“The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing: isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”
The above quote was taken from Robert De Niro’s presentation for the Best Screenwriting category at the 2014 Academy Awards. I don’t know who was responsible for writing the words spoken by De Niro, but whoever wrote them perfectly captured the mindset of a writer.
Writers are a unique animal. We sit for hours alone in front of a computer, making up imaginary worlds populated with imaginary people, often spending more time with our fictional creations than with real human beings. You can make the argument that when it comes to certain people, this isn’t always a bad thing.
The problem is that we spend so much time alone in our own heads that we often feel isolated—not just physically but emotionally. Most of our closest friends and family, even our spouses or partners, no matter how much they love us and care about us, they can’t always relate to how we feel when something isn’t working. They don’t know what it’s like to be lost or stuck creatively. They don’t understand how the 500 words we managed to squeeze out of our heads and fingers one bloody letter at a time during four frustrating hours feels like utter failure compared to all of the writers on Facebook and Twitter pumping out 5,000 words. Before lunch.
And so, many of us sit there in front of our computers, alone and struggling, thinking that all of these other writers who are more prolific or successful than we are have it all figured out and know what they’re doing and we believe that no one else is going through what we’re going through.
The truth is, we are not alone.
Every writer experiences self-doubt. Sometimes it just couch surfs for a couple of nights, while other times it buys a timeshare and stays in your guest room for a month, but it’s there. Trust me. It’s there.
Self-loathing is another house guest who shows up in the mind of a writer, causing us to compare our writing to that of other writers and making us feel like we’re garbage and leaving us wondering why anyone would ever want to read a single pathetic word we’ve ever written.
Procrastination only adds to the self-loathing, as we feel like losers for wasting our time playing video games or binge-watching Netflix or spending hours on Facebook and Twitter instead of doing what we’re supposed to be doing: writing.
We get moody when we’re not channeling our inner Fitzgerald or Vonnegut or Austen. We get depressed. We get anxious. We get frustrated. We allow a single negative one-star review from some moron on Amazon to completely ruin the thirty-two five-star reviews that sing our praises. And we experience envy and jealousy when other writers earn the success that we think we deserve.
It’s okay to feel these things. While you don’t want the envy and jealousy to control you, or allow the self-doubt to take up permanent residence, all of this is normal. It’s part of being a writer. Understand this and embrace this and know that this path you’ve chosen matters. You’re creating. You’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. And that’s more important than word counts or five-star reviews.
You are a writer. And you are not alone.
*This post appeared originally April 15, 2014, on SFSignal.com.