Episode 5: Moving Through Beginner Blues

Welcome back to Alchemy for Authors!

Today I talk about my experience of being a beginner, and how to move through the self-doubt, comparisonitis, and imposter syndrome that arises once the excitement of starting something new begins to wane.

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Find the full transcript of this episode below.

Episode 5: Moving Through Beginner Blues – Transcript

Welcome back to another episode of Alchemy for Authors. Today I’m chatting about my experience of being a beginner. I find there’s a real deliciousness to starting a new project or writing a new novel. So much excitement and sometimes giddiness. But what happens when those feelings wane and are replaced with self-doubt, comparisonitis, and a good dose of imposter syndrome? Well, in this episode, I’ll share with you my tips and tricks for moving through the beginner phase. So grab a drink, find a comfy chair, sit back and enjoy the show.

Hello, my lovelies. I hope that you’ve had a wonderful creative and productive writing week.

I have not, and there is a reason why I haven’t. And so, I kind of wanted to talk about that today. One of the reasons that I have really struggled, not just this week, but really over the last month to get much writing done is because I have started a new day job and it wasn’t something that I’d actually planned. I hadn’t really been looking for a new job. My plan had been that when I left my day job, it would be to write full time. But circumstances change. The world changes a little bit, and this is where I find myself. And I’m really fortunate in that my day job is fantastic. I work with amazing people. I get to use a lot of my creativity. It has so many wonderful good things to it. But I have found myself in the position of being a beginner again. And that’s what I really wanted to talk about in this episode is the challenge of when you’re trying something new, or starting a new job, or writing your very first book, or publishing your first book, or just putting yourself out there for the first time on social media or through a podcast or anything like that. The struggles, the trials, the mindset issues that comes up when you find yourself going from somebody who feels like they know what they’re doing to being a complete beginner again.

So this is the beginning of 2022, and I’m finding that I’m not the only one actually in this position. A lot of family members and friends and a lot of us are finding that we’ve come into this year with a change in our professions or a change in direction. A lot of changes have been coming up, and so I’ve been noticing in my circle of people that a lot of us have been really struggling with this concept of being a beginner again. We find ourselves all of a sudden not being so confident in what we have to offer the world, not being so confident in our roles and who we are, questioning who we are, questioning whether we’re really cut out for these new adventures that we’re on.

I have really noticed that starting this new position, this new job, it’s the same career that I’ve been in for the last seven years. So that’s not new, but it does come with a whole lot of new challenges, new rules, new people, new timetables, a whole lot of newness that has had me go back to when I first started out on this career path. Imposter syndrome is reigning strong, questioning my ability to even fulfill the role. Little mini meltdowns due to the overwhelm of not having confidence in myself and not knowing what I’m supposed to be doing and having to be in that position where I’m asking colleagues a lot of questions before I move forward with anything. And I’ve seen the same thing with a lot of people in my circle who have also been really struggling and then texting me or chatting with me about how they’ve had little meltdowns as soon as they’re away from their job because it’s such an uncomfortable feeling to not be confident in what you’re doing. That discomfort of trying something new regardless of what it is, brings up a lot of those issues inside of us of comparisonitis, wondering what will people think of us? Will people realize that we’re a complete fraud? We don’t actually know what we’re doing and particularly in the area of new jobs. And that when you sell yourself through your CV or your resume, you are selling yourself and talking yourself up in the interviews and then you’re all excited and you start your new position and you realize just maybe you have talked yourself up too much, or you’re wondering if that’s the case because everything is so new to you and uncertain to you. And so that is something that I have been struggling with a little bit lately.

As I’m trying to find my feet in this new day job, I’m spending a lot of time outside of the job trying to prepare myself to build that confidence and to feel like I do know what I’m doing. A lot of that is driven by perfectionist tendencies, not wanting to let anybody down, but definitely that strong feeling like, oh my gosh, I don’t want anyone to see me, that I’m actually a fraud. I don’t know what I’m doing and the truth is, I do know what I’m doing. It’s just those insecurities that is making me question everything.

So what does this have to do with the world of writing?

A lot!

Because this isn’t the first time that I’ve been through these feelings of being a beginner, that unsettledness of trying something new that I’ve never done before. And we all in those situations multiple times in our lives. And I did feel it really, really strongly when I began this writing journey. So when I began to take my writing seriously and wanted to work towards actually having a career back in 2020, which really wasn’t that long ago. One of the first milestones that I came across where I really felt this fear of being a beginner was when I put on social media that I had just published my first collection of short stories, Between the Shadows. I remember pressing the post button on I think it was Facebook at the time, and turning off my device and pretty much hiding in the corner with my heart just absolutely racing in my chest. I think at one point I got on the phone to my mother and I was absolutely shaking, going, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I just put my book out in the world. People know it’s there now. I’ve posted on social media and I’m absolutely terrified of anybody seeing it. And I’ve heard this from a lot of first-time authors that as much as they can’t wait to get the book out in the world and how much they’ve dreamed for years and years to be a published author, when that time comes and it’s out there and they’re telling their friends and family, that is when they kind of crumble inside and all those anxieties rise up and all that fear and what are people going to think of me? Are they going to judge me? Is my book crap? Is no one going to even look at it? Are people going to look at it? I was stuck there. I didn’t know what was worse. Did I want everybody to ignore my post that I had published a book and never even looked at it? Or was I more scared that people would look at it and maybe it really did suck? Who knows? I didn’t know. My editor liked it. But my editor is such a lovely lady. Like, would she say otherwise?

I had all these doubts and questions going through my mind. Of course, she would if it was absolute crap. I know her well enough now to know that she would have told me, she would have made me make changes for sure. But that fear is strong. It’s a real thing. And what I was really proud of is that I didn’t let it hold me back. So despite the fact my heart was literally racing in my chest, pounding in my chest, and I was shaking and my anxiety was at an all time high. The moment passed. I went through it. I got those first few comments, people celebrating, going, yeah, you’ve got a book. Where is it? How can I get it? Yeah. I was really lucky that people were encouraging me.

That wasn’t the end of it, though. And if anything, that feeling of being a beginner hit me even harder when I released my first novel. And it was even before the releasing of my very first novel because I didn’t even know if I could write a novel. I had booked my editor in advance. I was absolutely determined that since I had done a collection of short stories, my next project was to be a novel. I had dabbled in writing novels before, never got any further than maybe halfway before giving up on the story. And so I’d never actually completed a full novel. My comfort zone was short stories. At the time, I hadn’t written anything over 50,000 words, which in itself is quite a bit. But they weren’t good words. There wasn’t much of a story there. There wasn’t much of a plot there, and it certainly didn’t round off with an ending. And so when it came for me to actually sit down and start writing a novel and taking it seriously, it was terrifying. Not all the time, because there was also that excitement as well. Like, I’m going to do this. There was those moments of like, yeah, easy, I can do this. Why not? I’ve been dreaming about it all my life, and then a lot more of the moments of, who the hell am I kidding? I can’t do this. This is too hard. I don’t know the first thing about writing a novel. I’ve never written a novel before. I had a million excuses. What got me through that, though, was in a way, tricking myself to believe that no one was going to see my novel, that I was doing it just for myself. And in a sense, I partly was. The novel was a passion project of mine, something that I’d always wanted to write. I wanted to prove to myself that it could be done. But I couldn’t completely deny the fact that, yes, of course I wanted an audience. My plan was always to get it out there in the world, across multiple platforms and bookstores. That was part of the incentive for me to even finish the book. But in those inevitable times where the writing was hard and I was suffering from huge self doubt, that was when I turned to telling myself that no one need ever read my story, that it was just for me. I never had to share it with anyone, and I never did. That was always my choice. If in the end, I got to the end of the story and I really did believe it was complete shit, there is no reason why I couldn’t just throw it in the bin or hide it in a cupboard somewhere. I always had that control over it that somehow got me through to writing the end of my novel.

And then when I finished that, it just made sense to me that I might as well spend the time and do the edits. So I reedited it, reedited it, reedited it, changed it around, rewrote chapters, did all that good stuff. And then I got hit with that Beginner syndrome again, where all my self doubt came smashing into me again, overwhelming me. And that was when I had to physically press the send button in the email to send my manuscript to my editor. Now, I’ve worked with this editor and she really is amazing. I cannot sing her praises high enough. I’d worked with her with my short story collection, but this was my first novel. It ended up being Rest Easy Resort. And having never written a novel before, who knows if it was any good? I didn’t know if it was any good. I’d had nobody else critique it until that time. My eyes were the only eyes that had been on it. And here I was sending it to the other side of the world. To a professional editor and author. To a complete stranger to not only read my manuscript, but I have obviously, being my editor, given her permission to completely pull it to shreds. And that was terrifying.

Most of us people who write in any form, we do find that quite often we have these real personal connections to our piece of writing. It becomes a part of us. And it is all too easy at times to take any criticism towards our writing as criticism towards us. And I’m not saying that that is correct in any shape or form. That should not be the way. Our writing is a product. It is something that we’ve created. And no matter how much of our heart and soul we’ve put into it, any other person’s opinion really doesn’t mean anything. And it certainly is not a reflection on who we are as a person. And so we really shouldn’t take it personally. So when my manuscript was at the editor, I can’t remember now if she had it for just a couple of weeks or an entire month. But I do remember that horrible feeling of just being absolutely paralyzed. I couldn’t write anything else. Every time I thought about my manuscript, I would kind of get incredibly nervous and anxious and oh my gosh, what is the editor thinking right now? Is it complete crap? When I get it sent back, what am I going to find? Is she going to say that it is complete crap and all my time and energy and effort has been worth nothing and I need to throw it out? And is she going to say that I’m just absolutely the worst writer ever? And what the heck am I thinking even trying to do this? That’s where my head was at those negative loops over and over and over again because I was at that beginning stage and I didn’t know any better. And I was so afraid of being found out for the fraud that I was.

Now, because of The Law of Attraction, I was already calling myself an author. And in a way, I was. I’d already had short stories actually published by a literary Journal. I had a short story collection published across platforms all around the world. I still felt like a fraud. I had been calling myself author because I wanted to draw that energy to me through The Law of Attraction. I wanted that to be my title because that’s the me that I wanted to create in the world. But this was just so different because this was not just me saying, hey, I’m an author. I’m Jo Buer Author. This was me actually having to prove it in terms of a novel. I’d always say to everybody, my friends and family, that I was going to be writing novels one day. And now my time had come, and now I had to step up and actually do it. And so I was absolutely terrified waiting for that manuscript to come back to me. And then when it did come back to me and I got that email, I couldn’t even open it. It took me a good couple of weeks before I could actually look at the manuscript again, before I could actually read my editor’s comments. It just filled me with so much dread and anxiety. When I did finally open the file, I scanned so quickly through the comments for any little bit of positivity I could find. And I was really, really lucky because my editor is that type of person. That when she feels the story, when something kind of resonates with her in the story, she does mention it. So it’s not just lots and lots of corrections, which there was lots and lots of corrections. A lot of corrections and suggestions. But there were also comments every now and then. Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe you did that. Whoa. I really love this sentence. I felt that. And just hearing those few little comments, just seeing those few little comments pop out gave me the confidence to actually sit down and read through the entire manuscript and start the editing process all over again. But every step of the way with that novel was nail-biting. It was terrifying. It was totally out of my comfort zone.

I was faced with that again when it was out there in the world, uploaded to all the different platforms available for paperback and digital files, ebooks. But the hardest thing again, was advertising and marketing it. It was putting it out there in the world to my followers, on social media, to my newsletter subscribers that I had published this book, that it was available. And of course, I’m talking it out because I am kind of proud of my book. Not as proud as I thought I would be. I mean, I did put everything into it, but I was still incredibly self conscious about the book, like it was going to be a reflection on me. And was it really my best writing? What are people going to think? Do I even like the main character? And to be honest, I still struggle with that today. I’m not sure that I really do, but I had to take that chance anyway. I had to take that step anyway. And I had to put it out in the world, and I had to see what the response was going to be. And I was really fortunate. The response was actually really great. And it’s still one of my best selling books. It’s the book that most of my readers talk about the most, the one that they enjoyed the most. It’s not necessarily my favorite one, but it certainly does have a following, which is awesome, but it’s also not important. What is important is moving through that beginner stage, moving through that discomfort of being a beginner.

The last couple of weeks, as I’ve chatted with my friends and they’ve talked about how sometimes they just go home from their new jobs or new relationships or whatever’s happening for them and they’re just in tears like, I just don’t know how to do this. I’ve never done this before, but I have done this before, but it’s just so different now. And I used to feel so confident in what I was doing, but now everything’s so new and I’ve lost that confidence and I’m suffering from those insecurities and that comparisonitis and that imposter syndrome. And I totally get it. And I think about my own situation and how I’ve been struggling with that a little bit myself with my new day job. But if I can get through that with my writing, I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel for my friends and family and for myself when it comes to my day job. And so there are a few things that I do that help me when this feeling comes up. And I’ve had it now and I’m working through it now with the release of this podcast as well. This is all new to me, putting my voice out in the world and wondering what will people think? But I am a little bit more confident now because I know that this feeling of being a beginner, it does wane after a while. It does get better. It does get easier.

And so the first thing I think we need to do when we find ourselves in this situation is just give ourselves the grace to be a beginner. Know that we all have to start somewhere, and we all do. Whether it’s writing a book or a collection of poems or a collection of short stories or a song or anything, whatever you’re writing or whatever you’re creating: a podcast, a piece of artwork, a new business, starting a new job, starting a new relationship. We have to give ourselves the grace to be a beginner, to know that we don’t know everything and to be okay with that, to be accepting of that, to be okay with asking people who do know more questions, learning this is our time to be learners and to be okay with it. We aren’t supposed to have all the answers or all the confidence when we’re starting something and beginning something. So we have to show ourselves that grace and that compassion to make mistakes, to get things wrong.

The first time I went to record a podcast episode, I did not have my mic set up properly. I was chatting away to myself for about an hour and none of it recorded. Absolutely annoying, a lesson I have learnt. But it’s okay. That’s part of the journey. I was new to it. I was figuring things out. We have to also accept that as a beginner, the first thing we do is not going to be our best work. It’s just not. And that’s okay too. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be horrible work. It doesn’t mean that our first book is going to be absolutely horrible or the first month on a new job. We’re really going to suck at it. It doesn’t mean that it’s just our best work comes later. We work towards that. The more we do something, the better we get at it, as with everything. And so we need to be accepting of that. We will get better. We don’t know what we don’t know, so we need to be kind to ourselves in that situation.

The second thing that I try and hold on to comes from the book by Susan Jeffers, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. I grabbed onto this book when I was, I think, a teenager because I’ve always been a little bit of a fearful person. I’ve always lacked a lot of self esteem, had issues with that, and had lots of phobias and things too. And that book was a lifesaver for me so many times over. And I’ve always held on to that mantra, feel the fear and do it anyway, because that’s what we’re doing. And that shows our courage. And that shows how much commitment and passion we have to be better people and live our best lives is by taking those steps, knowing that the only way to grow is by moving forward and pushing through those fears. You’re not going to eliminate the fears. I still get the fears. I mean, granted, I’m not a veteran novelist or anything like that, but every time I put out a book, quite often when I just put out social media posts and it’s the same with this podcast, I’m absolutely trembling inside. But we have to do it anyway. It’s how we grow. It’s how we get better. It’s how we’re also showing up and telling the universe that, yes, this is the life I want and I’m doing my part, so you need to meet me halfway. The third thing is just knowing. And part of this comes with experience. But just knowing that this discomfort we feel was not being comfortable with what we’re doing, being in that situation have been a beginner. It will pass. It always does. Our confidence grows. The more we do something, the less terrifying it becomes. This discomfort will pass. The worst of the worst will pass. That feeling you get when you first start a project is not going to be there with the same intensity the second time or the third time. It gets easier.

And my last reminder to myself is always to focus on what I can control. My natural inclination is to turn to pessimism with things, to always think worst case scenario. What if people don’t like me? What if they don’t like my books? What if they do like my books but they realized how dark they are and think that I’m that person and then look at me sideways or oh my gosh, my brain is very, very creative with the negative thoughts that it can come up with. And so it’s always with me talking myself back to focusing and thinking about those things that I can control, and I can’t control other people’s opinions of me. I can’t control the reception of how much my book is going to be liked or bought, how many people are going to buy my book or any of that. I have no control over that. My job is simply to write the best book that I can write, to give it the best makeovers with edits and with the best editors that I have, and to put it out there in the world. And then it’s out of my control. I can market it. I can do all those wonderful things as well. But the reception it gets is not actually my business. My business is to do the work, follow my passion, and put it out there regardless of the fear I feel insight. A lot of those insecurities that come up with being a beginner is for those things that we actually can’t control. A lot of it, I think, comes back to those fears of what people are going to think about us, those fears of people finding out that we’re a fraud and we don’t actually know what we’re doing or we’re actually not as good as we have hyped ourselves up to be. And to be completely honest with you, some people probably will think that about us. Who does she think she is? And I just say remind myself and say, I’m not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I’m just not. There are going to be friends and family members who buy my books, who read my stories because they want to support me, but they don’t like my books. They don’t like my stories. It is not their genre. Horror and Gothic fiction and ghosts and death and all that stuff. Not their thing. It’s not a reflection on me that’s simply that it’s just not their cup of tea. And so I think it’s really important to remember these things.

If you find yourself in a situation that I am that a lot of my circle are in at the moment about being a beginner. Whenever we start something new, we’re put right back at the beginning, and we can expect to be assaulted by all these insecurities. But there are ways to move through, and the key is to move through, to not let any of these things, any of these negative thoughts hold you back. Because I truly believe that you wouldn’t have been given the inspiration to write what you want to write, what you feel in your heart you’ve been drawn to do if it didn’t have a greater purpose, if it didn’t have a point to it, it may not be to make you a million dollars no matter how much we might crave that but likely your writing will resonate with the right people, the right person, even just that one person that really needed to hear your words, your story, your poem, it will change somebody on some level without a doubt, I truly believe that we may never know who that person is or how it affected them but your words do have power, they do have purpose and they do have meaning. So when you’re faced in that position of being a beginner, we need to move through it, keep on keeping on.

And so going back to the very beginning where I said I haven’t really got much writing done recently because I’m in that beginner space, that is okay too. Writing is always there in the background for me. I’m always thinking about my story, I’m listening to the soundtracks that I create for my stories to keep those plots mulling over in my brain but sometimes other aspects of our life need more of our energy and that’s where I’ve been at and being a beginner takes a lot of energy because you’re learning new things and you’re also dealing with these mindset issues, working all the time on trying to empower yourself, to lift yourself up, to not succumb to some of those really nasty thoughts that can hold you back and unsettle you and so that’s where my energy has been spent but it is getting easier and I can see a light at the end of the tunnel and I know that it’s there and my writing has taught me that every book I write it gets a little bit easier putting it out there in the world and that’s the same I guess with day jobs, every job you start, you know that you can make it through that beginner stage because you have previously. History has taught you that in your previous jobs you always got through and there always comes a day where you feel more confident, like you actually understand what you’re doing and you have the confidence in your abilities so I know that’s going to come and for all the energy that I’ve expended on my day job recently, I’m able to now start looking at clawing back some more of my time for my writing because that confidence is starting to grow again.

So don’t be put off if you’re starting a new project, whether it’s writing project or anything else, really expect that at the beginning. Sometimes it can be tricky, it can be hard, it can be so damn hard to put yourself out there but you can do it, you have done it and know that you will do it. You’re not always going to be a beginner. And so that’s what I want to leave you with today.

I would love to hear how you have moved through those beginner stages. If you have experienced that paralysis, and that when you first sent your work to an editor or you first publicized your book or marketed it out to your friends or family or anybody or your newsletter, I would love to hear if you’ve kind of battled some of those similar feelings that I have and how you are able to move through. And I truly, truly hope that you always choose to move through. Don’t ever be put off by being a beginner. Keep on keeping on. Take one step at a time because you’ve got this.

Takeaways from today’s episode:

  1. At the beginning of a project, tell yourself that you’re writing just for you. No one needs to see your story. You can make that decision to share it with the world when the time comes. That gives you the permission to step outside your comfort zone and try something new.
  2. Be aware of caring too much about what other people think. No matter how attached we are to our project, it should never define us. It’s success or lack thereof is not a reflection on who we are.
  3. Call in who you want to be by giving yourself that title. Even if you’re still in the process of writing your first book, call yourself an author now. It tells the universe you’re committed and you’re ready.
  4. When starting something new, remember, you won’t always feel this way. Those feelings of being the beginner will wane after a while.
  5. Give yourself the grace to be a beginner. We all have to start somewhere, and everyone was a beginner once.
  6. Be okay with not knowing everything. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Enjoy the process of being a learner.
  7. Have compassion for yourself when you make mistakes, and you will, but don’t let them define you.
  8. Accept that your first project, your first book, for example, probably isn’t going to be your best work, and that’s okay. With practice you’ll get better.
  9. Feel the fear and do it anyway. The only way to grow is by moving forward and pushing through those fears. You may never eliminate those fears fully, but each time your courage will grow and it will get easier.
  10. Focus on what you can control. Do the best you can do on your end and know that whatever happens after that is out of your control and not your business.
  11. You’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Not everyone will like your writing. Get comfortable with that.
  12. Keep on keeping on.

So I hope you enjoyed today’s episode and got a bit out of it. As always, you can find show notes, links to resources and other goodies on my website@jobuer.com. And if you’re a Gothic fiction fan, make sure to check out my books while you’re there or download a free copy of my short story collection Between the Shadows. And if you’ve enjoyed this episode please subscribe rate and review and share this episode with others. This helps me to grow my audience and reach other people who want to supercharge their writing lives. Until next time, happy writing!