Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Writer's Doubt

To heck with Writer's Block, man.  Let's talk about something far worse: Writer's Doubt.

First, though, some cool quotes:

"Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother." - Khalil Gibran

"Inaction breeds doubt and fear.  Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit at home and think about it.  Get out and get busy." - Dale Carnegie

"Defined in psychological terms, a fanatic is a man who consciously over-compensates a secret doubt." - Aldous Huxley

"If the sun and moon should ever doubt, they'd immediately go out." - William Blake

Doubt (verb): to lack confidence in, to consider unlikely

Now, don't get me wrong.  There are a ton of wise quotations about the importance of doubt to a scientific or careful mind.  When we doubt, we often plan ahead, around, and against.  That's healthy doubt.

But then there's unhealthy doubt, and writers, to my experience, are filled with that.  You start out confident, certain that you're going to write the best book ever, and then by about word number 25,000 you're questioning your sanity for even starting it.  Writing an essay is like a jog around the block, while writing a novel is like a supermarathon.  It's not just hard; it's grindingly hard, and there are plenty of opportunities within the effort to doubt that it's any good.

Then you get done with the first draft and proudly hand it to someone who smiles the "oh, isn't that cute what you tried to do" smile and never gets back to you on what they thought of it.  So does somebody else, and then somebody else.  You wonder why, and that causes you to read the first chapter again, and you wonder why you doubted, because it really isn't any good.

Doubting you can ever make it good, you start revising it anyway, and soon you realize that the initial writing process is really only the second hardest part of writing a book.  Still, you cast aside your doubts and keep going, finally getting the book to the point that you're happy with it.

Then you send off for your first rejection, which, incidentally, is a note that you're pleased as punch to receive.  After all, we all know that the best novels in the world weren't accepted on their first try, and so getting your first rejection is only the first step toward becoming the Dan Brown of your genre.  Yay! you cry, hoisting the rejection text onto a hallowed spot on the wall.

Then the second rejection comes, and the third one also, and despite your continued knowledge that each rejection is said to bring you closer to the yes you're looking for, doubt sticks its stinky toes into the door jamb, and then finally it manages to walk in.

Then, if all goes your way, you get a yes.  YES!!!  The book is taken, ripped apart, put back together, and put on the market.  Where....

It sits....

Meanwhile, you write another, consumed all the while with doubt that this one will do any better than the previous one.  No need to doubt, though; as it turns out, it doesn't.  But that's okay, because the data out there suggests that very few people succeed with their first, second, or third works.  Heck, by the time number three is done you're really just getting started learning.

But will you ever learn enough?

Will you ever hit your stride?

Will you ever reach the point where you're selling lots of books?

You--doubt it.

See why I say Writer's Doubt is worse than Writer's Block?  With the latter, you sit and stare at the computer screen, unsure what the next phrases need to be.  With the former, on the other hand, you don't even want to look at the computer screen.  Life in a trailer down by the river starts sounding like your fate, with your picture tattooed on its back side even.

Don't let yourself succumb to it, though.  Keep writing.  Keep plotting.  Keep smiling.



  1. Good post, Stephen. I find that this happens more and more to me, the longer I write.
    Is that odd or do you recognise that?

    1. Thank you, Paul!

      I feel the same way, actually. Despite all of the case studies that show writers often don't make it for years and years after they start writing, it's easy to drink the "but what if I'm never good enough?" poison.