Self Doubt in Writing

Do you ever get the feeling when you look at a word and you know it’s spelled right, and that it’s a word, but it just doesn’t look right to you after staring at it a million times? That’s like the self doubt that creeps in when I start to read over my work again.

I know it happens to all of us writers and poets at some point or another. We want our work to be perfect and to capture the emotions we are feeling in the best way possible, so we hurriedly pour out our feelings in the moment and think it is amazing. Then the next day, we look back and, all of a sudden, those words aren’t seeming so perfect anymore.

Semantic Satiation

There actually is a scientific name for this sensation. Semantic satiation, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is “the effect in which a word seems to lose its meaning after it has been repeated many times in rapid succession.” It is not super well-known, but there’s something pretty satisfying about the fact that this feeling is not all just in our heads as writers and poets – it is real.

If you’re curious to learn more about the science and psychology behind this, check out this link here.

Self Doubt and My Thoughts on Revision

In all honesty, this feeling is why I hate the process of revision. There’s something about rereading your poems that were so raw in the moment, capturing all of that energy in a way that transports you back in time to when you wrote it each time you read it, that makes trying to change them heartbreaking in a way. And I mean it when I say heartbreaking. Because how else can you describe the process of reading your poems enough times that you eventually doubt all of the work you put in?

I would say that I have definitely grown in confidence as a writer and even as a person during the past year, but I still hate revising. I even told my poetry professor those exact words (more or less haha) in a letter of reflection after our final project, and she said, “Hopefully this is something you explore more deeply in your life as a poet.”

I know there is power in revision, especially when it comes to making every single word mean something in a poem. That’s something that poets strive to make happen. I personally have only experienced it once, where one of my poems had no room for changes because every word, line, and space had meaning.

But poetry is also hard to change. The words you write are something you hold dear, so how can you let go of something that is close to family? Nobody is facing commitment issues here – in fact, we (as a massive generalization) probably have a harder time un-committing to our work than committing. 

We love what we write, so we don’t want to change it. But when we try to change it, because we know it can be better, we start thinking that it is poor writing. Surely everyone has felt this to some extent before. But what is the next step? How do you combat that self doubt?

Tips to Fight Self Doubt in Your Writing

Here are a couple tips that I have found to help me out when I’m dealing with self doubt in terms of writing:

  1. Read through your book reviews or Instagram comments.

Bring back your confidence! Read those glowing, 5-star book reviews or those comments under your newest Instagram post where people are praising your words. Self love is important and can fully boost your confidence, negating your self doubt.

  1. Take breaks

If you choose to revise poems, make sure you are not cramming as many as you can into one sitting. If you start feeling like every poem you read needs to be scrapped completely, take a step back. Go for a walk, read a book, eat a snack – anything to get your mind off of your writing. Sometimes a good decompression session is all you need.

  1. Find someone you trust to talk to

Sometimes your mind just needs someone to rant to. Find a friend or a loved one who you trust with your writing and just open up. Say why you think the poem is bad, why you love it, what your worries are, and anything that comes to mind. If they truly support you, they will show their appreciation, care, and honesty, and I think it is a good way to boost your self-esteem in writing.

And as always, my DMs on Instagram are always open if you need writing advice 🙂

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