Short and Sweet Advice For Writers: Stop Putting Yourself Down

girl pig insultIf you’re like most writers (even the working ones), you would like to spend more time (and make more money) writing. You might write as a side hustle, pro bono, or “just for fun.” Or, if you’re like me, you might make your living writing, but only because you do a lot of commercial (vs. creative) work – copywriting, content marketing, etc.

My writing life includes bits of each of these scenarios. I make my living writing website content, ebooks, reports, blog posts, etc. (primarily, but not exclusively, for corporate, business-to-business – B2B – clients in the technology and marketing industries). I take on the occasional side project to write a paid feature for an arts or lifestyle magazine. I also write a bi-weekly column for my local paper as a pro bono gig. And, finally, I journal, blog, and write fiction “just for fun.”

That’s a lot of writing.

Still, when someone asks what I do, I invariably find a way to “play small” and more or less put myself down. For example:

Friendly, curious person: “So, what do you do?”

Me: “I’m a writer. Well, not a real writer. I mostly write websites and crap like that.”

FCP: “So, you write a column. That’s neat. What’s it about?”

Me: “Well, they don’t pay me, so they let me write whatever I want.”

FCP: “I really liked your piece in [insert magazine name here].”

Me: “Oh, thanks. That’s not my real job, but it was fun to write.”

You see the pattern here, right?

First of all, I clearly can’t take a compliment (or even gracefully field an innocent comment or inquiry about my writing). Secondly, I have a bad habit of automatically down playing (or, worse, even ridiculing) my work.

This is wrong on so many levels.

It’s ungracious and often makes the other person feel uncomfortable or awkward. It effectively shuts down any further inquiry or conversation. And, worst of all, it is the kind of out loud self-talk that chips away at my self confidence, undermining any sense of pride I might take in my craft.

Bad, bad, bad.

Do you do this kind of thing? If so, let’s make a pact to stop. Today. When someone asks us a question about our writing, let’s see if we can bring ourselves to respond in a way that is appreciative and supportive instead of mean and derisive.

FCP: “So, what do you do?”

Me: “I’m a writer. By day, I help B2B companies tell their brand stories. The rest of the time I write columns and articles, and I’m also working on some fiction pieces that I’m pretty excited about. What kind of stories do you like to read?”

FCP: “So, you write a column. That’s neat. What’s it about?”

Me: “I write about small pleasures, the wonders of nature, and the quirky experiences we all share … like what to do when you find a spider in the house. What do you do when you find a spider in the house?”

FCP: “I really liked your piece in [insert magazine name here].”

Me: “Thank you so much. I really enjoyed writing that piece. I spend most of my time writing marketing copy for B2B brands, but I love it when I have the chance to write a piece that’s about a topic I love. What did you think about …?”

These answers aren’t perfect, but they are much better than that first set of examples.

The key: don’t downplay your work; don’t put yourself down. You are a writer. Period. You don’t have to make excuses to explain why you aren’t (yet) a best-selling novelist or poet laureate or famous screenplay writer. When someone asks you about what you do, they aren’t asking you to compare yourself to your ideal of a writer. They’re just curious about what kinds of things you write. They don’t deserve to have all your I’m-not-a-real-writer baggage dumped on their heads. Keep that to yourself, and find a way to open the conversation up to include them. They’ll feel better. You’ll feel better. And, maybe best of all, you’ll be sending your brain (and the Universe) a more positive message about your writing.

Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. i am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
Photo Credit: pcgn7 via Compfight cc

82 thoughts on “Short and Sweet Advice For Writers: Stop Putting Yourself Down

    • I like how you arrived at your answer. “This is what I spend so many hours a day doing, so this is what I am.” Logical & simple. No baggage. Good for you! 🙂

  1. I had a hard time with this one. I’d make it sound like writing was a hobby, instead of a job. Yeah I’m not paid yet, but I plan to be. And I work really hard to make that dream a reality. Now I’m much more upfront about my career choice, possibilities of being published, and all of the hard work I do. Some people are supportive and interested, while others clearly think I’m wasting my time, but no matter what their reaction mine is the same. I am always confident about my choice. Thanks for this great post. It’s a good reminder of how I need to continue to be.

    • Confident in your choice. That’s the best way to be. Love it.
      Ultimately, we really only have to please ourselves, right? If others don’t “get” it, that’s okay. That’s their issue, not ours.

      Good luck with all your hard work. I send you best wishes for the day when it all pays off! 🙂

  2. I love this!! So well-said!! Thank you for posting this as it comes at a very opportune time for me!
    Here’s to all us writers out there! Cheers:)

    • I love it when my posts are well timed. 😉 Glad this one found you at an opportune time, Lia. Thanks for saying so.

  3. Yessssss! I especially like your improved quotes. Reading them, I realize they also reveal a more honest, gutsy version of yourself. I wonder if this is part of why we women tend to shy away and go for the safer put-down instead. (Admitting you’re working on fiction pieces is a form of vulnerability, as it can hint at hopes and dreams; it’s personal). Good for you. Keep it up!

    • What an interesting observation. You’re right. I wonder if it has something to do with being a “woman of a certain age” and starting to reach that place where I care less and less about what others think. 😉
      Your comment about vulnerability is also spot on. Revealing my desire to write stories always feels a bit like getting naked. It’s like I’m a grown woman saying I want to be a ballerina or a princess. It feels insubstantial and a bit naive.
      But, I know otherwise. I may never dance en pointe or don a tiara, but I can write stories. I know that I can.

  4. Um, someone pays you to write, so you are a writer. That’s like my dream. Be proud, shout it out, fly your freak, I mean writer, flag high ’cause those of us non-equity writers dream of doing what you do. That’s not to minimize your writing and skill. You deserve your achievements. But if you can’t pat yourself on the back and feel satisfaction, then what’s the point?


    • Thanks, Elizabeth.
      I do fly my writer flag on some days. I feel deeply grateful that I’m able to do what I do. I also know that my writing life, while not perfect, is something many others would be delighted to have. I suppose it’s all relative, and – thanks to human nature – we’re never satisfied with what we have, but keep striving for that next, better thing. BUT … it’s important to take a moment now and again to acknowledge and celebrate our wins, even if they aren’t the ones we set out to accomplish in the first place.
      Thanks for the gentle reminder.

  5. Thanks for the advice! I find myself doing this a lot. I guess I assume that people automatically think I have a book out when I say I’m a writer. So I have to say, “Oh no, I just have a couple articles published online, no biggie.” Gotta stop doing that, haha!

    • Everyone starts somewhere, right? I like to think of myself as a writer-in-progress. It helps stop me from that knee-jerk qualifying stuff like “Oh, I’ve only done such and such so far.” It sounds (and feels) better if you couch what you’ve done so far in the broader context of what you plan to do: “Most recently, I’ve been publishing some articles online, and I’m also working on X, Y, and Z.”

    • YES!
      Which is another whole topic and one I plan to write about in the near future.
      Writing provides value in and of itself. It does not need to generate dollars and cents in order to bring riches into our lives. SUCH an important point. Thank you.

    • I’m sorry for your tear, Hollie Ann, but I hope it was one of relief or at least recognition and knowing you are not alone.
      I hope next week is a better one and am glad this post found its way to you when it did.

  6. Jamie, I don’t bother telling anyone anymore. No one cares, even people I know well and see often–such as my hairdresser. At first my family and friends were semi-interested. Now, they ignore every book I publish. Since anyone can publish these days, being an author is not such a big deal! LOL.

    I get down when I fail to meet my expectations as a writer. Other than that, I pretty much keep mum about my vocation. I couldn’t stop writing even if I wanted to. To me, it’s what matters most–that and believing in yourself.

    • I’m sorry you haven’t been able to find any circle of support for your creative endeavors, but am glad that you seem to have found a source of self sufficiency. Believing in ourselves and our work is much more important than any outside support. Having the belief of others is a nice-to-have. Having an internal belief in what we’re doing is a must-have.
      Good for you.

  7. Thank you, I need to step up too when it comes to writing…
    not that I do write a lot…
    or any good…
    I’ll try again…
    I write when I can but I really enjoy it…
    and considering the little effort I put in I achieve great results!
    I wonder what would happen if I’d do it full time 😉

    • LOL
      It’s hard, isn’t it? 🙂
      It takes practice, but eventually we hopefully learn to shed the self doubt and share what we do with confidence and pride.

      Good luck!

  8. Thank you for this post. It took me the longest time to start referring to myself as a writer, cause you know, you only a writer when you have a book published… by a big house… with a lot of sales. You are SO right, we have to stop this self-doubt, especially when love what we do. I AM A WRITER! 😀

    • Exactly.
      Nowhere does the definition of “writer” dictate that a finished novel or publishing contract or top sales figures are a prerequisite for holding this title. If you write, you are a writer. From there, it’s up to you to define what kind of writer you become. It’s kind of cool, actually, all the possibilities.

  9. Thanks for this post! Too often I’ve been asked what I wanted to be, only to hear, “No, I meant a proper job,” when I say I want to write for a living. It’s difficult sometimes because people think it’s just a dream, or an unreachable goal, so I often play it down as a side hobby.

    I’m the same in the regard that I can’t take a compliment, and as my own worst critic I’m usually harder on myself than anyone else would be. I’ll try take your advice and send out more positive vibes when it comes to my writing!

    • You’re welcome. 🙂
      Being a writer IS a proper job. I’ve been supporting myself and my daughter for almost eight years now. Granted, I’m not a novelist or even a journalist, but I’m still using my “wordcraft” to earn a living. It’s a “real” and proper job if you work hard at it.

      Here’s to those more positive vibes!

    • Hello, Pat. Nice to “see” you. 🙂
      Glad to hear that you’re happily wearing the mantle of “writer” or “author” now. It’s always been interesting to me how fraught the journey to that moment is. It takes some of us the greater part of a lifetime to work up the courage to say, “I am a writer.” But, maybe that just serves to make the moment all the more special.

  10. Love the way you rewrote the conversation – perfect illustration of how to do it.

    It can be difficult not to put one’s self down. A friend of mine tells me, “just say thank you and smile till it hurts.” Sometimes in playful moments I’ll tell people, “Yes, I am a world famous author you’ve not heard of yet.”

    • HA! “Just say thank you and smile till it hurts.” Good advice.

      Glad you liked my quickie rewrites. Honestly, even just putting them down on the screen was tough. I’m interested to see how they feel when I put them to use in the real world. I’ll report back!

  11. I actually just wrote an article on self-criticism. It seems that we tend to put ourselves down alot – especially as artists, and I do think alot of it has to do with comparing ourselves to others. We just have to recognize that we are all relevant and that our gifts and talents deserve expression – no matter what. Good post!

    • Comparison is the fuel that feeds the fires of self doubt.
      But, it’s also human nature, isn’t it?
      We see two things, and we automatically compare them – people, animals, books, movies, companies, products … everything.
      But it’s most damaging when we are one of the two things being compared. We can be unspeakably cruel when it comes to self assessment.
      As you say, it’s critical to hold onto the truth that each of us is as deserving of the right to self expression as anyone else. No matter what.
      Cheers to that!

  12. Oh yes I do!!!! Thank you so much for this reminder and pushing forward. Why on earth are we doing that? Down-seizing ourselves? Now I’ll try my very best to stop doing that and instead be proud of what I’m actually pretty good at. And not only my writing skills!

    • Good for you, Ninna!
      It’s a touch skill to learn, but I believe it pays off in spades … both internally and in terms of our external relationships and opportunities.
      Go for it!

  13. Yes! We have this funny thing that being a writer means a) being paid for writing b) a certain type of writing. But we writers are wordsmiths. We express ourselves in words. Not everyone can do that. Those other people are musicians, cooks, painters, gardeners and sculptors. We are writers. The end 🙂

    • “We are writers. The end.” Love that. So true.
      The danger lies in preconceived notions and expectations. If we could just get rid of those things, we’d be much better off.

      Nice to “see” you! 🙂

  14. wooooow! I also do the same. Staying humble every time they ask me about what do I do in life. I can relate with this. 😀 and this is view-changing one. Starting from now, let’s shout to them what we do. Great one Jamie! Thumb’s Up!!

    • Thanks so much, Arthur.
      Humble is good. Self-deprecating, not so much.
      I think that if we can muster the courage to share our enthusiasm for what we do, that would go a long way towards making it easier to shout from the rooftops about what we do. Something else to work on. 😉

  15. Yes, I needed to hear this! 😀 I often put myself down or downplay the writing I do on my blogs and as someone who is trying to publish a novel (a frequent NaNoWriMo participant). It’s really up to an individual to proudly say “I’m a writer and I write about XYZ,” instead of, “I’m sorta, kinda a writer, maybe.” Thanks, great post!

    • First of all – congrats on being a frequent NaNoWriMo participant. (I’ve done it once, and it’s no small feat!)
      Secondly, I like your approach to saying you’re a writer who writes about XYZ. Sometimes, a subtle segue from the writing to the topic provides an easy way to shift the focus of the conversation into more hospitable territory. Nicely done!

  16. Oh My God! I totally downplay the situation. Feel like if I’m not on display at Barnes & Noble can’t really say I’m a writer, even with all the articles under my belt. But you’re right! Stop doing that…that’s my goal. Great post!

    • Writing doesn’t have to be in the form of a novel to be legit. Only we can define what makes us feel legit about our work. It might be being published traditionally or in print or online. It might be getting paid or having readers or just knowing that we did it.
      Whatever it is, it’s up to us to define it in a way that works for us.
      Thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the post. 🙂

    • Hey, sweetie!
      Thanks for coming by & sharing your elevator speech anxiety. (SO with you on that one!)
      I’m definitely on board with kicking these insecurities to the curb. Puttin’ on my big girl boots now. 😉

  17. When I’m at a party, I rarely tell people I’m an author even though that’s how I’ve been making my living for many decades. Why? Because they proceed to tell me about the book that’s in their head that they would write if they only had the time. Please. Make it stop.

    • Oh, I know. I think we’ve probably each dealt with that conversation. Why do people assume that if they can write an email, they can write a novel? I can cook a few things, but I don’t assume I could open a restaurant. I am capable of braiding my daughter’s hair, but I know that doesn’t qualify me to be a hairdresser. Everyone thinks they can write simply because it looks easy. We know that’s not the case. We know it takes a lot of work and study and effort.

  18. I do that to myself. ALL. THE. FRIKKIN. TIME. And i feel so bad afterwards. And it becomes even worse when i’m not writing. And i know it must stop if nothing else, it’s killing the teeny weeny bit of self-confidence that i am left with.

    • Oh! I do that, too … the feeling guilty and doubtful about saying I’m a writer during those times when maybe I’m not really writing all that much. It’s kind of crazy when you think of it. I mean, if a brain surgeon is on sabbatical and not physically cutting people’s heads open, she doesn’t get all wishy-washy about saying she’s a brain surgeon. But we writers tend to feel like frauds if we haven’t been producing and then still want to claim our “title.” We’re weird like that.
      I hope both of us can knock that off. Once a writer, always a writer, right? 😉

  19. Thank you Jamie, I always find your posts after the fact but just when I need them. This has been one of those weeks, today being the worst, full of self doubt. I was calling my writing the worst names because I was so stuck. Let me instead say with confidence, “My name is Gene Brode and I am a writer.”

    • Nice to meet you, Gene Brode. A writer? That’s fascinating. 🙂
      Sorry you had a crappy week. I hope things are looking up and that you can stop calling your writing bad names.
      Onward and upward and definitely, unequivocally a writer.
      Good for you!

  20. Pingback: Weekend Edition – How to be a Confident Writer Plus Writing Tips and Good Reads | Live to Write - Write to Live

  21. Reblogged this on Mujerárbol and commented:
    Creo que este post dice muchas cosas acerca de como nos vemos los escritores. O sea: la gente que pasamos escribiendo la mayor parte de nuestras horas. ¡Y los comentarios son apetecibles! (Oh sorry, it’s in english)

  22. Reblogged this in Mujerárbol.
    I often behave like that but… aww! I spend the most of my daytime writing: blogging and working in my second novel XD So what’s the use of downplaying me son constantly?
    Awesome post, thanks.

  23. Pingback: Your Favorite 2015 “Weekend Edition” and “Short and Sweet” Writing Posts | Live to Write – Write to Live

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