100 Tips to Alleviate Self-Doubt

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This post is a crowdsourcing effort to come up with 100 tips to battle self-doubt. Since this post went live on January 20, 2012, we’ve been able to collect 83 distinct tips.

Click here to download a 1-page handout: 83 Tips to Alleviate Self-Doubt.

The original post & comments are below. If you’d like to contribute tips, we will update the handout until we reach 100. A big thanks to Matthew Turner (also known as Turndog Millionaire) for launching this experiment.

Do you sometimes look at your writing and want to throw up? You know the feeling, surly. One day you write something, read over it and think, “Wow, that’s some rather snappy content!”

Then, just 24 hours later, you glance over it, scream at the screen and wonder how you wrote such dribble.

It’s a similar feeling to when I look at pictures from five years ago, hair like a Cure groupie with a quiff nestled a good five inches above my head. Seriously, what was I thinking?

This constant tennis match of self-doubt is a regular part of my life, and I reason with myself that it’s normal and everyone goes through this. Just like getting cold feet on your wedding day or panicking during a test you know you’re prepared for.

The real problem here is I doubt my self-doubt! What if this self-doubt’s telling me something? Maybe I should run away and leave it to the professionals?

But I keep on plugging away, because if I didn’t I’d be a quitter. So I cling to the fact that others go through this, including people who have “made it” in every sense of the word. Just about every blog I come across has a post like this, describing the eerie feeling of hating your own work and discovering you’re a fraud.

People like Joanna Penn, who’s now a full time writer/blogger with a great deal of respect, had feelings like this.

And I’ve just entered a contest on Men with Pens, the head honcho, James, opening up two free places on his writing course for those doubting their writing. At last count there were around 30 entries, and many of the posts are great, from people who definitely don’t need help with their craft. Saying that, they may look at mine and think exactly the same … hmmmm, or maybe not.

So I insist that this is normal and everyone goes through this overanalyzing crazy maze of AHHHHH. Some people, like me, go through it often. Others may only feel it from time to time. But I’m insistent everyone goes through it.

I’m here to offer three tips that have helped me in my times of need:

1. Walk away from it.

I let my mind sulk, come back a day or so later and try again. If I still feel the same then I make changes.  

2. Listen to music

This is a passion for me and listening to some slow and often depressing folk makes me feel better and inspires me.

3. Exercise

I’m at my most cranky when I’m tired and lacklustre, and a bout of exercise helps me snap out of it. I find self-doubt and whiney go through life hand in hand.

There you go, these are my three wise tips. Funny enough, and unsurprising I’m sure, it took me a few attempts to get to the final three. I wrote them down happily, re-read them and sulked at the screen, and eventually copied this entire article to an e-mail to Jane and already wonder if I could have done better.

But the point of this post was not for me to offer advice, but instead to come to Jane with the idea of gathering ideas from fellow writers who’ve been through, are going through, or feel they will one day go through this episode.

So this is the deal you’ve unintentionally signed up for. To leave a comment below with three tips of your own.

  • Maybe you’re a successful author who’s been through this and given sage advice to lead you through.
  • Maybe you’ve had a teacher, friend, family member, or dentist even who’s given you some amazing tips to deal with this self-doubt.
  • Or maybe you’ve just read something at some point and thought, “Wow, what a great idea.”

It’s not uncommon for Jane to get 30+ comments for a post, which would equate to over 100 tips. You might not find my tips helpful. Hell, you might not even find Jane’s tips helpful either when she leaves them in the comments. But chances are you’ll find one or two in a list of 100 that will help you along your journey—not just in writing, but life in general.

So it’s over to you, my fellow brother and sisters of self-doubt. Let’s help each other move forward and share our unbearable self-loathing.

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Guest Post.

Matthew Turner (aka Turndog Millionaire) is a Marketing Strategist with an MA in Advertising & Marketing from Leeds University Business School. As an aspiring author, he blogs about book marketing, strategic planning for aspiring authors, and how new marketing techniques can be used in the world of publishing.

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Joanne Tombrakos

That ugly old doubt thing….I can’t imagine there is a writer out there who doesn’t face it…often…or anyone who is off on a new path. 
Here are my tips to add:
1- Dance Breaks….
2-Read something inspiring like The War of Art by Steve Pressfield
3-Go do something else that I know I’m good at….like baking cookies…so I can experience that feeling of accomplishment that comes from finishing something!

Matthew Turner

I’m loving the idea of Baking and dancing. Do you do this at the same time???

And yes, i do take solace in the fact i’m sure everyone goes through this, even great writers with awards, big royalty cheques, and the ability to laze around by a sun soaked lake with a laptop on their knee, plying their trade 🙂

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Joanne Tombrakos

Ha! Sometimes I do dance and bake at the same time!

Matthew Turner

Ha brilliant… this should be your future youtube viral for a book

Kyla Rucci

I actually have a very different experience with self-doubt. Sometimes, while I’m writing, I feel out of sync with the story and that the words coming out on the page aren’t flowing correctly. The problem with this is that this feeling usually comes alongside a terrible urge to stop writing altogether. After I’m finished, I still consider that part manure-level writing, but I usually hit a point of true gold if I keep slugging through that manure. My tip? Keep going despite the bad writing and you’ll more than likely find something worthwhile in it eventually. I did think my… Read more »

Matthew Turner

I feel your pain, i often go through bouts of avoiding writing. This mainly comes from self doubt, and it often takes a few days or weeks to face the story again. I don’t think this is always bad though as it helps clear the mind and you can come back refreshed. 

Like you say though, it takes a lot of ‘slugging’ to get somewhere near to good

Happy writing to you too

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Michelle K. Pickett

Oh, your post reads like something I would have written.  In fact, I’m so fed up with what I’m writing I’m surfing the net to get away from it.  I should probably be slugging through the manure (love that phrase), but here I am.  Avoiding the big stinkin’ pile. 


Linda Faulkner

I agree with Kyla.  I think it was Lawrence Block (in his Telling Lies for Fun and Profit) who said to keep writing straight through, even if you’re writing crap, until you’re done.  It’s a lot easier to edit and re-work crap than nothing.  He’s got a point. When I read the garbage I’ve written, and believe I ought to hang up my pen and go wait on tables, I remember:  not many people can write thousands of words of garbage.   In fact, most people can’t pump out book after book, or story after story, or article after article. Besides, who ever said live… Read more »

Matthew Turner

ha so very true. Life is certainly far from fair, and quite right too. Nothing wrong with a challenge. Certainly keeps you on your toes.

I remember reading once 90% of writing is rewriting, so I guess it shows there’s always quite a long process for most

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Cynthia Triplett

I needed to hear this.  Thanks.

Linda Faulkner

Everyone does things differently, but some of us operate in similar fashion.  Glad I could help!

Mr Cleansheets

I actually disagree with this quite profoundly. In the past I’ve wasted so much time trying to fix a bad passage or a passage that went whimsically to the wrong place. In fact that’s the hardest editing there is, deleting a really well written passage that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Stick with the spine of the story people! I cannot emphasise that enough.

Dane Zeller

Turndog,  Frankly, I don’t have the problem. Even stories I’ve written twenty years ago sound great when I read them today. That’s why I’ve made friends with Honest Bob, Teresa “Your Story is Good But” Smith, and Betty “No Tact” Simpson. My one tip is to associate with a small critique group (like the one above), and they will confirm that your writing sucks, and why. The “why” is important. If you give them a great story, like one of mine, they will tell you that your writing sucks, and why. Step two is to rewrite it and re-submit to the… Read more »

Matthew Turner

Ha i love the confidence. Can you mail some over to me please? Sounds like you have some to spare 😉

And yes, i think finding some critique partners is important too. I’m yet to find them, but hope to discover some in the next 12 months. Betty sounds tough though, not sure i could handle her

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Nancy LaTurner

My favorite self-doubt erasers:
1. go for a run
2. play my flute
3. listen to a guided meditation from “The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write” ( http://markdavidgerson.com ) and do some free writing.

Matthew Turner

Nice, i feel exercise is a biggie for a lot of people. Always helps clear my mind of the crazy anyway

And i’ve tried meditation before in the past, i’m just useless at sitting doing quiet and still though. Saying that, going to a meditation retreat is on my list to do. I feel it could be so good for me, not just writing, but life in general.

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Satia Renee

I’m going to interject that there are many ways to meditate and some don’t include sitting in silence.   Walking meditations can be done anywhere.  If there’s a labyrinth near where you are, you can see if there are scheduled times when it is open but Thich Nhat Hanh has suggested that a special place is not necessary and one can even do a walking meditation in a shopping mall.  (Personally, I have yet to try that but I don’t doubt it can be done.) There is moving meditation.  Yoga is a moving meditation practice if you enter the experience… Read more »


Like Kyla and others, when I have one of those moments when I not only doubt my writing ability, but also whether I should be writing at all, I force myself to continue. But first I take a moment to remember why I started writing, and why I thought anyone might want to read my writing. The passion for and conviction in what I’m doing moves from the background to the foreground in my mind, and my motivation is sparked again. That conviction gives me the will to keep typing. Find the spark within. It’s there, waiting for you to… Read more »

Matthew Turner

Nicely put Monica, i always like to think we’re at our strongest when we fail, or at least think we’ve failed. It’s easy to be full of confidence when things are going well, but if you can pick yourself up when times are bad, and take strides forward then you truly have something to look to

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)


When self doubt comes lurking I take my dog out for a walk. We have some meaningful discussions sometimes. 

Matthew Turner

Nice, Dogs always listen really well. They have extra super human like hearing after all 🙂

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Linda Faulkner

Maybe part of the reason I can keep plodding is because I take two 20-minute walks with my dog every day, regardless of the weather.  Okay,  when it’s pouring or below 0 we only go for one 10-minute walk…  But, man, that first walk every day, when no one else is around and all that potential is just out there waiting…  Gets me every day.  And the midday walk keeps me going.

Cynthia Triplett

I’ve just read Matthew Turner’s blog and must admit that I completely and totally related to every word he said. I swim in self-doubt constantly. It’s only when I dog-paddle hard and desperately that I manage to come up to the surface and smell the sweet scent of confidence. So here are my three suggestions for paddling out of the mire: 1. I pretend my mother is sitting next to me saying: “Cynthia, you have as much right to your thoughts and opinions as anybody. Since you can’t please everyone, concentrate on pleasing yourself. If nobody likes what you wrote… Read more »

Matthew Turner

Very touching Cynthia, and i totally agree. Accepting you that you can’t please everyone is massive, and so so hard to master. If you can please yourself though, well, you’ve made a good start

And i’m with you about the bathroom too, i find a lot of my ideas come when i’m in the shower. It’s always the shower or one particular pub in Halifax. It’s rather spooky actually how it always happens there

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Steve Bichard

I started the sequel to my first novel yesterday. I look for advice, but most tips were do not do one. However the feedback I have had from early readers was, when is the sequel out. I must have sat for a few hours wondering how to start, looking at that blank page on the pc, but I got there and now I have my first page. I still have a mountain to climb, trying to encompass previous and new readers of my work and I still wonder if I am just on a time consuming  ego trip. While I… Read more »

Matthew Turner

Congrats on the sequel Steve, and your advice is to the point! 

It seems a lot of people turn to the idea of just writing and it will all come up rosey. I like this, it shows writing is a way of healing writing. 

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)


I really enjoyed this… I DON’T have 3 new tips to share – I think that you’ve covered a lot of ground already.  But I do have one more.  I find I’m stabbed with self doubt mostly when I’m already tired.  I sit at the computer after a long day and look at the screen, which is mocking me.  And… nope – I don’t take a deep breath and plunge in, anyway.  I give myself permission to walk away.  I find writing when I’m really exhausted is nothing but a slog and I rarely write anything worth the name, anyway. … Read more »

Matthew Turner

We have a rebel everyone 😉

I must say, although i do respect those who dive in and write (and there’s times i do this too. Just write and worry about the quality later, if i’m not feeling something then i’ll often take a break, go watch TV, read a book, go to te pub etc

There’s always tomorrow, and i often come back with vengeance. Well, until the next bout of self doubt that is 

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Linda Faulkner

You’re right.  I hadn’t thought about how awful it is to try to write when I’m overtired … or having a migraine.  If I think about it, I can probably come up with a few other circumstances under which I [should] walk away.  Thanks for the reminder!

kathryn magendie

I just remember that self-doubt ain’t gonna get the job done, so I kick it unconscious long enough to allow me time to write then when it rises up again, I laugh in its face. Okay, most times it eats away at my arse, but I ignore it and work. Just work. Write write write. I also jump on the treadmill and do “treadmill aerobics” —something I don’t recommend for everyone because one day I’m going to bust my arse, but slinging myself about all over creation and working up a sweat shakes Mr. Doubt right outta my head and… Read more »

Matthew Turner

Heck yeah, a bit of Rocky training is enough to crush anything!

And yes, i too figure if you run fast enough there’s no room for doubt in your head. I mean come on, it’s too busy trying to figure out if that extra hundred yards will kill you or not

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)


Write everyday, but let go of what you write, or for how long, or when. Just write every day because you can’t not.

Harriet Brown

The best piece of writerly advice I ever got was from a friend who reminded me, in a crisis of self-doubt, that we each have to “sing the song we’re given.” This helped me tremendously at a time when I was feeling awful because I write nonfiction and not fiction, when I was worrying over whether I should be accomplishing more or different things with my writing, and when I was sunk in despair over my lack of talent, etc.

It has continued to help me over the years.

K. A. Laity

My best tip is to wander along Galway Bay (works for me). For those not lucky enough to live here,


When I can’t go on, find it hard to believe there’s anything in my written word but trash and failed ideas, I edit. The same thing applies when my muse has run dry. I edit about 3k words a day, first because I found it a way to get others to look at my work, but now, because it’s how I learn and improve. So, I dig in: punctuation and word count and what’s clear and what’s not. Before long, I remember why I do this: the love of words and ideas. Before long, I back at writing and learning… Read more »


“Be strong. Don’t give up. Destroy all obstacles. Crush your enemies. Defy gravity. Abandon reason. Use the force.”

Belinda Whitaker

Some really good ideas here, everybody.  Well done!  Here are my three: 1: Join NanoWrimo.  Nanowrimo is a yearly thing (writing 50,000 words in one month is the goal, shared by hundreds of thousands of people around the world!) held in November.  However, the site and all of its wonderful threads are usually up all year long.  Some wonderful gems can be found there…to help us laugh at ourselves and to remind us that we aren’t alone in this journey.  Usually I can find something there that helps me go on to writing the next page. 2: Get a local… Read more »

Christi Craig

There are so many great tips here already! The only thing I can add is to take a look at some of your older stories. I know that when I look back at my earlier pieces – the ones I thought were good but were really (bless my heart) awful – then I see how far I’ve come with my writing. That’s enough of a boost in confidence some days to keep me moving forward.

Jim Mitchem

I just succumb to the fear. It works for me. 

[…] with doubt, or have ways to overcome it? Jane Friedman has a participatory post of 100 Tips to Alleviate Self-Doubt (the post giving 3, and you helping fill out to […]

Maria Isabel

When you are a writer, there is no cure. Everything you do becomes an excuse to write. We can only be ourselves and write.


[…] 100 Tips to Alleviate Self-Doubt, by Matthew Turner “So I insist that this is normal and everyone goes through this […]

Joelle Wilson

Erg, Blerg – Doubt, I know you well. I face it, swear I’ve conquered i,t and then it slaps me around again. Every writer I know faces this sneaky little Imp. Here’s my three:
1. I move around. Walk, exercise, jump, whatever it takes to shake off the doubt.
2. I’m right there with Joanne Tombrakos on this one – I also bake something. It’s a passion of mine so when in doubt I take the cookie pans out. 
3. I meditate. Very helpful for coming back to my creative center.

Olga Zelenova

Oh my goodness. Self-doubt is a real pain in the coccyx. I’m one to advocate throwing your hands up and walking away from it for a while. Mostly because if I keep staring at something that’s driving me crazy, it might get tossed out a window. I hear that’s bad for computers. 1) Take up knitting. Or crochet. Something with yarn. There’s something satisfying about making soft things. Like potholders. Warm and fuzzy potholders. 2) Take a dance class. Not necessarily RIGHT NOW, but it’s a good idea. When you get annoyed with yourself, get up and practice a move… Read more »

Olga Zelenova

The problem with screaming here is that I have a military macaw with a sense of humor. He mocks me. 🙁

When a bird masters the evil laugh, there is no rest for anyone. Because whenever you try to make a serious point, you’ll hear: “Ah.ha.ha.ha.ha.”


I think the coffee is the key;<)

Jen Leigh

Doubt, frustration, crappy writing. UGH. 1. I clean. Dust, mop, vacuum, fold laundry, wash dishes. The entire time, sometimes an entire day, I’m playing my problem scene over and over in my head until I get it right. Once I sit down to get it on paper (I use pencil and paper for first drafts), I can usually continue from that scene to the next and finish my story. 2. When things/characters aren’t going like I want them (just because I’m a pantser doesn’t mean I don’t have goals) I step away. I sit down at my dining table and… Read more »

Sue Johnston

Ask yourself if the idea that’s making you doubt yourself is fiction or non-fiction. The stuff that comes off your keyboard may not be fiction. The stuff that makes you doubt – hmmmmm.

Chris Blake

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Even wildly successful novelists have self-doubts. It’s in the DNA of a writer. And it’s healthy because we need to be hypercritical of our own work. I find when I have self-doubts, I need to do a diagnosis of my WIP. There’s usually a problem there that I need to fix. I also find chocolate helps. Thanks again.

Rosie Pova

Been there, felt that . . . and I’m sure there’s more doubt to come down the road. Here are my 3 tips: 1. I remind myself that writing something bad is less humiliating than quitting altogether, after investing so many years. As long as you keep on writing, you keep on trying; you’re in the process of improving your craft. You’re learning, and making mistakes is part of it. 2. If you don’t write anything, there’s nothing to rewrite and revise and that is how your writing actually becomes good, in reality. 3. Finally, I read stories about other… Read more »

Rosie Pova

Been there, felt that . . . and I’m sure there’s more doubt to come down the road. Here are my 3 tips: 1. I remind myself that writing something bad is less humiliating than quitting altogether, after investing so many years. As long as you keep on writing, you keep on trying; you’re in the process of improving your craft. You’re learning, and making mistakes is part of it. 2. If you don’t write anything, there’s nothing to rewrite and revise and that is how your writing actually becomes good, in reality. 3. Finally, I read stories about other… Read more »

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Gail Kushner

Okay, here are my three: 1) Things always look better after a good night of sleep. I lay in bed at night obsessing over things, but if I get a good solid sleep, everything (including my writing) looks better in the morning. 2) When I am editing, I read the same text over and over. The more I read it, the worse it gets — it’s just a bunch of words swimming in my brain. Just realize that this is what naturally happens when you read the same material over and over. 3) In my meditation I heard: Doubt out!!!!… Read more »


Well, you’ve touched on the main solution already.

1. Don’t assume your self doubt is a prophet of your ultimate failure. Just know it’s along for the ride.
2. Reread Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird and think about putting those spiders in a jar.
3. Keep going.

Marjorie Thelen

I have one suggestions:  Just write something!  I write mystery novels by the seat of my pants.  On the days, which are many, that I sit down at the appointed hour and look back over the previous day’s work, usually I can keep going. When I can’t this little voice says “Just write something.”  Doesn’t matter what it is, may not fit the plot, but it is a ploy to get my fingers moving over the keys again and it usually works. It may get edited out later, but I’m off dead center.

Timothy Paul

     I thank you all for your thoughts, I truly do. I see a common thread… a web. I think perhaps we should remember just who we are; not just as  individuals, but as a collective, a whole. We share what, doubt? No… I don’t think so. My friends… we share FEAR! The word doubt… is nothing more than a shroud to cover up, wrap around, and hold it’s mother… Fear.      I, as well… am not exempt from it! But I see  it, smell it, and my god, I scream at it… until it becomes afraid of me. Doubt, a.k.a. fear is… Read more »

Jill Chivers

Just for a spot of counter, culture here are my top three ways of agitating my writers self doubt: 1. Compare myself to others.  Especially established writers who do it professionally and have done for years, with really big lists of followers.  This will surely make me feel smaller than a comma in the complete works of Shakespeare 2. Listen incessantly to my inner critic, which is telling me my writing is complete boring drivel that no-one in their right, wrong or frontal lobotomised mind would ever want to read. 3.  Check the number of unsubscribes in Aweber and concoct fanciful… Read more »

Jean Masthay

1. Read a good book
2. Hug my kids
3. Fix a snack 

Leah Lindeman

Leaving my work for a day or two really helps me have a fresh look at it when I come back to it later. Once I look at it again, I make huge revisions to make it even better than the original. I thrive on revisions.

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Nora Lester Murad

If you add “chocolate” 27 more times to the 73 tips you already have, you’ve reached 100 tips!

Rashda Khan

I’m not much of a baker, but I cook. Something about choosing the ingredients, peeling ad chopping, measuring out spices, seeing it all come together just unlocks the fear in me and lets it float away.


Go with it. Yeah, you and your writing are a piece of poo, so fling that self-doubting characteristic onto your MC and let her/him deal with it. Maybe by transferring this negative mindset to one of your imaginary characters, you’ll get the monkey off your back for a while. 

Donna Galanti

when I’m stuck on a scene in my book and have no idea how to write it well, I try 2 other things as well. First, I ask myself am I writing for myself? Must I write? Do I love this story? if this answer is yes, yes, yes than I know I’m being true to myself and just need some help with the craft. Then I pick up books by similar authors and find similar situations and see how the masters did them…that ALWAYS generates ideas for me on how to move forward and write the scene well with… Read more »

Marie Godley

I usually walk away when I have moments of doubt but deep down inside there must be a grain of belief wihtin us or else we wouldn’t start writing again. So apart from all the good tips already posted wait for that grain of belief to pop up again, grab it with both hands and start writing, at least until the next wave of doubt appears.


Love, love, love this (she said, after a productive Saturday turned into an unproductive Sunday)! I’d move up #60 to #1, though. 🙂


Chop firewood and stack it neatly.

Patricia Carroll

LOL I just wrote  a similar post on my blog. I think creative people are susceptible to the doubt dragon because we do listen. Just have to make sure who it is we are listening to. And watch what we are saying to others. 
Good post and good ideas.

Judy Reeves

Readers tell my book, A Writer’s Book of Days, has helped them. (self-promotion at its most flagrant).


Definately run like hell from dream stealers, and run into the arms of those who spur you on to make  dreams come true. Hang out with like minded people.