Writers Worth: Being Worthless

Last week, Mika Doyle made me cry.

I had just finished reading her guest post, and I couldn’t help but think “She gets it.” Because she does. Mika, whose introductory note to me included this post (thank you again, Paula), knows what it’s like to struggle with feeling worthy in a world of people telling you otherwise. Her words took me right back to those times when the negativity came from clients, family, you name it. You can’t help but be moved by it.

Thanks to Mika, I’ve had both tears and revelation of how far we can come when we don’t give up.

Your turn.

I’m a Worthless Writer, but I Keep Writing Anyway

By Mika Doyle

According to many of the people I’ve worked with over the years, I am completely worthless as a writer. One coworker told me he could introduce me to an English major so he could explain to me why my writing was so bad. At another job, my boss made me have one of my news releases proofed by his son’s college professor because my boss took one writing course during his undergrad and was sure I’d made some major grammatical errors. When I started my first management position, one of my employees, who was recently hired after a six-month internship, did not believe me when I told him that the Oxford comma was used in a series of three or more, not a series of two as he kept insisting. He made me Google it.

Worthless writer, I tell you.

Despite my complete lack of knowledge of how to correctly form a complete sentence, I have continued to write. I’ve tried to stop. Really, I have. But every time I tried to make a clean break, my heart would start to shrivel and dry out. It’s a medical condition, this writing thing. If I don’t write, I’ll surely collapse from atrophy to one of the most important muscles in my body.

Seriously, though, I don’t need other people to question my worth as a writer because I question my worth every damn day. I’ll read an article or an essay or a novel and I’ll think to myself, “I’ll never be that good. Why do I even try?” I’ll take a look at my life and wonder why I’m still working marketing and communications jobs instead of spending my days writing fiction that’ll be taught in college literature courses one day. Or I’ll see a Facebook post about a friend who’s going on her first book tour, and I’ll wonder how the hell she did it. And, more importantly, why haven’t I done it yet?

Worthless writer, remember?

When you’re a writer, you face criticism and rejection far more than praise and accolades. Everyone’s got an opinion, and in the age of anonymous internet comments, those opinions can be brutal. Or, if you’ve experienced anything like I described (which all really happened, by the way), you know some people are not even remotely shy about telling you how untalented you really are. Top that off with being your own worst critic, and it’s a wonder anyone ever puts pen to paper.

It’d be completely disingenuous to say writers shouldn’t let the negativity get to them. I remember each of those instances vividly and how worthless that invalidation made me feel. My hands and voice quivered, betraying the confidence I was trying so desperately to project, and my lips turned downward as if controlled by some deranged puppeteer. Then came the tears, and the shame that almost always seems to accompany them. That negativity enveloped me, smothered me until I’d lost my ability to think rationally. Negativity can swallow you whole if you let it.

But negativity, whether internal or external, should never stop you. Go ahead and feel it. Have a good cry if you need to. But after you let it all out, get back up and let it go.
Let the world think you’re a worthless writer. Just as long as you keep writing.

Mika Doyle is a writer and communications professional whose writing has appeared in Bitch Media, Role/Reboot, Everyday Feminism (under a pseudonym) and The Good Men Project. She writes about gender, rape culture, trauma, and relationships. Follow her on Twitter at @mikadoyle. To see more of her work, visit mikadoyle.com.

Writers, what instances in your career have left you feeling worthless?
How did you overcome that feeling? If you haven’t yet, what keeps you in that mindset?
What advice do you have for others who are feeling worthless?

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Comments

  • Cathy Miller May 11, 2017 at 8:05 am

    Wow, Mika. If anything blasts those criticisms to smithereens, it’s this post. You are a talented, gifted writer. I admire your perseverance. I’ve always said being a writer takes a bit of a bulldog. And you are our top dog. 😉 Welcome to the pound.

    Reply
    • lwidmer May 11, 2017 at 9:16 am

      Isn’t she great, Cathy? We have Paula to thank for the introduction. 🙂

      Welcome to the pound indeed, Mika! Glad to have you here.

      Reply
      • Paula Hendrickson May 11, 2017 at 10:39 am

        Hmm, suddenly I’m thinking Mika’s ginormous, lovable, and loyal bulldog, Titan, may be the best life coach ever!

        Seriously, when I first met Mika I had no clue she was anything but smart, confident, and strong. She pretty much single-handedly revived our neighborhood association (which includes more than a couple negative Nellies) and brought people together. Only later did I realize how difficult that had to be with those naysayers constantly whispering in the background. (Especially while she was in grad school!)

        Mika clearly has the talent she needs to succeed as a writer.

        From now on, Mika, anytime some clueless naysayer makes you doubt that fact, come back here, re-read the comments and consider the sources. Who knows more about writing? People who do it for a living, or some boss or co-worker trying to make themselves feel bigger by trying to make you feel small?

        Great post!

        Reply
    • Paula Hendrickson May 11, 2017 at 10:38 am

      Hmm, suddenly I’m thinking Mika’s ginormous, lovable, and loyal bulldog, Titan, may be the best life coach ever!

      Seriously, when I first met Mika I had no clue she was anything but smart, confident, and strong. She pretty much single-handedly revived our neighborhood association (which includes more than a couple negative Nellies) and brought people together. Only later did I realize how difficult that had to be with those naysayers constantly whispering in the background. (Especially while she was in grad school!)

      Mika clearly has the talent she needs to succeed as a writer.

      From now on, Mika, anytime some clueless naysayer makes you doubt that fact, come back here, re-read the comments and consider the sources. Who knows more about writing? People who do it for a living, or some boss or co-worker trying to make themselves feel bigger by trying to make you feel small?

      Great post!

      Reply
  • lwidmer May 11, 2017 at 11:29 am

    Mika, again. Thank you. You took me right back to all those times I faced this same criticism.

    If it helps, I still hear this kind of garbage once in a while. We all do. Clients don’t want to pay, so they blame you. They want complete control. Again, you. They’re having a lousy day and can’t yell at their spouses. You. Or they’ve totally botched a project and need to save face. Guess who? Yep. You.

    In my decades of writing (only 14 years have been full time), I’ve heard:

    – You’re no good at writing (an ex)
    – What makes you think you can write? (an HR director)
    – There are numerous errors (typically one or two). (several clients wanting to duck payment or who thought their high school English from 25 years ago still applied)
    – You are unprofessional. (client who was actually the guilty one)
    – This isn’t what we wanted at all. (client whose words I typed up and cleaned up almost verbatim)
    – My associates think your editing is horrendous. (client who didn’t want to pay for the remainder of the editing)
    – My friends are now going to write it because they see problems with your copy. (client who let six friends give him feedback)
    – You don’t understand my business. (client who took an hour to tell me what his business was, and eventually had to refer me to a vague article by someone else because he himself couldn’t land on his objective)
    – It looks like you’re in that source’s back pocket. (editor who objected to my using the same source for a very different article in a very different specialty)
    – Your pricing is outrageous. (a client prospect who couldn’t figure out simple math)

    We survive such things because we have better clients who tell us they value what we deliver. They’re the ones who thank you for “getting” them, for listening, for delivering the right thing on time.

    That’s why we do it in spite of any criticism. Because we know there are people who need our words as much as we need to put them on paper.

    Reply
    • Paula Hendrickson May 11, 2017 at 1:03 pm

      Oh. I can play, too!

      – “You led me to believe you were a professional,” (said by an editor who provided several sources for me to contact only to reject most of them and give me two weeks, over the holidays, to find and interview new sources then cut those two weeks down to five days—and then axed the article without telling me!)
      – “We used to pay 50¢/word, but our new rate is 10¢/word because it’s easy work. You’ll need 12 sources in this 600-word article.” (To which I replied, “If it’s so easy, do it yourself!”)
      _ “I thought we were on the same team? You’ll never work for us again!” (Screamed at me by an editor when he learned I went over his head to get paid for an article I’d written 13 months earlier. I said that was fine by me.)

      Reply
      • lwidmer May 11, 2017 at 1:15 pm

        Paula, to that last one, my knee-jerk reaction would have been to reply “Sir, I’ve already come to that conclusion myself.”

        I’m laughing at the editor using his position to threaten you with banishment. Let’s see…banishment from a gig you wouldn’t take if you were starving and these were the last two nickels…

        Yep. I’m good with that. 😉

        Reply
        • Mika Doyle May 11, 2017 at 5:53 pm

          Although I don’t like hearing people being treated poorly, it is comforting to hear that other writers have experienced some really inappropriate and outrageous things. Thanks for sharing your experiences!!

          Reply
  • Mika Doyle May 11, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    Cathy, Paula, and Lori,

    I am completely blown away by these comments. Speechless, actually. Saying “thank you” just doesn’t seem like enough to convey how supported I feel right now. And an extra thank you to Paula, who is always encouraging me and uplifting me. I truly believe she was put in my path for a reason, and hopefully vice versa. And, Lori, thank you again for the opportunity to join your community. What a wonderful place you’ve built here!

    Reply
    • lwidmer May 11, 2017 at 1:16 pm

      Mika, now you know how I felt when I first read this — blown away.

      Paula is wonderful, and we’re so glad you’re here! I hope you make this your place to hang out. We’d love to have you.

      Reply
      • Mika Doyle May 11, 2017 at 5:54 pm

        Thank you, Lori! I look forward to getting to know you all better!

        Reply
  • Sharon Hurley Hall May 13, 2017 at 9:23 am

    I so related to this, Mika (great writing, BTW). My high school English teacher told me I’d never be a writer, and I’ve heard plenty of criticism over the years. I’ve had people assume they could pay me less because they saw my photo, and I’ve had pushback on some of the valid advice I’ve offered clients. Of course, there were also plenty of people who appreciated me, but those criticisms certainly sting!

    Reply
    • Cathy Miller May 13, 2017 at 9:41 am

      And the biggest laugh of all is how well you are doing, Sharon. Success is indeed sweet revenge on all those naysayers. 😉

      Reply