7 Strategies for Overcoming Self-defeating Thoughts

Lil' Stinker, the Self-defeating Skunk

My story stinks!

I can’t write worth beans.

Who would ever want to read this?

How many times have you said things like that to yourself? More than you care to admit, if you’re anything like me.

Self-defeating thoughts are one of Twelve Troublemakers that plague me as a writer. I’m exploring one a week. This is the sixth in the series.

Those uninvited and unwelcome thoughts will visit on occasion. They come knocking, and it can be tough to resist them. They’re pesky, persistent, and pushy. And they do us no good. Therefore, we must learn to resist, to fight back, to shut the door in their face.

How? Glad you asked, because I have some ideas you might find helpful.

7 Strategies for Overcoming Self-defeating Thoughts

Don’t listen to the lies. ~ Self-defeating thoughts will come, but we don’t have to listen to them. Think of a small child who is told something she doesn’t want to hear. She covers her ears and chants “I can’t hear you” with impressive volume. While we’re too mature to take such action, we can do so figuratively. Choose not to listen, and fill your mind with other thoughts. If you’re inclined to pray, talk to God. You could give yourself a pep talk. It’s hard to hear pesky voices when we’re talking.

Watch your self-talk. ~ Muttering negative thoughts to ourselves about ourselves does us no good. Doing so is like issuing those stinky thoughts an invitation to a pity party. When talking to yourself, avoid the temptation to put yourself or your writing down. Instead, learn to compliment yourself. You don’t have to exaggerate or try to fool yourself with grandiose statements such as “Look out Oprah! Here I come.” Sincere, truthful compliments such as “Nice metaphor!” or “Check out that snappy dialogue!” can do wonders to ward off self-defeating thoughts.

Seek the truth. ~ Learning to engage in positive self-talk can take time. On our down days, we can have trouble believing we’ve written anything but garbáge. One way to help is to seek truth about ourselves from what others say. I’m not saying we should ask others to shower us with praise. We can train ourselves to notice nice things people say about us and our writing. Sources include comments on our blogs, replies to comments we leave on others’ blogs, emails, feedback from critique partners and contest judges.

Accept the truth. ~ When someone says something nice about us or our work, we can choose to believe them. On days when we feel down, there can be a tendency to doubt the truth in anything positive. Remembering that people usually say what they mean can help. After all, most people give sincere compliments. Don’t you? We can learn to accept those that come our way graciously.

Establish a support system. ~ Surrounding ourselves with people who believe in us and want to see us realize our dreams is not only wise, it’s also healthy. Reach out to others and make new friends. Doing so online is easy these days with so many blogs and social networks available. Over time, some of the friendships will deepen, and we’ll have a group of supportive friends who can offer encouragement when we’re feeling blue.

Set up a Sunshine Folder. ~ Credit for the name of the folder goes to author Gina Holmes. She used the term in her Novel Journey post “What is it really like to be published?” A sunshine folder is a place where one saves uplifting letters and emails to read, as Gina put it so well, “on days I feel like a miserable hack.” We can set up a folder on our computers as a place to save those encouraging snippets from emails, blog comments, messages on our loops, etc. and another for those rare but oh, so sweet handwritten notes and cards that come by snail mail.

Create a Wall of Fame. ~ If you’re a visual person like me, you might enjoy creating a Wall of Fame. This is a place in our writing space where we can hang items that remind us of our successes. Some possibilities include: contest certificates; articles we’ve published (yes, your church or local chapter newsletter counts); a judge’s comment that meant a great deal, printed out and framed; a helpful critique from a published author. Some might not agree with me on this, but I used to have my first rejection letter on my wall. It proved I was serious about pursuing publication and had done what many only talk about doing; I had completed a book and sent it out into the big wide world. The object is to include items that have positive memories and encourage us to keep reaching for our dreams.

Your Thoughts . . . and a Drawing

Do self-defeating thoughts wiggle their way into your writing world?

What are some ways you shove self-defeating thoughts out of your mind?

If you set up a Wall of Fame in your writing room, what would you put on it?

One person who leaves a comment and answers one of these questions will win the skunk pictured above. If you don’t have a use for this cute little Folkmanis finger puppet, you could always share it with a child or grandchild. Plus, I’ll add a surprise for you.

I’ll hold the drawing Sunday, March 20th and post the winner’s name in the post published the next day, when I’ll introduce the next of the Twelve Troublemakers.

Mosey the Meandering Mouse from last Monday’s drawing went to Maggie Fechner.

Odds of winning vary based on number of entrants.
I’ll ship to U.S. and Canadian addresses only.
Offer void where prohibited.

About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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25 Responses to 7 Strategies for Overcoming Self-defeating Thoughts

  1. Oh, Keli, thanks so much for your awesome comment. I appreciate it.

    I love your series on finger puppets. Dubious the Doubt Dragon says hello. (he’s sitting on my desk as we speak).

    I hope you’re having a great day!

    And girl, all I have are self-defeating thoughts.

  2. Martina Bedregal Calderón says:

    I have self-defeating thoughts sometimes, but not in my writing world…lol.

    On a wall of fame I would put a huge award for Char Chaffin. I absolutely adore her writing style and her stories!!

    And a list of fame of you Keli, and of all posters here. 🙂

  3. Wendy says:

    It helps when you give up on trying to be perfect too. Putting less stress on yourself helps.

    And I can’t say enough great things about the support system I’ve found!!!
    ~ Wendy

  4. territiffany says:

    I struggle with this one all the time. I have a wall of fame but don’t look at it enough–not sure what it will take to convince myself some days–other days I am doing okay. Now I need to employ these strategies this week as I prepare my class to teach!

  5. I have a sunshine file. It is titled “I like you.” I copy and paste all of the positive comments from my contest critiques and read them on days when it is raining negative thoughts. Works very well!
    Since Dubious Dragon said hello, I must send a shout out from Prickles the Pressure Porcupine. He hangs out in my writing area and hides from my children who are determined Mommy doesn’t need him as much as they do! They are so wrong!

  6. A big resounding YES! Especially since I’m doing some book surgery and very worried its not working. Thanks for the tips, Keli!

  7. Thank you for addressing this challenge to one’s writing success. Yes, negative thoughts find their way into my heart. Sometimes I let them get me down, and other times, I have the sense to reject them. I like your suggestions to refute these missiles aimed at our self-esteem. I sometimes cause these thoughts to float away from me when I decide that it doesn’t matter whether I write, or not, or if my writing is worthy, God loves me. Blessings to you, Keli…

  8. We love the skunk puppet! (My daughter saw it over my shoulder.) Thanks for the great tips here. I hadn’t heard about the sunshine folder and I will definitely be setting one up!

  9. erin says:

    I struggle with self-defeating thoughts a lot. When I got my FINAL edits on my book, I called my agent and said “I can’t publish this… it’s terrible!!!” and she, of course, called me and gave me a huge pep talk about how EVERY author feels that way at some point in their life. I think the best remedy for self-defeating thoughts is to talk to loved ones and pray. I can always count on my mom or sister to be encouraging and help me get rid of negativity! My wall of fame would include one thing: My book. It’s my biggest writing accomplishment at this point.

  10. candidkerry says:

    YES! I felt like you wrote this for me! I’ve definitely dealt with a LOT of negative thoughts, mainly about my book’s topic. Sometimes the voices take over and all I hear is, “No one wants to read about this!” or “Who’s going to care about this character?”

    God guided me with two awesome scriptures early on in the writing of my story. 1 Corinthians 2:5 and Psalm 118:8 reminded me where my faith and trust should be – in Him. And because I knew this story idea is from Him, I know I can trust His promises -whatever they are and wherever they lead me (Publication or not).

    Thanks for the timely reminder that we all face the negative noise of our subconscious, and it shouldn’t get in the way of our writing dreams!

    What a great idea about a Sunshine folder, too. I’ll be starting one soon! 🙂

    Thanks Keli!

  11. Tana Adams says:

    I would put, “I don’t have time not to believe in myself.”

    I want the skunk!!! Too cute!!

    • Martina Bedregal Calderón says:

      Keli, then give the skunk to Tana, please. We don´t need a skunk; I have my son here, that lil’ stinker…hahahahaha.

  12. Cindy R. Wilson says:

    Keli, those are great ideas–especially the sunshine folder or wall of fame! I tend to compare myself to other writers (or their journey’s) a lot. I have to remind myself all the time that we’re all unique and no matter what we’re writing, it’s still important to someone. Hope you have a great week!

  13. Donna Pyle says:

    Love, love, love this post! Thank you.

  14. I try very hard to ignore the self doubts I have about writing. I love to write, so why worry? But when I have a big hole in a story premise, I wonder if I’ve chosen the right field. That’s usually when I talk to my fellow writer and best friend. She is my encourager and helps me fix the holes. I also remember good things my teachers have said about my fiction. Then I get back on track. I’m young, I know. I have much to learn and this is just part of the education. I’d rather learn than quit.

    Thanks for the encouraging reminder.

  15. I’m going through some self-doubts after receiving my content edit for book #2. The support from a more experienced writer has helped me a lot. She has been there to encourage me and remind me that all writers go through times like this. It has been wonderful.

  16. Oh my! Once again, this post is exactly what I needed to read TODAY!! Earlier today, I was having some doubts about my writing and feeling fairly discouraged and frustrated. And, although this isn’t major – – I even typed my e-mail address incorrectly when posting on The Seekers blog! 😦 So that only added to my feelings of inadequacy. But, I knew I needed to keep “plugging away” on my writing, so I did….very slowly. ~ Now that I’ve read your post, it’s definitely given me the lift and motivation I needed, so THANK YOU KELI!! 🙂 ~ I really love all your suggestions about defeating those self-doubts, and one thing I try to always do is to stay focused on the fact that the Lord called me to write during this season of my life. IF I can remain focused on that all-important fact, it makes my doubts easier to handle. (*sigh* However, sometimes I don’t focus on that fact as I should, and the old nagging doubts resurface). ~ Thank you again for sharing. Blessings, Patti Jo 🙂

  17. Anne Barton says:

    “She covers her ears and chants ‘I can’t hear you’ with impressive volume. While we’re too mature to take such action, . . .”

    Confession time . . . I’m not too mature for this. Whatever works, right? 😉 Thanks for the great post, Keli!

  18. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to everyone who shared about their battles with self-defeating thoughts. Somehow it’s comforting to know we’re not the only one who experiences them, isn’t it? Having others who won’t let us whine and wring our hands for too long is a real blessing. Thanks for being some of my biggest encouragers.

  19. Great post, Keli! Very timely for me! Experiencing lots of situations (friends and family with heavy issues) that have gotten me down – and away from consistent writing. Thanks for the pick-me-up tips! Love this series! And I must say, the puppets are adorable even though they’re pesky critters! Have a wonderful day and God bless!

  20. Pepper says:

    Oh Keli,
    I felt every word of this post today. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement. GOOD Psychology
    From my blog to my novels to the work I do beyond writing, it’s so easy to second guess and end of spiraling into the depths of despair.
    Romans 4:8 really hits home with this post today. “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
    And remembering WHO we are in Jesus.

  21. Theresa D. Love says:

    Thanks for this inspirational writing. I joined SCBWI in 2006 and have let Lil’Stinker, the Self-defeating Skunk, keep me from spreading my wings. Being “safe” will not get you published! So, I’ve worked on my craft and cover my ears and say “la, la, la, la, I’m not listening” whenever those dismal thoughts arise. Thanks for giving me more strategies to defeat the “Dismal Downers.”

  22. Pepper says:

    btw, Keli
    I’d love to be in the drawing. I could use that little skunk for therapy (me and my kids with Autism) 🙂

  23. What an excellent post, Keli! I sure needed to hear this. I love your ideas and intend to implement several of them–especially the one where I surround myself with proof that I’m not a hack! LOL

    You are a huge blessing, girl! I appreciate you! 🙂

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