5 Guaranteed Ways to Hate Your
Own Writing

image of shoe about to step on a banana peel

If you’re like the majority of writers out there, you’re a self-doubting bundle of neuroses, determined to believe that your writing will never be good enough.

That’s the life of the tortured, misunderstood writer, right?

What’s that? You think you’re pretty good at writing and actually like some of your own work?

Don’t worry, it’s just a blip. With these 5 tips you’ll soon be joining the rest of the writing community in feeling crappy about your ability and so-called “talent.”

1. Make sure that it’s never finished

You don’t really think that piece of writing is done, do you? Come on, there’s always room to finesse something and you know full well that in a couple of days you’ll think of something new to add.

It might take a year to get it finished, but hey, it’s always good to get it absolutely perfect before showing it to the world. Best to keep it on the “unfinished” pile for now.

2. Ignore any past success

If you’ve been lucky enough to get something published, online or offline, it’s probably just a case of being in the right place at the right time. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you wrote something good, that you tapped into a rich, provocative subject, or that your words struck a chord.

Sometimes writers get lucky. The chance of it happening again is about the same as seeing Ernest Borgnine win “So You Think You Can Dance.” Nope, it’s back to square one for you.

3. Recognize that the idea you had isn’t good enough

You know that idea that came to you, the one you’re pretty excited about? You might have already started writing, fuelled by a burst of enthusiasm and a spurt of passion for what you’re saying.

Hang on though — just because you think it’s a good idea doesn’t make it a good idea. Who are you to say what other people will be interested in or what’s relevant to them?

One way to improve your “great” idea is to make sure you have every angle covered and to apply a generous wash of generalism over it to make sure it has as wide an appeal as possible.

Even better, just leave it on your “Possible Ideas” list.

4. Never trust your own voice

All of your writing comes from your own head and your own experience.

And let’s face facts, that means that anything you write is probably as far off-target as penguin pie at a Greenpeace picnic.

It’s good practice to doubt what you say and how you say it. That’s what all the really good writers do.

Constant self-doubt makes sure that you’re always on edge and, most important, that you never make any mistakes or write something strange or different.

5. Give up when you feel like it

Writing’s hard. You probably already knew that. Sometimes it’s incredibly frustrating, painful and awkward to get those darn words out onto the page, and while some people say that’s part of the process and it passes, feel free to take it as a sign to give up.

Not everything you write will work and you can’t be expected to keep sweating when it gets tough.

Always remember that you started writing for the joy of it, not because it’s hard. You’re a writer, not a wrestler, so the sooner you stop grappling with that sweaty, slippery and stubborn piece of writing the sooner you can go and write something easier.

What’s that you say?

Of course, I suppose it’s possible that you don’t want to feel crappy about your writing. If that’s the case, I guess you could try doing the reverse of these five pieces of advice.

Then again, that would probably never work. Forget I mentioned it.

About the Author: As a leading confidence coach with clients right around the world, Steve Errey has a reputation for talking sense and getting results. Get more from him at The Confidence Guy.

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Comments

  1. I read through while feeling a little puzzled about the whole passage until the 2nd last paragraph. :) I like the twist near the end (whether that’s intentional or not), will follow my instinct and do the opposite plus a few modifications of the strategies. Thanks for the ‘A-ha!’ moment.

    @wchingya
    Social/Blogging Tracker

  2. Interesting. Even though I mentally reversed each point, I still felt pretty crappy at the end of reading this.

    Maybe I’m just over-sensitive, but the negativety really did strike a real cord that my logical brain had trouble reversing.

    I guess I have less true confidense in my ability than the average writer on the copyblogger list.

    Not exactly the best way to start out the morning :-<

  3. Steve,

    Great twist on a topic that many of us face. I really appreciate the “giving up” section in number 5. It’s not every day that we can all be successful. Some of us really have to do a terrible job first in order to finally follow our passions to the point where our bodies won’t let us give up anymore.

    I think when you can get to that point, then you truly have made it. Success is not just ones and zeros. It’s also the innate ability to keep going no matter how many tomatoes have been thrown at you.

  4. You’re right about “writing is hard”. But aren’t you supposed to encourage people here??? I’m confused. It’s true some things like writing can be hard, but Steve, add at the end something to encourage your readers, or make it like a challenge for writers to be better!

  5. Raul, it’s tongue-in-cheek, Steve didn’t really want you to give up. :) (Hm, maybe this should have been an April Fool’s day post!)

  6. Hi Steve, I like the twist on the subject.

    I also find a very common problem I call “bloggers block”,
    you just can’t get yourself to start writing the next post.

    What works for me is to start, just write the title and save as a draft. The next time I go into my dashboard I’ll click that draft and keep writing.

    Basic Human psychology I guess, but try it – this works.

    Ami
    Bee a Blogger | REAL-TIME Blogging Report

  7. Insightful and accurate.

    Notice, I did not say “I think…”; I’m learning to respect myself and my thoughts as I interact with others who are simply doing the same through writing.

    #1 is #1 for me…learning to draft it, simmer it, limit my edits.

    Thanks, enjoyed your post!

  8. Thank you for the post. I know what you were aiming at, but the negative does not reinforce the positive in me. A good lesson to remember about myself.

  9. #1 is probably the biggest one for me, that temptation to keep polishing and adding and revising until I don’t even want to look at it any more. :) Thanks for the reminder!

  10. This post spoke to me. I mean, it really spoke to me.

    I think that most writers have eggshell egos. For me, Bonnie Friedman’s quote from “Writing Past Dark” says it all:

    “Every day I must prove to myself I am a writer. The knowledge goes away in my sleep.”

    One of your points was especially meaningful to me:

    1. Make sure it’s never finished.

    I am the queen of the self-improvement junkies. Books, conferences, bring ‘em on because I don’t think I know enough to be able to finish that novel.

    Several years ago, the New York Times best-selling mystery author, Elizabeth George, delivered the keynote at the Whidbey Island Writers’ Conference. What she said made my writing coach, sitting two rows ahead of me, glance back with that I-told-you-so smirk-smile she gets.

    George said to us, “You don’t need another book. There will always be another book. Just get out there and do it.”

    I glared at my coach. But I knew that Elizabeth George was right.

    Thanks, Steve, for so lovingly reminding us that we need to push through our fears.

  11. I realize this post was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but I think some people might read it the wrong way. Confidence boosters seem to work so much better here than more sour, depressive notes. ;)

  12. Excellent post! Why is it that so many of us are full of self-doubt when it comes to our own writing? I’m passing this post along to a few of my friends.

    Thanks!

  13. Crikey, looks like some of you are taking me literally. Before I get to individual responses, let me just say that this piece is entirely sarcastic. I’ve used these points to illustrate just how crazy our thinking can be sometimes, not as actual pointers for how to tackle your writing! Okay, that’s off my chest, here we go.

    @Ching Ya: Glad you read to the end and understood where I was coming from :D It’s just about seeing what negative patterns you might fall into and then being able to notice them when they happen so that you can make a different decision.

    @anonymous: Sorry to leave you deflated :( Sounds like one or two of these patterns of thinking might be familiar to you – what’s another way you can use these pointers to inflate?

    @Joshua: Keeping on going while covered in tomatoes, indeed. Thanks for reading!

    @Raul: This article IS intended to be a challenge for people – challenging the patterns of thinking that might bring you down so you can stop it before it happens. By the way, you’re the best Raul! Go Raul! Awesome!

    @Sonia: Thanks m’dear, roll on April :P

    @Ami: Great point and another way that writers get in their own way. I actually use the same strategy as you – some mornings I look at those empty pages with titles at the top and suddenly one of them will jump out at me and I get writing.

    @Steve: Thanks Steve, appreciate your feedback.

    @Story Woman: Take it with the heavy pinch of salt it was intended, but glad you got a lesson from it all the same.

    @Sonia: Polishing, finessing and tweaking is an endless process isn’t it? That sick feeling you get when you can’t stand to look at it anymore is a sure sign of over-polishing!

    @Judy: Thanks so much Judy, a great example. Writers are sensitive beings, perhaps that’s a requirement of the job, and to stay in the safe zone many are prone to thinking or learning rather than doing.

    @Sherice: I’m sure this post will push a few buttons, but the intention is to grow awareness, not to be depressive.

    @Uma: Thanks loads, I appreciate that :D

  14. I appreciate this surprising post for reminding me that the only one who can keep me down is me. Thanks for the attitude, Steve.

    For those who found this post discouraging, just think of it as a way to toughen up your writer’s skin. Discouragement is only discouraging if you allow it to be.

  15. Great article, but I think it could be simplified to:

    1. Be a writer.

    Regardless of following any advice (or its opposite :), I don’t think any writer with a realistic ego can love their own writing. We can always read someone else’s brilliance and realize we’ll never be that good, or find just a few more words to cut from the latest draft, etc etc. Some of that’s healthy, as long as we can accept imperfection when we need to let go.

  16. Thank you for that. It came just at the right moment — I’m starting copy for a new website and you touched every relevant pain point. I nearly gave up for the morning but now I will attack again with a vengeance. And a thicker skin.

  17. I know this piece is tongue in cheek. I believe it’s meant to convey that good things happen, when you think and act just the opposite of these points…and the flip backwards was for effect. I think it maybe struck a nerve in all of us. Anyone who has been at this for a while knows how important confidence is, when we tackle any subject. However, in the back of many minds lurk thoughts, similar to these, that we try to keep locked up. I know some of these hit home with me and I’m the most positive guy I know (my circle of friends is suspect).

    Thanks for the reality check, even though it was bass-ackwards.

  18. Thanks for the laugh. Getting ready to sit down this morning, and every damn day I face the same resistance. Even with a published novel under my belt. This &*(P&% never goes away. Perhaps that’s the edge every writer needs. Read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield for insight and a kick in the arse.

  19. Nice post Steve. I think these are all the traits of people who are not confident with their writing. You hit it on the head here describing the things we should not be doing. To like our writing, we must start doing the opposite of the five things you just mentioned here. Thanks for this funny post!

  20. For me, this post showed me how silly the whole line of thinking can be for writers. We second-guess ourselves so much, and our thinking just becomes kind of crazy.

    Clearly didn’t work for everyone, though. :)

  21. Like this a lot – I’m a painter – but the rules apply equally – made me laugh – always a good sign – it’s true

  22. I loved it. Made me happy to realize that I’m only haunted now by the whole “Hey-just-give-up-if-it’s-too-hard” demon of writer’s negativity. All of us who write have had these thoughts, all of them, and if you cannot face them down, you are going to go crazy trying to push forward as a writer.

    You are your own advocate. You have to know your own work. You have to know your strengths and your weaknesses. And YOU have to show them off and fix them as necessary.

    Really good piece.

  23. Interesting but somewhat painful post. :)

    I have had to resort to making a contract with the man in mirror to NOT get in a writing rut by maintaining an honest and fresh view each and every day.

    Some days are harder than others!!!

  24. Thank you. This is just what I needed to read today. I’m going to print this out and post it next to my desk.

  25. I love your sense of humor. I helped me laugh at my fears and doubts when it comes to my writing.

  26. LOL! I loved how you made your point by attacking this issue from the opposing side. Lots of good truth here!

  27. Too funny.

    Steve, I bet when you wrote “5 Guaranteed Ways to Hate (((YOUR))) Own Writing” you didn’t think people would take YOU up on it.

    Great write. Just what people reluctantly needed.

  28. @Jay: Spot on, thanks for your comment.

    @Phronk: Hehehe – “be a writer” is a pretty broad category ain’t it?! Not sure I agree that a writer can’t love their own writing – I think it’s absolutely possible, even if it is sometimes fleeting.

    @Colin: Glad that it worked for you. Let me know how the project goes.

    @Steve Benedict: Confidence is most certainly important (although you’d probably expect me to say that), and not keeping thoughts locked up is part of what real confidence is about – trusting yourself to acknowledge the good stuff and the bad stuff.

    @Lee: Published novel? Nice work fella! An interesting point about whether writers need to dance on the edge of the confident/not confident good writer/bad writer line in order to do good work. I think there’s something in that – I’ll have a think on it. Any thoughts from anyone else?

    @Hulbert: Thanks for that, glad it worked for you.

    @sonia: Silly indeed. Silly, silly, silly with a silly cherry on.

    @Steve C-L: Yeah, I guess the “rules” apply to any activity that has a creative element – good point. Glad you chuckled!

    @Beki: Bang on, thanks loads for your input and feedback.

    @Michael: Painful maybe, but they do say that the truth hurts :P

    @Sharon: Good stuff – keep on going!

    @David: Thank you David, much appreciated.

    @Kevin: Thanks fella, I attacked it a little too viraciously for some :P

    @Shane: Lol – the ol’ turn around trick huh?!

  29. Classic approach to the “glass is half empty” view of the world. It really makes the point that we need to be looking at idea that the glass is half full.

    I found this very encouraging. Thanks for sharing!

  30. Thanks for this post! I was especially struck by #5. Facing another round of revisions, I felt like giving up a couple weeks ago, and I didn’t—great reminder that it wouldn’t actually make me feel better. (Less stressed than revisions do, perhaps, but not better ;) .)

  31. Enjoyed the article, definitely put a smile on my face. Great points and I’m talking about the intentional meanings. It was something different from most advice columns and kept me hooked. I think a great point, you make is to give work a break and come back to it. I always feel that I have to finish what I started right when I start it. Great work and nice ending.

  32. Hi Steve,

    This is purty darn hilarious. The funniest thing I’ve read on Copyblogger since I subscribed months ago.

    I’m pretty new to copywriting and have been told that quirky humour, for all intents and purposes, is a no-no. But I maintain that it makes people feel good! Not sure of its commercial viability – and I’m sure some party-pooping market research will prove me wrong – but dammit, works for me!

    I’ve always been a vocal detractor of that old adage, “Sarcasm is the lowest from of communication”. Glad to see someone – The Confidence Guy, no less – thinks the same way. Joy!

    As far as my professional writing’s going so far, I suspect I’m a bipolar copywriter – shifting from happy as Scarlett Johansson’s husband one day (who is he again?), to depressed as an emo who just missed out on My Chemical Romance tickets the next. A hell of a ride, to be sure. But I wouldn’t have it any other way!

    Thanks for the negative positive reinforcement,

    Casey.

    “Penguin pie at a Greenpeace picnic.” *snicker*

  33. Steve

    Great post that points out how crazy and ridiculous we can get when we write an article. #5 I think is the best and it is such a reflection on how to lose the winning spirit. Sometimes though I do think that people get so wrapped up in the numbers that they have to think that not every article will garner a 1st page on Digg but that their loyal readers will appreciate and to write for audience and not for the numbers.

    Thanks for the poking fun it always helps identify with how we an unravel over a article.

    @SuzanneVara

  34. #3 is something we all get hung up on once in a while. Just like we learned in school – there are no stupid questions.

  35. @Casey, thanks for mentioning the penguin pie, that was my favorite bit. :)

  36. Describes my own struggles with writing to a tee! It often feels like trying to squeeze water out of a rock…., but I guess I’m not alone fighting an uphill battle. Question: How long did it take to pen this great piece?

  37. It’s funny how good ideas can become great, and great ideas can wither and die if we over-engineer them enough.

    When you look into your heart-of-hearts and your soul-of-souls, sometimes an idea just needs to be birthed as is … then let it do the phoenix thing from there.

  38. Never trust your own voice, is often considered a nuisance when we think that the belief that suddenly present.
    Thanks Steve!

  39. @Ted: Great point, thanks Ted.

    @Jordan: Keep it up and you’ll have it nailed in no time :D

    @Ralph: Absolutely – part of writing is knowing how you write at your best. Some people can sit down and write for hours at a time, others can write for 30 minutes and then need to do something else before returning. Both are valid – it’s down to what works for you.

    @Casey: Thanks so much – I always feel that my best writing is writing that feels natural, and I love a little bit of quirkyness and even eccentricity from time to time. And Scarlett Johansson’s married? And this is how I find out?!

    @Suzanne: You’re welcome m’dear.

    @Steinar: Absolutely right, thanks for reading.

    @sonia: Hehehe, I’m quite fond of that bit too :D

    @Joe: Thanks fella. It didn’t take long actually – I’d say around 3 hours in total.

    @J.D.: Very true – it’s a case of balance and paying attention to where your attention is/isn’t.

  40. Hi Steve,

    I had a good laugh reading your article as I could resonate with quite a few myself. There is a term in psychology called “Paradoxical Intention” . The therapist prescribes the very problem that the client presents with and asks the latter to do more of the same. Interestingly then the problem behaviour becomes less and less. Although it doesn’t work for all, for some it help shift perceptive & focus, and opens up new doors. It is not an approach commonly used in the first session as more emphasis is given to building trust and a therapeutic relationship first.

    Your “funny and twisted angle” approach to deal with a problem, common to newbie writers (like myself) is quite similar to the concept of paradoxical intention. Some may not like it but some (again – like me) may find it hilarious and motivating.

    Thanks for the great read.

    With warmth,

    Rani

  41. I loved this and found comfort in knowing the thoughts in my head are not just in MY head. That alone made want to keep writing!

  42. HA! These are hilarious, I think every writer has actually experienced these thoughts at one time or another, but like you said the important thing is to do the opposite and keep plugging away.

  43. I encounter writers who are not confident enough of their skills and I think they are just new in the industry. By continue writing I know eventually they will believe that they are indeed a great writer.

  44. Thanks for the great tips. I am always second-guessing my writing abilities. However, I find that the more I write, the better I become!

  45. @Rani: Great comment and I hadn’t come across Paradoxical Intention before, so thanks for that. Funny and twisted, that’s me :P

    @Joyce: You’re not alone Joyce! Glad you enjoyed it.

    @Matt: Thanks fella. Doesn’t even have to be doing the opposite – sometimes just noticing these is enough to do something, anything that works better.

    @Vista: It’s not exclusive to new writers – folks who’ve been in the industry for years can still lack confidence in their skills. I’ve received a few emails as a result of this post from really successful writers who still don’t believe they have what it takes…

    @Montreux: You’re welcome. Keep developing that writing muscle and trust yourself to do your best.

  46. Im a published “writer” who totally relates to this!!!!! my husband forwarded me this link and honestly…its made my day that Im not alone in my self doubt as a writer!

  47. I like the way you have explained the things and this is the case in almost all the walks of life.

  48. Wow! I do all these things. Thanks for posting this.

  49. I’ll go break my keyboard and run into my hole now.

    Seriously though, I find that most of time, I’m very insecure about my writing. It kills me a little bit each time I press “send” or “publish” on anything I write. But I just tell myself that I’ll never get better unless I keep pressing on.

    Thanks for the boot-camp style advice.

  50. Ouch, my poor brain is finding it hard to cope with the constant double negative of this post.
    I agree though. Even if I’m still not sure about what I’m agreeing with. Or the opposite.

  51. Hi steve, this is a great post. I was just starting my own blog and still looking for a lot of inspiration where I can lear and get more ideas. This is a very information post and I hope to read more from you. Here is my blog, http://www.PinoyWebBlog.com, I was wondering if you can give you some ideas or what are the things that I still need to learn. Thank you so much in advance.

    Cheers,
    pinoywebblog.com

  52. Excellent joke post. Good aim at the ways people give up and get deflated. I’m in the middle of at least two of these sins and I’ve got three pieces pending paying publication. It’s so easy to get irrationally down. This is by far my favorite net list in a long time. Probably ever, since I normally can’t stand them.

  53. I found your article after typing the following search into Google…”How to appreciate your own writing”.

    I really needed to read your words because I saw myself in all the 5 points.

    I think if you had written the standard “How to appreciate your own writing” article using positive points, it would not have given me quite as much insight into myself and my writing patterns as this one because there is tremendous impetus for change when we see clearly what we are doing wrong.

    I thank you…and I have just subscribed.