The Inherent Insecurity of Being a Writer

The Inherent Insecurity of Being a Writer

I loved this insight into the writer’s mind.

It’s by Dennis Palumbo, essayist, novelist, TV screenwriter, and a psychotherapist specializing in creative issues. (I included one of his pieces, “The Three Cosmic Rules of Writing,” in the first New Writer’s Handbook.) Dennis has counseled many other writers, as he says in this great blog post, “Gut Check,” on the Huffington Post:

For over twenty years now I’ve counseled writers through the turmoil . . . [of fantasies, fears, phobias, insecurities, and all that surrounds writing and pitching and trying to get published.]

Now, he has a new crime novel of his own recently published: Mirror Image, by Poisoned Pen Press. (“Dennis Palumbo establishes himself as a master storyteller.” – Stephen J. Cannell; “a standout mind-bender! A wonderfully constructed novel.” – Ridley Pearson)

So . . . of course, with all his experience as both a writer and therapist, he should be on top of the “expected pragmatic and emotional challenges.”

I love the honesty of his answer:

Guess again. In the months leading up to my new novel’s release, I have (in no particular order) obsessed about the book’s title, fantasized one minute about getting on the best-seller’s list and then in the next was absolutely convinced that no one would buy it at all, yearned for my agent to be completely devoted to my personal and professional well-being to the exclusion of all else in his life, already mentally answered potential bad reviews with pithy, scathing rejoinders, and felt unloved and unappreciated when a friend even looked like he was anything less than totally thrilled or profoundly moved at the thought of my novel coming out.

Believe me, I could go on, but space doesn’t permit. The point is, despite the knowledge and insight gained from long-time careers as both a writer and a therapist, I found myself wrestling with the same dilemmas as every other author.

Why? Because, like it or not, if you’re a writer, there’s no escaping the writer’s life.

So true. Likewise, as one who finds it easy to edit other people’s work, when it comes to my own, I admit I find myself agonizing over minute concerns. Let’s face it, being a writer is a psychologically tough thing. On every page, we face the insecurity of looming doubts: are we saying this as well as we can?/as it should be said?/in a way that will move readers to spasms of joy and admiration and applause for the beauty of the wordsmithing and storytelling?

Or am I a literary oaf?

Indeed, there’s no escape.

This is why it helps (immensely!) to have a good writer’s group, or a trusted and skilled first reader, or a gifted editor . . . to help you avoid the over-niggling, to shut the doors on those pesky tiny gremlins, and instead to focus your attention on the big matters: What’s good here? Why is this worth writing for publication? Is it ready? What really most needs fixing to get it done and out the door?

Without obsessing.

If nothing else, I recommend reading (at least parts of) your work out loud; it not only tunes you to the sound of the words, but also provides a curious buffer to those inner thoughts of doubt, as you hear the words as if they exist on their own.

Thanks, Dennis, for affirming that our hesitations are normal. Now, let’s get over ’em, find the techniques that work for us, and write like the gifted writers we can be.


  1. Oh yes, I can relate to the whole list of thoughts, feelings and reactions. As a retired (is one ever) psychotherapist and now a published author, I can easily identify with those insecurities. Thank goodness I have a couple of super critique groups, and a fantastic editor!

    Still, I doubt, hang on to every positive reaction from others who’ve read my book. Want to make the best seller list, pray for an award, hope my marketing costs don’t send me to the poor house.

    My training and experience as a psychotherapist might help me develop my characters, but it does little to settle “writer insecurities.”

    Guess that’s the nature of the beast.

  2. It is true that writers cannot escape that insecurity. I am only a university student and I am always afraid of getting back my papers. I have interviewed a publisher and he also admits that, no matter the prizes you win, the process starts over for another book. It is not because one book was successful that the others will be.

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