50k words vs. Infinite Self Doubt: My 30 day Writing Battle

I was eleven when I wrote a novella. It was a story of two sisters, twins, who discover their uncle is running a smuggling racket and how they put him behind bars. I was very proud of this story. Then I failed my math mid-term exam and I hated everything about myself, including my novella.

I destroyed it, page by page, in a small pond, in our home in Quetta. This was in the summer of 1992. I was twelve.

From that moment, the bug of self-doubt planted itself in my mind. Especially when it came to my writing. I was my biggest and worst critic. For the longest time I didn’t write. It wasn’t the lack of ideas but a lack of courage to put pen to paper. There was this voice inside me on permanent playback mode – you’re not good enough, your work isn’t good enough, nobody’s going to read this. Not only did I keep listening to this voice, I started believing in it too.

Self-doubt is a horrific thing. It creeps up on you slowly and before you know it, settles down in your very soul. This self-doubt monster has a very low opinion of everything you do. In my case, every time I wrote something, this monster surfaced from its little hole and filled me with dread about my work.

When I signed up for NaNoWriMo last year, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Busy with arranging the event for DWL, the reality of writing 50k words in a month hit me when I sat down to write on Nov 1st. There I was, staring at the blinking cursor on the blank screen, my mind full of some sketchy details about my story and an infinite amount of self-doubt.

Writing is a solitary activity and when you’re stuck in a corner, there aren’t many people who can genuinely understand your problem and help.The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that you’re not alone. There are many others like you who are trying to overcome their demons and put their story together. That first day, I reached out to my NaNoWriMo buddies and they, well, rose to the occasion and dragged me out of my debilitating self-doubt. Don’t worry about punctuation right now, Omer said, just write your story and edit later. Silence these voices in your mind, Afia messaged, this is YOU getting in your own way again.

These simple messages were life-savers. Where I was going to give up at 990 words, I managed to write 1756 words the first day. It was a small step but a step in the right direction. And not only did I keep improving the word count every day, I actually managed to win the competition with two days to spare!

I’ve not completely rid myself of self-doubt after NaNoWriMo. It still surfaces now and then but after writing 50k words, I feel a little more equipped to fight it. And as another NaNoWriMo approaches, I look forward to drowning my self-doubt in a sea of words.