Fear, dear writers, but write anyway.
As I work on the rewrite of my next novel, I'm dealing with some fears of my own, so I asked some author friends how they deal with their inner Doubting Thomas or Thomasina. Grab a handful of candy corn and read some of their inspirational and funny answers below.
For more advice on conquering doubt, please check out my guest blog post on Writer Unboxed. It goes up on Friday, October 14 and includes interviews with three life coaches who are also authors. (If you're a writer, you really ought to be checking Writer Unboxed regularly!)
Fear vs. reality
I think it's about realizing that fear is just a feeling. It's not the truth. I used to think that being afraid meant, ‘I can't write.’ Now I know it just means I'm afraid. With more experience, you learn to tolerate the fear and accept it as part of the process... but certainly not the final word on the work itself. – Attica Locke, author of Black Water Rising
The "Doubting Thomas" will never go away completely, but you can learn to ignore it (the NLP technique of changing the sound of the voice to, say, Mickey Mouse, works great) or balance it with more positive voices. Meditation is a great way to learn the difference between your internal monologue and sensations...and the real you. – Steven Barnes, author of Shadow Valley and co-author with Tananarive Due and Blair Underwood of the Tennyson Hardwick mysteries.
Even the greats suffered
I think every writer has it. I remember reading the letters of Faulkner and Steinbeck and Hemingway (back when I was teaching) and they definitely had moments of self-doubt. So, it helps me to know that. And then I generally try to just put my head down and plow through it. I give myself permission to write total dreck, knowing it will be edited out during revisions. I remind myself that I write for the pure joy of it. For the sense of accomplishment for having written. Sometimes I pull out the letters I've received from readers thanking me for my novel, telling me it helped them or resonated with them. That's a definite confidence booster. But the most important thing I can do is sit down and write. Whether it's a good paragraph and a great chapter or a scene that does exactly what it was supposed to do. I'm a writer, so I write. – Judy Merrill Larsen, author of All the Numbers
I remind myself that self-doubt is natural. It's normal. It's part of the process. Show me a writer who has no self-doubt, and I'll show you someone who doesn't understand what good writing takes. - Connie Briscoe, author of Money Can't Buy Love
Don’t compare yourself
We should all try to be the best we can be. But there comes a time to take our "inner critic" off the clock. I'm not endorsing complacency or mediocrity, but give yourself some slack. We have to stop comparing ourselves to others, or to impossible, self-imposed standards. There will always be talented, smart, successful writers out there, but so what? We have to remember that their talent in no way diminishes ours. – Virginia DeBerry, author (along with Donna Grant) of several novels including What Doesn’t Kill You and Uptown
"Doubt is the big machine." That's from Victor LaValle's novel Big Machine. I don't have any easy answers other than to say that anxiety can paralyze me if I let it. I just try to keep my head down, eyes focused on the page. The moment I look up--at other writers, at reviews, at sales numbers--I lose my balance. I also remind myself to smile, have fun. – Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of the New York Times best-selling Wench
Wallow a moment, then keep writing!
I would love to give you something profound. However all I can say is: ignore that voice and keep stepping. You were given this writing gift for a reason. – Beverly Jenkins, author of too many romances to count, including Night Hawk.
From the first time I sat down to write my novel, I’ve been plagued with doubt. I keep writing. The doubt never stops. Sometimes I succumb, giving myself a cutoff—one day of wallowing—and nurse it with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream. Then I read and reread the affirmations I keep in my office, so that when I sit down to write, I can shove that devil off my shoulder and keep doing what I love. – Jacqueline Luckett, author of Searching for Tina Turner and the forthcoming Passing Love
I sit and let myself feel sorry for myself for a bit and then I start to wonder, what else would I do if I didn't write? And I can never think of anything so, I get back to writing until the next time. – J.D. Mason, author of several novels including Somebody Pick Up My Pieces
Every project reaches what Joseph Campbell refers to as the ‘dark night of the soul,’ the moment when it seems that it won't work, can't work, and it was a mistake even to try. This is when your previous experience comes in--remembering that ‘you've been here before.’ I've published 25 books, and every single time I hit this ‘wall.’ My favorite way through it? I talk to my ex-wife, who was with me at the beginning: "Toni?" I say, "do I hit a point every single time where it feels as if my work is turning into puree of bat shit?" "Yep," she answers. "Every single time." Bless her heart. We all have those moments, and we all need to create rituals to get through them! – Steven Barnes, author of Shadow Valley, and co-author with Tananarive Due and Blair Underwood of the Tennyson Hardwick mysteries
I think of Doubt as the biggest gatekeeper. Like in order to get anything written or published, first you have to go toe-to-toe with Doubt. And it's like a videogame. It doesn't matter how many times Doubt beats you, you can always man-up and fight again. It's not over until you put the controller down/stop writing. So whenever, Doubt is starting to defeat me, I remind myself, that it defeats most people, and that's why a lot of folks will never get published. The writers who keep on coming back for more are the only ones who will ever win the game. – Ernessa T. Carter, author of 32 Candles
Be an instrument of the Divine
Doubt happens when I compare myself to other writers. So as a faith writer, when I doubt, I do a God thing. I talk to God, asking him to replace fear with faith—to quiet my voice so I can hear his. Then I sit down and write about it. In fact, I’ve sold a lot of commentary this way. So I take to heart William Zinsser's advice in On Writing Well: “Trust your material.” Still great advice. I mean, what better topic for a faith writer than doubt?” – Patricia Raybon, author of I Told the Mountain to Move and God’s Great Blessings
There are many ways to write a book and for me it was a matter of allowing myself to be used as an "instrument of the divine." In one day, four different people said that I should write a book. The next day, I took that idea into my morning meditation and the answer came back, "yes, write a book." I rushed downstairs, turned on the computer, wrote 6 pages…it was a struggle. The next day during my morning meditation, I said to God, “if you want a book, you write it”! I turned on my computer and waited …then I just started typing the words I heard. At the end of the day, I had 20 pages of just words with no paragraph spacing. Every day for the next five days the writing came like this. Finally, in my morning mediation I asked if I could be shown where this was going. It was like the “celestial editors” showed up. The 100 pages were sectioned off into paragraphs, chapter titles and subtitles were added. Everything written to that point was perfectly logical. I finished the book, Awakening of a Chocolate Mystic in just two weeks. The first time I got a chance to see what I created was when I read the book as it was about to be published… up to that point, it was just a bunch of words. – Robin Johnson, author of Awakening of a Chocolate Mystic