ol’ self-doubt. That crippling, invisible disability that sneaks up on us from time to time. Oh, how I hate thee. Let me count the ways…
- It’s overwhelming.
- It makes me feel inadequate and insecure.
- It’s debilitating.
- It can affect me personally AND professionally.
- It can amount to self sabotage.
Anyone else experience this?
But what is self-doubt? And why do we get it? The easy answer: lack of confidence in one’s self and one’s abilities. The difficult answer: grab a couch and a couple of tissues and reach deeeeeeep into your psyche because it can stem from any number of past experiences, both direct and indirect. Maybe someone made fun of your first attempt at a joke on the playground, or you tripped during a big game, or choked on a speech in front of the class. Or maybe you hold yourself to a ridiculously high preconceived standard based on someone else’s success that is impossible to reach on a first (second, third, twentieth) attempt and the ensuing tumble and collapse smudges the notion of possibility you once held dear. Simply put: it’s the fear of sucking. The fear of being seen as an unworthy hack. The fear of failure. Doubting yourself. Self-doubt.
Jesus, that’s depressing. But there’s hope!
How do I know? I don’t, really. I’m still battling the tumbling and falling on attempt 10ish and hate everything about what I do and cry way more than I should. But, I’m somewhat lifted by the inspiration of others who have tried and failed 11 times and made it. Or 50. We’ve all heard the stories, no need for me to write about them here. What I can write about is how I struggle and overcome my own crippling self-doubt.
As far as writing goes, it usually rears its ugly head around January or February just as I charge into submission season and have to let go of my baby and let someone actually read it. And since my season is already off to a glorious rejection-filled start, I find myself heading back into the deep, dark corner of doubt and fear (of ability and failure) and I start to question myself again. And again and again.
Here’s one resounding reason why: Because writing is a passion. It’s something I want to do well and succeed. It’s also my truest voice. And it’s more than a little daunting to let people know your true passions or hear your inner voice for fear of judgment, criticism, and rejection. I don’t want to be judged, criticized, or rejected on something I hold so dear. I don’t want to be told it’s bad or wrong. Or that I shouldn’t quit my day job. I want to be heard and understood and to connect and be appreciated and, yes, lauded. Heralded. Paraded. I want to dance in my delusions of grandeur of becoming the next Nora Ephron, Carrie Fisher, or Emma Thompson.
I want to find that tone or story that rings true enough with someone to want to hear more.
But that hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps it’s because I still need work. Perhaps it’s my structure or my dialogue. Maybe I haven’t worked out all the kinks to make it really sing; my voice is still cracking. But I still have to put myself out there, otherwise what’s the point?
As I sit here fretting and sweating over my latest WIPs, I doubt my writing, and I freeze. Rather than write, I stop… because I’m afraid I’ll suck. I’m afraid everything I write sucks and everyone will judge me and scoff at my lack of traction. This fear of sucking is, quite literally, stopping me from writing [read: practicing, creating] so I stagnate. I do nothing and go nowhere. And mope.
So what do I do?
Luckily, and this is important, I have an amazing crew of fellow writers to fall back on for a little validation every once in a while. Outside of that, I have a little something I refer to often from John Cleese’s Lecture on Creativity. There are a lot of good take-aways from the lecture, but for the sake of this article, the point that always hits me like a ton of ‘no shit’ bricks:
Confidence “Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”
Say that out loud. Repeat it as often as possible. Does that ring true for you? Because it definitely does for me, and I suspect this is why I procrastinate so much. But why? Why am I so scared? Because I’m scared of failing at something I love. And because writing your heart out and letting people in on that is a vulnerable thing to do. Honestly, it freaks me out.
But, if we want to get anywhere with our craft, we have to practice and put ourselves out there and be willing to receive feedback and critique. Yes, there might be some unwanted criticism and judgment. But how do we learn, evolve, grow, or progress if we don’t pick up the pieces and move on every now and then? We’ll never know unless we try, right?
One thing that’s easy to forget, but that we must keep in mind when our work is out there: the feedback, critique, criticism, and judgment is all subjective. Remember that word. Subjective: (adjective) based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions. Just as you won’t like everyone you come across or you won’t be liked by everyone who meets you, our work can take the same path in someone else’s hands.
And yet here I am not even listening to my own advice. And now I’m already behind on where I wanted to be when I set out on this writing journey. All because of fear. But I am putting myself out there bit by bit. This year I’ve taken bigger steps and gone further outside my comfort zone and even though it’s still a bit daunting, I’m a bit bolder.
There will always be self-doubt and there will always be people who don’t like your work or stifle your voice or efforts. My advice: do it for you first and foremost and perhaps somewhere along the way you’ll find your strength and confidence. But you won’t find it by just sitting there fretting and sweating and moping in dark corners. Suck it up, buttercup!
View Control Fear, Just Write Now and Inspire Your Writing Career
Join the Script newsletter where you’ll find tips and inspiration for your screenwriting career.