Not Writing Because I am a Writer: Self-Doubt as Self Story

Why, you may ask, have I not been writing posts for this blog as frequently as I once did?

When I started this blog in 2014, I wrote one post a week. Every Thursday; very disciplined.  Then once every two weeks. Now it has slipped further. My friend Caroline asked me why I am writing less often.

Because I am now a fully accredited writer, I told her. A writer who is enrolled in a Master’s degree program in Writing at a highly regarded university. And the more I write, the more I doubt myself. 

Which I think is something many women have long excelled at. Self-doubt.

I don’t think it I am alone in specializing in self-doubt.

I wrote once about visiting a law school professor during his (always “his” back then) office hours to question my grade on a final exam. I thought it was too high! Can you imagine, I suggested he’d made a mistake in giving me an “A” because I didn’t think I deserved it. The professor politely confirmed that his grade was correct and shooed me out of his office.

Some of us never learn. We think every good “grade” in whatever field we are in must be a mistake on the part of the grade-giver.

That close cousin of self-doubt, self-comparison, has also been visiting me lately. You may share the same unwelcome cousin, those thoughts that compel us to compare ourselves to others.

Though you haven’t asked, I will tell you that I have been getting (unexpectedly IMHO) excellent grades in the writing course I am taking this semester. In “Contemporary American Writers” we read both fiction and non-fiction written by a diverse group of American (duh) writers and then write Critical Response papers analyzing their work from the perspective of a writing craft technique such as character development, point of view or structure.

True Confession:  I had to google the term “Critical Response.”  It did not help when our young adult son told me that he learned how to write a Critical Response when he was in middle school. When I was in middle school, it was then called “junior high” which tells you (a) how long ago it was that I was in junior high and (b) that I never learned to write a Critical Response paper.

But I do now!  I received a very good grade on the first one I wrote. And an even better one on the second.

Does this mean I am a good writer? Or simply a person who is good at following the professors’s directions? Both? Neither? Or someone perennially plagued with self-doubt.

The doubt factor has even crept into my reading for pleasure. I am a rabid reader. The kind of person known to read the back of Kleenex boxes when nothing else is available and is desperate for the printed word.

In the greatest of ironies, now that I am learning to read like a writer, I am enjoying it less! I read a few paragraphs in a much-anticipated novel or a favorite mystery and then start to think:

  • wait, isn’t this too much back story?
  • shouldn’t there be a scene here instead of summary?
  • did the author just make a mistake in her point of view?

Sometimes I want to go back to my old self who was not consciously aware of the distinctions between “alliteration,” “anaphora” and “assonance.”

Perhaps I have also mislaid my writer’s “voice.”

At a meeting of my amazing DC women’s writers group earlier this week, my writer pals unanimously concluded that while my writing has improved (they credit the classes I’ve been taking),  I seem to have lost some of my writer’s voice.

I’m not as snarky, not as sarcastic, not as candid, not as clever. Not as much me. Perhaps because every time I sit down to write I am too damn careful to use every bit of writerly craft I’ve been learning correctly.

Too much focus on craft = loss of authentic voice?

The supportive women in my group reassured me that I will – someday – recover my original voice. That once I get beyond this “wow, look what I learned today” phase of my writing career (which is, by the way, annoying the heck out of my husband), that the craft part will come more naturally and the authentic me part of it will return.

Will I also outgrow the “self-doubt” part as well? Or will I always be that person double-checking the transcript to see if my grade is correct?

I vote for the latter. Self-doubt is not easily outgrown. Look at this way: like many women, I will always –  effortlessly – get an “A” in self-doubt.






Filed under Blogging, Books, Communications, Education, Female Friends, Law School, Reading, Second Careers, Women, Writing

9 responses to “Not Writing Because I am a Writer: Self-Doubt as Self Story

  1. bonnie mitnick

    When i was choosing my freshman english topic to write, i deliberately and intentionally avoided my favorite authors so that i wouldnt have to ruin their wonderfulness by analyzing them to pieces. (J.D. Salinger, Hemingway). I chose Jean Cocteau because his play “Orpheus,” was my first encounter with personifying Greek mythology characters. I loved greek mythology from 7 th grade until high school. I dont remember what i learned from my paper, but i would read cocteau again if i could find him in the local library.( On a Kibbutz in israel) You are a good writer. You keep me riveted to the end of each post. Read Franny and Zooey. Write for your readers who have a library made of donations of books… Your loyal reader, Bracha Silverman

    בתאריך 8 במרץ 2017 20:15,‏ “Witty Worried and Wolf” כתב:

    > Nancy Wolf posted: ” Why, you may ask, have I not been writing posts for > this blog as frequently as I once did? When I started this blog in 2014, I > wrote one post a week. Every Thursday; very disciplined. Then once every > two weeks. Now it has slipped further. My friend Ca” >


  2. Laura Caffentzis

    Dear Nancy (if I may be so familiar to use your first name!), Loved this post! By writing that, I do not minimize other posts, as I have shared more than one of them with girlfriends. It is more a function of this one speaking to me so loudly that I have the courage to respond. Your humor and wit are marvelous additions to the topic of self-doubt. How have you managed to get inside my head? And express it so perfectly????

    Thank you, thank you!

    Laura Caffentzis

    On Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 12:15 PM, Witty Worried and Wolf wrote:

    > Nancy Wolf posted: ” Why, you may ask, have I not been writing posts for > this blog as frequently as I once did? When I started this blog in 2014, I > wrote one post a week. Every Thursday; very disciplined. Then once every > two weeks. Now it has slipped further. My friend Ca” >


  3. I give you an A on this post. A bit of fun and educational and candid!


  4. Along the same line as self doubt— When I was teaching or subbing full time, I felt as though I “owned” that classroom. There was no loss of confidence! I could do it! I taught for 25 years and earned numerous awards along the way!
    Now I have just started subbing after an almost ten year break. In place of chalkboards, there are now “Smartboards” hooked up to the computer. Instead of “regular” math, there is now an entirely different way of doing math,instead of teacher manuals, which had all of the answers, you can now access your lesson plans via the computers— and you best hope that you understand not only how to do the math, but the way it is now being explained… My self confidence has been shaken to the core.


  5. memorten

    You nailed it, even if your “voice” has changed. Maybe evolved? Regardless, I enjoyed your observations and am thrilled you have gotten serious enough to enroll in the writing program. Keep it coming.


  6. Bonnie J. Weissman

    I love your writing and your voice! I can also so relate to self doubt. As a college senior, I remember getting an “A” on a final and thinking the professor made a mistake. It was a take home paper, and I wrote it about Titus Andronicus in one night, just hoping I could squeak by. He said it was one of the two best papers of the year… go figure! Things like this have happened throughout my academic and work life. I think it’s a common phenomenon among a lot of us, unfortunately.


  7. Nancy, that’s really interesting about losing some of your natural voice. I’m reading Benjamin Percy’s essay collection THRILL ME, and there’s an entire (EXCELLENT) chapter dedicated to criticizing writing programs for doing just that–discouraging unique voice and creating an MFA style. It’s wonderful to have a writing group who can help keep you close to your natural voice, the one that made you want to be a writer in the first place.


    • Nina, I wish I had read that chapter in Percy’s collection before I started this program! But very good to know that i am not alone in having this concern. Thanks for letting me know, Nancy


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