On Inadequacy

When it comes to having faith in my own writing, I am decidedly agnostic. My mindset, when it comes to my own work, is characterized by ambivalence and indecision. Some days, I have a large amount of faith, other days very little. Sometimes, I only have faith every tenth time I look at that dreaded word document containing my manuscript.

In my experience, with writing, it is never enough.

I can tell myself that where I am as a writer is enough, but in truth I don’t ever believe that it is enough. I don’t ever think my writing is great, or even good.  When I’m feeling that there isn’t a point, because I just don’t have that mysterious It Factor,  I tell myself that I am in this industry because I love it and this is what I want and pursuing a dream is worth something. Even if you don’t achieve it.

I don’t think I am alone in feeling this way. In fact, I think almost all writers at some point, are subject to feelings of inadequacy.

When you’ve just begun writing, you think you will feel satisfied if you’ve finished a manuscript. You pine for the sense of achievement that knowing you can write “THE END” will bring you. When you’ve drafted a manuscript, you feel as if you will be satisfied if you can revise. When you’ve revised, you feel as if you’ll be satisfied if you’ve revised well enough to get requests on your manuscript, well enough to get an agent. When you’re published and your book comes out, you feel as if you’ll be satisfied if you get good reviews and critical acclaim, or if your book sells a squillion copies.

But if you’re anything like me even if all the external factors affirm your writing skill you will still occasionally be plagued by feelings of inadequacy. Of not being good enough. Of not measuring up to the standard you’ve constructed in your head.

There have been many blog posts written about feelings of inadequacy, and how to overcome them. People say that you just need to believe in yourself and stop being your own harshest critic. And yet, there is no switch we can flick that will turn off this type of thinking.

There is nothing we can do to stop our own yearning for something more, and in the end I am not sure that this is a bad thing. After all, as a writer, being your own harshest critic can lead to you putting in the work, the effort, to truly create something that is your best work. It can lead you to give up, or it can lead you to constantly better yourself.

And I confess, some days, I think I’m going to be one of the ones who gives up. But most days I attack my word documents with zest and vigor, because I’m determined to take this writing journey somewhere.

I hope those of you who have experience similar feelings, those of you who sometimes feel like you’re not up to the task you’ve set yourself, will join me in taking those feelings of inadequacy and turning them into something better—turning them into a desire to avoid stagnation and celebrate the progress you experience.

17 Responses to On Inadequacy

  1. Dave Feb 1 2012 at 5:07 am #

    I enjoyed reading this, and found myself saying “yup. been there.” several times.

    I hope you keep at it, it sounds as though you’ve got the determination and enjoy what you do, whether or not some days it just feels tough if not impossible (I know the feeling)!


    • Vahini Feb 1 2012 at 9:12 am #

      I’m glad you recognised yourself in the post 🙂 And I have a terrible stubborn streak (determination is a flattering way to put it), so I predict that I’ll still be slogging over novels when I’m 50 🙂

  2. Julie Feb 1 2012 at 6:53 am #

    Great post Vee! Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

  3. Sooz Feb 1 2012 at 7:47 am #

    A squillion. *giggle*

    Great post, Vee. I think any and every writer (er….or person) out there can identify with this. We are always driven to push ourselves to the max, hoping that’s where the “satisfaction” will come. But, you’re right, it *does* keep us pushing ourselves–keep us safe from stagnation. I’ll try to keep that in mind the next time I’m feeling like a slug in a cesspool.

    • Vahini Feb 1 2012 at 9:13 am #

      The best way to measure things is in squillions! And thanks, Sooz 🙂

  4. Erin Bowman Feb 1 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Fantastic post, Vee! I too struggle with this. I think these feelings of inadequacy (and doubts and fear and everything else that writers tend to stress about) are in some weird twisted way really, realllly wonderful. If we didn’t feel them, it would mean we didn’t care…about our craft, our readers, our work. As you so brilliantly point out, inadequacy pushes us to always be better, always grow, always improve. (Thank goodness for that silver lining, because some days the Doubts make me want to bawl my eyes out.)

    • Vahini Feb 2 2012 at 1:38 am #

      That’s exactly it — the perfect way to put it, Erin! These feelings are wonderful, in a weird and extremely twisted way 🙂

  5. Stephanie Allen Feb 1 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    This is a really good way to look at it! I’ll admit, my feelings of inadequacy have often led me to wind up on the couch watching TV and eating chocolate, but channeling the feelings into creating something Awesome is much more productive! (And probably healthier. Unless you’re eating chocolate while you’re writing.) Thanks for writing this post!

    • Vahini Feb 2 2012 at 1:40 am #

      Oh, Stephanie, that’s pretty much my inadequacy routine, too. Chocolate, TV, and general mopeyness, haha. It’s hard to channel those feelings into being creative, sometimes, but it’s usually so worthwhile (although totally not healthier for me. I get massive Mexican and Chinese food cravings whenever I’m writing, haha!).

  6. Small Review Feb 1 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    Wonderful post! You’re spot on– “I’m not good enough” and “I can do better” are two sides of the same coin (though one is a decidedly more productive side!)

    I try to turn my harsh judgements of my work into motivation to do better, but sometimes I just need to tell my critical side to shut up already. I might not have an on/off switch for my internal critic, but sometimes I can shove her in the closet, stick my fingers in my ears, and say “lalalala I’m not listening!” 🙂

    • Vahini Feb 2 2012 at 1:42 am #

      Thank you!! And singing annoying things to your internal critic is the best way to shut them up, I find! Totally do that one, too 🙂

  7. Rowenna Feb 2 2012 at 9:23 am #

    Such a great post–it can be so difficult to constantly fight to improve against the nagging feeling that it’s never quite enough. I know for me, being unpublished, it hits a point where inadequacy really strikes hard–is this ever good enough? What if I can *never* be good enough? I find that the more you pull inward the worse it is–you have to create reasons to affirm your abilities. Crit partners, contests, even blogging–it helps to have feedback! But sit by yourself and dwell on it? Just makes it worse!

    • Vahini Feb 5 2012 at 2:30 am #

      You’re absolutely right!! It’s best to reach out, and get feedback from others instead of slaving over your manuscript with nothing but ridiculous amounts of chocolate and your insecurities for company 🙂

  8. jodimeadows Feb 2 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    Yes! Beautiful post. I think most writers probably know how this feels. There have been weeks and months where I thought I might give up, but like you, I’d much rather turn that around and keep working harder.

    <3 <3 <3

    • Vahini Feb 5 2012 at 2:31 am #

      It is a universal feeling with writers, I think. Thanks, Jodi! 🙂

  9. Jesse Owen Feb 11 2012 at 5:49 am #

    Fab post, that describes me all the time – it’s that feeling that keeps making me put a manuscript on hold and then, um, never picking it back up again and starting on something else! 🙂

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