My name is Peter Ford, and I have a problem. You see, I have these days where I sit down in front of my laptop, stare at what I’ve written, or even worse, at a blank screen, and ask myself, ‘What on earth am I doing thinking I can write? Perhaps I should stop doing this and get a proper job!’ This can be a big problem when it happens, and on a really bad day it can be a complete showstopper. But I’m not alone, and on the positive side, it does give me a rare chance to put myself in the same bracket as writers like Stephen King, and John Grisham. Yes, just like me, it appears even the greats have their moments of self-doubt!
But it’s not just a problem for writers. It’s something nearly all of us do in our lives, at least some of the time, and it can be totally debilitating. I count myself lucky this is now just an occasional problem with my writing – there was a time when self-doubt was my world. I became almost paralysed by self-doubt to such a point that I doubted I was actually worthy of being alive. Trust me, self-doubt doesn’t get much more debilitating than that!
But I was lucky. I had a friend. He was the sort of friend who wasn’t frightened to tell me what I had to do to sort myself out. I already knew, of course, but sometimes you need someone to offer one or two unpleasant truths, to remind you that what you already know in your heart, is the thing you have to do. That was the day I decided enough was enough. An old boss I worked for once told me, ‘When something’s not working anymore, you have to change something.’ Well, my life wasn’t working anymore…
Now, ten years on, I can look back and congratulate myself on the best decision I ever made. Since then I’ve moved (several times), divorced, married my lovely wife Mary, and started writing. I have never regretted that decision, and the day I left my old life behind was the day I began to leave my self-doubt behind, except, of course, on those occasional days in front of my laptop. But these days it doesn’t stop me for long. I’ve developed a strategy for dealing with self-doubt, that consists of asking myself three questions.
Question One: Why Am I Doing This?
In my case this means, why do I write? The simple answer is because I’ve always wanted to, but in my old life I was always told the only way to get on is to ‘get a proper job.’ That’s fine if it’s something you want to do, but I believe you’re always more likely to succeed if you do what you enjoy doing. Frankly, I enjoy weaving words together to create a story. I know I’m not the greatest, but I also know I get better all the time as I hone my skills.
Question Two: What Motivates me?
When you’ve spent your life trying to be what everyone else expects, and continually being told a million reasons why you shouldn’t do what you want to do, and how you’ll never succeed, you tend to believe it. Then, when you meet someone who asks, ‘Why not try?’ you reel off all the reasons that have been drummed into you. You finish with, ‘And what if I fail? Everyone will say, I told you so!’ Mary’s answer was simply, ‘Yes, but what if you succeed?’
You might think proving everyone was wrong would be a powerful motivator, but I’ve found something stronger. It’s not wanting to prove all those people from my past were wrong that motivates me, it’s wanting to repay Mary’s faith, and to prove to myself that I can do it.
Question Three: What Is My Goal?
I wouldn’t be here, with nine books written, if it wasn’t for the unfailing support of my wife, Mary. Yes, there are others too, but she is my greatest inspiration. When others were doubting, she kept unwavering belief in me. My goal is simple: I want to repay that belief. How will I do that? By making enough money from my writing to buy a house where we can see out the rest of our days, and by giving us the security to make sure she can retire without any worries.
You might just find you could apply the same thre questions next time you find self-doubt is threatening to stop you from achieving something.