I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: Overcoming Writer’s Doubt’ held by Positive Writer, hence this blog post. I think I’m safe in assuming that every writer goes through some form of doubt but here are a few truths about writer’s doubt that you might not know:
1. It’s a creativity killer (it’s like a mute button for The Muse)
2. It’s recurring (yes, like a rash)
3. It happens to the best of us – even the published authors among us still have bouts of it (if you don’t believe me, read Philip Reeve’s answer to question 8 of the interview I did with him)
4. It isn’t fatal (not that I know of)
5. It can be cured (sort of)
I have volumes of stories about how I found myself in a writer’s doubt slump but I thought I would share with you the most recent…
In 2012 I had my first short story published in an anthology. I remember holding the book in my hands and staring in awe at my name on the table of contents, along with some of my writing heroes, and feeling invincible. I was published. Sure, my name wasn’t on the spine of the book, sure it was ‘just’ a short story but still… I was that much closer to seeing my dream realised. The feeling did not last long. Not at all.
The doubt came when I received an e-mail from the anthology’s editor a year and a bit later, to ask if we could do a follow up about where all of the anthology contributors were in our careers. Gulp. I knew for a fact that a lot of the writers in the anthology had gone on to do amazing things: published more short stories, won awards, published books. Me? I was still sitting at my desk pounding keys and reading rejection letters. It didn’t help that since the publication I had changed the direction of my writing just slightly. It was sobering to sit there and think about what I might write – what cleverly worded euphemisms I might employ to make myself look more successful than I was. The e-mail wasn’t the sudden catalyst to a bout of emo-writer-self-doubt, it was merely the last straw. I had been feeling sorry for myself for months because the truth of the matter was, I hadn’t done anything notable since that publication…
Or had I?
I was still writing. Passionately. I was submitting one project to agents while finishing another novel. It took some time to convince myself that just writing was ‘good enough’ but you know what, it really is. I remember once asking a published writer what advice he would give to new writers and he said, ‘Don’t write – not unless you can’t stop – because it’s not going to get easier.’ I was taken aback – this was his inspiring advice? He was right though… ten rejection letters in (and apparently that’s nothing) I can attest to the fact that it does not get easier. BUT here I am, still writing and entirely unable to stop myself despite my best efforts.
And just when I thought I should maybe consider stopping, I received some feedback from my writing critique group on a short story I am working on for submission. This group is one I can count on for honest opinions. They know how to fill you in on your weaknesses and ask the kind of questions that open your story up. They loved this particular story and their comments were glowing. Right when I thought, enough is enough, I got the feedback I needed to remind me I wasn’t so far off track. This is a recurring theme in my writing career. Sometimes my inspiration to pick myself up off the floor has come in the form of a phone call, or a passing comment from a friend, or a blog, or a small whisper from inside of me that I can do it. Inevitably, I find hope and I keep writing.
There is this saying that goes, When you feel like quitting, think about why you started. That gives me a proper perspective which enables me to keep going. I love stories too much to abandon them.
So here’s some advice about doubt: don’t sweat the small stuff, be patient with yourself, sit down and write, and above all, surround yourself with honest people who will help you grow as a writer. Now, if only there was a pill we could take to keep our internal heckler on mute…