The Gift of Insecurity

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

I frequently field phone calls from clients who are going through a rough patch in their frame of mind. It turns out being a contracted and published author doesn’t automatically fill you with self-confidence and unending affection for your own work. Who knew?

The reality is that the publishing journey is fraught with emotional land mines—dealing with the editorial process, reading your reviews, settling on just the right idea for that next book—that can make you feel insecure and like a fraud.

I can’t write! I have everyone fooled. I am an impostor. What made me think I could call myself a writer?

writer-frustratedThis, of course, is normal. If all goes well, you will have some moments of loving your work-in-progress and you’ll appreciate your newly published books when they land on your front porch in that UPS box. You’ll even continue to enjoy the process of writing. But you’ll probably also have moments when you’re sure that everything you’ve written is garbage and you’re terrified you’re going to be found out.

And it’s a good thing too. Because it’s that very insecurity that will drive you to keep growing, keep learning, be the best you can be.

Recently I read a quote from famous yoga teacher BKS Iyengar. He said, “The moment you say ‘I have got it,’ you have lost everything you had…The moment you say ‘I am satisfied with that,’ stagnation has come. That is the end of your learning; you have closed the windows of your intellect.”

If you can relate to his statement, then you know it makes sense to look at writing and publishing as a journey, and take from it what we can while we are in the middle of it. It’s part of our larger process of growing and developing as people; it is not a question of “arriving” but more a discipline of figuring out how to keep going.

Don’t worry about yourself when you’re feeling insecure or even hateful toward your writing. Accept it as part of your journey; ask yourself what it means, how it can spur you on. What is it driving you toward?

Let yourself feel satisfied at times, then go back to the natural state of the writer: insecure, frustrated, and driven.

It’s a great life, isn’t it?

Tell me about your own insecure moments. How do they help you? How do you overcome them—or is it simply a matter of living with them?

Tweetables:

Being published doesn’t automatically fill you with self-confidence. Who knew? Click to Tweet.

Insecurity as a writer can help you keep growing, keep learning, and be your best. Click to Tweet.

72 Responses

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  1. Linda says:

    I’m so new to all of this I can’t even manage to call myself “writer” much of the time. I keep asking myself what on earth I think I’m doing. I should just knit a new blanket for one of the grandkids and be content. But I’m finding what you’ve said is true. The insecurity drives me to learn more and try harder – and keeps me on my knees. The book is finished, and I’m working on editing it.
    I so enjoy all of your posts Rachelle.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Sounds like classic impostor syndrome, Linda. I think most of us suffer from it sometimes. Keep working! That’s the only way through it.

  2. I can beat any man in any land at any game that he can name for any amount that he can count.

    OK, so insecurity is not a large problem for me.

    I’m tempted to try to defuse the arrogance with a “well, seriously, now” aw-shucks-I-was-just-kidding disclaimer, but it wouldn’t be honest.

    I really am pretty secure about what I do – here’s why.

    * Good training – I spent seven years in a writing apprenticeship

    * Consistent work – while I didn’t write fiction for many years, I did write several million words’ worth of proposals and reports.

    * An open mind – whatever I’m doing, I can always do it better, and I’m both willing and eager to learn.

    * Perspective – the page will turn, and my day will pass, no matter what I do.

    * Realistic Expectations 1 – a good book-length story is an attainable goal.

    * Realistic Expectations 2 – not all ideas pan out into book-length stories, and some are rightly abandoned. With regret, perhaps, but also with decisive action.

    * Realistic Expectations 3 – not all writers make it to publication, much less success.

    The underlying point is that insecurity is avoided by counting tangible strengths (experience and training, for instance), and most importantly…

    Not letting writing (or any other activity), praise, condemnation, or the presence or absence of success define me.

    All of these things will pass away, and at the end of life our character and faith are the only things we have to lay before God.

    I would rather He see that I lived fearlessly, loved shamelessly, and worked happily for His sake.

  3. Your post couldn’t have come at a better time, Rachelle. I feel all those things most of the time. It helps to know others do too. When I get praise from a work … I hi-five God and give Him a hand because I know He often makes me smarter than I am. He places the sweetest connections that look intentional in my works that I didn’t even see.

    And when things feel stagnant, and I start feeling a little down (regarding all areas of life) … I examine myself to see if I’m elevating myself above God … maybe my focus has shifted off Him and onto me. Yes, I learned years ago that we can even idolize ourselves. And I remind myself, “Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts” – Isaiah 26:8. Not my name … His.

    • Shelli, do keep in mind that while idolizing yourself is wrong, it’s just as great a sin to put on false humility, and put yourself down.

      Perhaps even more so, because the second of the Great Commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself. “Love” in this context includes regard and appropriate (self) respect.

      The way you think of yourself may be a reflection of the way you think about God.

      It’s an easy trap into which a Christian may fall – we hear that the best we can do is ‘filthy rags’, and tend to forget that we’re children of Glory.

      • Absolutely, Andrew! Keep it real. I just mean simply … who am I trying to promote? Because the only thing worthy to promote in me, is Christ in me.

        And because I was so busy yesterday, I didn’t get to comment much. But I wanted to say that your attention to detail … your knowledge on movies, books, is truly incredible. I love learning from you, Brother.

      • Amen! There is no book of Mediocrities in the Bible, and we are called to work as for God, not for men.

        We do not earn our salvation, but it was paid for with a massive price, and He deserves our very best at all we do, whetever we do!

        My work in progress, 7 years of speaking workshops and retreats, and my passion is closely related to the thoughts and conversations from today’s posts.

  4. I love the quote from B.K.S. Iyengar. So true!

    I’ve had moments over the past few years when I’ve wondered why I didn’t just give up writing and invest time in getting better on the piano or learning how to sew — or cook. 🙂 (My husband would probably appreciate that one!)

    But the thought of giving up writing hurts — almost in a physical way! So I keep on because I believe this passion for writing was hard-wired into me by God. 🙂

  5. Sue Harrison says:

    Thank you for this post, Rachelle. It’s such a temptation to see myself as the only one who battles this “imposter syndrome.” Every other writer out there has it together.

    Okay, deep breath, grab God’s hand, and get to work!

    • Lori Benton says:

      Sue, I quickly learned last summer after Burning Sky released that those feelings of insecurity are just part of the deal on this side of being published too. I’m learning to be patient with them, because they do pass. Especially if put in the earplugs and get absorbed in the work for a few hours and make myself cry (or laugh) and remember why I love to write.

  6. Rachelle, as the poster boy for the Imposter Syndrome, thank you for this message. But be sure to return my phone call when I crawl out on the ledge again. (And we both know I will).
    Thanks.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Richard, did you ever experience impostor syndrome in your “first” career? One of my best friends is a physician, and she talks about experiencing it. I’ve spoken with people in so many fields who have it, at least occasionally.

      • Actually, yes. I was in private practice for 26 years and a professor at a prestigious medical center for 10 more. When I retired I’d lectured all over the world, had written or edited eight textbooks, had over 100 papers published–and was still afraid people would discover that I didn’t really know all that much. I think it’s universal–we writers just are more ready to admit it (sometimes).

  7. I am naturally a rebel. So when anyone, including my inner voice, tries to make me feel insecure about my writing, it seems to only fuel me more to “prove them all wrong.” If I have hit a mental road block and everything I am writing is just subpar to my usual work, then I acknowledge, then take a step back and give myself a few hours or a few days breather. There is pleasure and renewed creativity to be found in the blank spaces between. I let my mind wander freely off leash. This practice always gives me a reassurance and a hope that the creativity Will start flowing again once I have given my mind the right amount of freedom. I just have to trust it’s capabilities. Thanks for the great post. Best~ Julie

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Julie, I love the idea of proving the inner voice wrong. Seems like this could help in any number of situations!

  8. Absolutely true on every count. And how did you get inside my head like that? I’ve heard this same insecurity bug from every author I know. Part of it, I think, is a sign of the depths of our emotional investment in our writing. We’re putting our hearts on the line… it’s a vulnerable position to be in. Thanks for naming the insecurity…

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Bill, I’m sure people would find it hard to believe that even YOU suffer from it every now and then! Thanks for helping us all feel better. 🙂

  9. Thanks for the strengthening words, Rachelle!

  10. I loved this post, Rachelle. I seem to walk through seasons where insecurity holds my hand with a tight grip. When it overwhelms me, talking with a trusted friend or mentor helps me regain perspective. Then, I have seasons where it’s nowhere to be seen.

    When I’m struggling with insecurity, I sometimes find I’m placing unrealistic expectations on myself to accomplish. I have to keep reminding myself that God set me on this path, and that His timing is perfect. I have to remember that His plans are perfect, whether or not they include me one day being published. Most of the time, I can rest in these truths and keep plugging forward.

    Thanks for the reminder that I can do something when I feel insecure. I can study craft and work through that which is causing the feelings of insecurity. Great reminder.

  11. Cathy West says:

    Ah. Can’t relate to this at all. Nope. Not me.
    And if you believe that…hahaha.
    Insecurity? Oh, yes.
    Published or not, waiting for news, just convincing myself to write some days…it’s all hard. And if I listen to the voices that whisper I’m really no good at this, it’s even harder. I am so glad for a writing community I can hang out with and share those thoughts with. Encouragement, prayer and people who believe in me are the things that keep me going. And sometimes a good kick in the butt is warranted too. 🙂

    • So true, Cathy. I’m so thankful for the encouraging people God continually places in my path.

    • Here’s a voice for you…

      Your writing makes me want to up my game and work harder! I LOVE your work, it’s so incredibly GOOD!!!

      • Lori Benton says:

        Jennifer, don’t you love finding writers who make you feel that way (wanting to up your game)? I recently read a synopsis from a long time writer friend that did that for me. A synopsis, for crying out loud!

      • Finding writers who up my game?

        Ohhh yeah…one had a phrase that blew me away and made me hit the brakes and pay attention to every word on the page.
        “The woman who had been Burning Sky…”

        From her, I learned to weigh and measure every word. And that it was okay to let a character open like a rose in a cool climate, slowly and with an almost painful beauty.

        Between her and Laura Frantz, I grew the confidence to believe in my own work, and to accept that I AM a writer, not a dreamer setting aside a future date for giving up.

  12. Jodi says:

    Like good cat videos/pics (what – my cat isn’t the only one to do that weird thing?), getting to know other writers is helpful because you learn that most writers (even the greats at times) suffer from these feelings. You see them/help them get through it, and, even if you are convinced in a moment (day/month/year) of darkness that you are not a fraction of the writer someone else is, deep down you know the insecurity is normal and you might, just might pull through!

  13. Lori Ann Palma says:

    I think all creative endeavors are fraught with insecurity because there isn’t one right solution for a short story or a novel. There are any myriad of ways it can go. This is overwhelming, especially when looking at the larger picture of finishing a work, revising it, sending queries, trying to land an agent or self-publish, etc. When I’m mired in insecurity, I try to grab at one thing I can do to move out of the moment–such as reading a book on writing, tinkering with a short story, making notes on a novel I am writing or want to write. It may not be anything life-changing, but one small action helps me silence that insecurity voice.

  14. Jim Lupis says:

    Isn’t it wonderful to be a Christian writer? We have a tremendous advantage – JESUS!

    Two scriptures that help me so much (actually, there are many)are: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” and “In my weakness He is made strong.”

    Some writers believe that their word processor is their best friend. For me, it’s still Jesus.

    • Beautiful, Jim.

    • In the context of writing, I like “Behold, I make all things new.”

      When we turn our pen (so to speak) over to JC, we’re no longer the salmon struggling upstream, literally dying to give birth to our work,

      It’s a new world, one of surfing through the rapids, letting Him channel His love, that rushing torrent, through us.

      All it takes is that we turn around, and realize that He’s been following close behind all along, just waiting for the chance to delight in our willingness to share His joy.

  15. I’d be totally lying if I said I never struggled with this. Like you said, I’m sure most if not all writers do. After all, we are creating something, and we want others to enjoy or be challenged by what we’ve created.

    A close group of writer friends began to challenge me last year to be careful with my thoughts. Of course, the Bible says the same thing…to take every thought captive. But it’s actually a medical fact that thinking the same thought over and over again can create these grooves in your brain — essentially, these thoughts can become habits. Negative thoughts also release all sorts of negative toxins into the body. I’m no scientist, but this connection between mind and body amazes me.

    So what’s the solution? Because obviously we’re probably still going to have the thoughts. The solution (and I’m not always great at this!) is to combat the lies of Satan (for that’s what those thoughts of “I’m not good enough” often are) with the truth (“I can do all things through Him who gives me strength,” or “He will finish the good work He began in me”, etc.).

    Not easy…but life-changing if we can manage to do it.

    • Amen, Lindsay!

      • Melissa Tagg says:

        I love this, Lindsay! And I loved this whole post, Rachelle. I relate…a lot..especially lately. I was born into a family who constantly encouraged and built me up, so insecurity has not been a big part of my life…except in the area of writing. It is the one area where negative thoughts bog me down and lately, they’ve amped. But it is immensely comforting to know I’m not alone and that insecurity really is just part of the process. And that, like you’ve said here, Lindsay, we can combat it with truth.

      • Anne Love says:

        Yes, love this Lindsay and Melissa! Amen!

    • Great words, Lindsay. Finding truths that combat the insecurity (and the lies) that take up space in our thoughts and repeating the truths is a great idea. That’s something I need to be more consistent and purposeful in doing.

    • Mens san in corpore sano – a healthy mind (begets) a healthy body.

      You are so right about the dangers of negativity. Stonewall Jackson died of a relatively light wound, but a heavy death wish.

      Sure, the negative thoughts will be all around us. There are many who are walking with the wicked, standing in the way of sinners, and – worst of all – sitting in the seat of the scornful, and they’d LOVE for us to join them.

      Our task is to keep our eyes on the prize,the victory that ill come at the end of the good fight, the end of the race.

      Not always easy. But we have footprints in which we can follow, like the page in the carol “Good King Wenceslas”

      “Mark my footsteps well, my page,
      tread though in them boldly.
      Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
      freeze thy blood less coldly.”

      Walk boldly in the ultimate security of salvation, past the false warmth of doors that lead only to perdition, always holding to the hem of His garment.

      Security isn’t in what you can do. It’s in what He’s done for you, which translates into what YOU may do – through Him.

    • Sue Harrison says:

      What great insight, Lindsay. Actual physical reasons to amend our negative thinking. I love it!

  16. It took me MONTHS to believe that my agent hired me on merit, as opposed to pity. I was constantly imagining myself at an agency gathering and being introduced.
    “And here’s Jennifer, she’s our Pity Hire. We’re *all* working at teaching her to write her own name…you should see her J and her E! Pretty soon, she’ll get that N figured out.”

    Poor sweet Mary Keeley. 😉

    But when I discuss my story, or caught up in the research, there is a fire that will not dim. When I get feedback from early readers, who tell me they cried, or that I moved their thoughts toward understanding something they’d never even heard of, I know I can do this.

    It’s taken 2 1/2 years to answer “I’m a writer” to the question of “what do you do?”

    Insecurity is part of the process of accepting that one is pursuing a goal that is difficult to achieve. If writing was easy, all kinds of crazy people would try it!

    Here’s the haiku for the day.

    Writing, it’s hard, so
    The cream of the crazy crop,
    Rises to the top.

    I know, right? Go ahead and empty that box of tissues.

    • Jennifer, I can’t wait to read your work. I didn’t get a chance to comment yesterday, but what you wrote about your story got me so eager to dive into it! Can’t wait! 🙂

    • You sure can do this!

      Part of being secure is the web of relationships we can build with other writers, the shared frustrations and triumphs being signposts along the path – signposts that we might miss in the darkness of our solitude, until they’re floodlit by our friends’ hearts.

      You bring this light to everyone who knows you, Jennifer.

      You’ve extended the care and love you give to your story and your characters and your craft to all of us, sharing it freely.

      We are so fortunate – and blessed.

  17. Eva Swain says:

    Rachelle,
    Thank you for the perfect post at exactly the right time. I have had two romance novels published by Avalon Books, now Amazon’s Montlake Romance imprint. A number of people have told me they loved my books. Unfortunately, I read a few negative reviews on Amazon that have made me feel like an imposter. “Why am I even trying? no one likes my books. Look at the bad reviews.” Etc. But then, I looked at a few other books that were originally published by Avalon that I had read and enjoyed. They also received some 1 and 2 star reviews. And I happened to check your blog and found this article. Wow, talk about just what I needed! My books may be “simple, beach-read” type novels, but they are MY books and they were published! I AM an author! I AM going to continue working on the manuscripts I have in progress. Whether or not they are ever published, I will finish them because I AM an author! Off to work. Thank you.

    • Eva, keep in mind that some people write reviews for the opportunity to say something critical, and in some weird way make themselves look smart.

      I used to give presentations at academic conferences, and there was always someone who’d spend the entire talk obviously thinking up something negative, or trying to come up with a question that would stump me and make him look brilliant.

      Sometimes it backfires, though. A few years ago I gave a talk on the WW2 air strike on the German dams that supplied the Ruhr (from an engineering perspective, but also as a memorial to those who lost their lives, and something of a commentary o the cost of war).

      A chap got up and started haranguing me, saying that I was a mere warmonger, and that my talk was glorification of a war crime. (Kind of a strange stance, when talking about trying to defeat the Nazis, but everyone has their opinion, eh?)

      That didn’t go over well with the 500 or so other people in the audience, and about a dozen professors and professional engineers picked him up, and carried him bodily from the room.

  18. Rachelle, thank you for the heads up that this roller-coaster ride never ends.

    I recently submitted some pages for a professional critique, and as I wait it feels like I’ve been caught using an outhouse without a door. Nice to know it’s normal even for the “professionals”.

    I’m dealing with the tension by spending more time in the garden. My muse recharges while I’m out there; then I return to the keyboard and let it loose.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  19. I started my WIP in 2003 and it is so funny. Every time I sit down to revise, I look at the story and cringe and hate it and slug forward in horror. And then when I am finished I am so happy because it is so much better…until I notice something else wrong with it and have to sit down and revise again. Argh!

    • Jamie says:

      Kristen, I just finished my first novel about a month ago, and I started it in 2007. I think I rewrote the beginning about twenty times before I just pushed it away and kept going. I decided I can go back and change it again once the entire piece is finished. (I have yet to even start my edits, though. 😉 )

      • Way to go Jamie! I’m glad you pushed through to the end. My problem is the “learning as you revise” part. I finished after about a year and a half…and then I’ve been revising ever since. Took a 2 year break to write a different ms. and then jumped back into it. But hey, maybe by the time I’m actually for sure done, it will be something I can be proud of and stay proud of. Good luck as you revise. You’ve probably learned so much as you wrote that it won’t be as traumatic for you as it is for me!

  20. Sarah Sundin says:

    I think this is the first time in my life I’ve been told insecurity is not a bad thing! Woo hoo!!

    The key is harnessing the insecurity to drive you to better work rather than letting it paralyze you. Insecurity can be the nudge to improvement – or Satan’s best tool to immobilize you. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything… 🙂

  21. Jamie says:

    I read what I write, and I think, “That’s pretty good.” Or sometimes, “This can be better.” Then I pick up a book by an author I really like, and I think, “I’ll never be this good. Why even try?” I know my writing improves all the time–as anything should do if done consistently–and my friends and family like my writing. But those people are biased because of our relationships. I’m not of publishable quality compared to those authors I admire for their skill. I seem to hold myself to a very high standard. (I also have a problem with being wordy. 😉 )

  22. Carol says:

    Thanks for your awesome post, Rachelle! This reminds me of Cecil Murphey’s talk at OCCWC in 2014 about listening to the “gatekeepers.” Sometimes we think we have writer’s block, but just maybe there is a reason for our pause and doubt. I have stopped freaking out when these periods of time come, because I’m starting to see this happens when there is something significant about my writing I need to adjust. At these times, my prayer is always lifted up to God, “Make something beautiful out of these words.”

  23. Becky Jones says:

    I just want to say Amen.

    Amen, Amen, Amen.

    The sooner we realize that doubt is a healthy and natural part of the creative process, the sooner we can move along and get back to work! I’ve heard that some of the “best” writers are positively sick of their own books by the time they go to press. I don’t know why, but I find this oddly encouraging. 🙂

    Thanks for this post!

  24. I was reminded of the scene from The Help … imagining God holding our faces in His hands and saying, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” We are so blessed to be part of His plan!

  25. Michelle Ule says:

    The insecurity keeps us humble and grateful for the opportunities. Perhaps that’s why God gives us the gift? 🙂

    It’s also important to keep in mind why you write–for good or ill. Here’s a post I wrote on that subject, the bittersweet humility of a published book: http://michelleule.com/2011/08/24/the-humility-of-a-published-book/

  26. Great thoughts today, Rachelle!

    I regroup by stepping away from social media for a while. As much as I adore connecting, like Sarah said, Satan knows all about creating insecurity and when I see tweets or FB statuses like “I just blasted out 8,999 words AND made lasagna from scratch!” it makes my 500 words seem paltry.

    Kudos to Andrew today… our in-house encourager! 🙂

  27. Nadege says:

    Thank you for that post. Exactly what I needed to hear 🙂

  28. My only insecurity is I might run out of No.2 pencils or get a paper cut.
    (I mean a really bad paper cut, one that requires a Snoopy Brand band-aid.)

  29. I have come to believe that my angst is proof that I am a writer in all the deep places that matter. I do not angst like this over my “paycheck” job. The very worry that I am not good enough is proof that I am.

  30. Rachelle, I didn’t think you would betray me this way. Telling the world about my deepest secret fears? How could you!?

  31. I have to admit I don’t have a lot of insecurity when it comes to my writing. Am I occasionally envious of another person’s writing? Sure. Sometimes I ever wonder if I will write that way. But overall, I feel God will clear the path to whatever success He feels is right for me. As long my focus stays on Him, I’ll be writing what He puts on my heart.

  32. Sherry Kyle says:

    Rachelle,

    How did you know I’m having one of those days? (Insecurity and being judged is one of my worst fears in life.) So, why did I chose to be a writer? God has a sense of humor and continues to mold and shape me through each book I write. I try to focus on the audience of One, most of all.

    “And it’s a good thing too. Because it’s that very insecurity that will drive you to keep growing, keep learning, be the best you can be.” Love this! Thanks,
    Sherry