As a child, I couldn’t understand why Tolkien’s Bilbo doubted himself so much. He was picked personally by Gandalf the Grey, outsmarted the riddles of Gollum, stared death in the face with Smaug and survived one of the biggest battles in Middle-earth. Yet he saw himself as ‘just a Baggins who belonged in the Shire.’
But, when I became a writer, Bilbo suddenly became a reflection of myself.
Writing is different for everyone. There’s no algorithm to tell us if we’re doing it right. Too often, we rely on the most dangerous indicator of success: the opinion of others. A writer may create something, pour heart and soul into it, only for the first reader to be unenthused. That’s the fear.
Bilbo was scorned for years by his family, told he wasn’t anything extraordinary, and he believed that. Likewise, writers may allow themselves to be boxed in by the expectations of others, allowing criticism or praise to determine self worth.
I want to assure you that this feeling is normal. Art is vulnerability and, when someone finds fault, it is okay to feel disheartened for a while. Being a creative writing student, I have had to learn that not every piece of writing may be successful (at least in the eyes of others) but that doesn’t determine my writing ability. Self doubt is where Bilbo Block starts and it’s that which you must fight.
One way to conquer Bilbo Block is to take deliberate action. Take time each day to write, whether it’s ten minutes or three hours because, if you’re continuing to write, you’re doing something right. Keep everything you create in one place, and when you start to doubt yourself, read your early pieces. You’ll see how far you’ve come. It’s important to acknowledge the improvements you’ve already made as it will develop a mindset of perseverance. When an athlete trains, progress is recorded and reviewed. The same is necessary for writers.
Choose to work on the things you’re passion about, even if they’re only small, even if you’re not sure if they will work. Many writers feel that if they’re not working on a big, important project, they’re losing time. But that’s not true. Bilbo was crucial in the journey to the misty mountains but he wasn’t always the most important. It took Thorin’s leadership, Fíli and Kíli’s fighting skills, Bombur’s cunning and the rest of the company’s bravery to get Bilbo to the heart of the misty mountain. No small action was unimportant.
When you’re writing, you’re never wasting your time. At the start of my writing journey, I would journal a lot and write letters. It helped me decipher how I wanted to come across and that naturally transferred to short stories and fan fiction because I had taken the time to write in any way I could.
Writers who want to become great must take time to master the craft. Experiment with styles, find your voice, write that character you can’t get out of your head, whatever the form.
It’s all invaluable.
Bilbo was brave enough to break out of the constraints his mind had created and he inspired others to do the same. His story inspired Frodo in his journey, which saved Middle-earth from the most significant threat ever faced. Your courage as a writer will eventually overcome your doubt and it will inspire others to do the same.
We all have doubts but that doesn’t mean our suspicions are correct. To write is to go on an adventure. Each one is different, each journey extraordinary.