A Writer's Life

Battling with Writer’s Doubt

Happy Sunday everybody!

Hope everyone has had a great weekend: ours involved a lot of travel and farewells with family and friends before we set sail (figuratively!) for Oklahoma.

I’ve recently started following and reading the content on Positive Writer, which is a great source for anyone who wants to get information and encouragement on writing. They’re hosting (and I’m participating in) a writing contest called Writers Crushing Doubt, so I’m going to chat about some of my experiences with ‘Writer’s Doubt’.

I firmly believe that any writer who tells you that they’ve never suffered from doubt – about their ideas, their writing style, their creative process, their schedule, their final product (and on, and on, and on) – is probably lying. Or they haven’t written for long enough, or possibly they are a unicorn in the writing world; for that matter, that person would be the unicorn of the creative industry, because anyone who is involved in a creative process has moments where they are overcome by doubt. Doubt about what we are doing is, unfortunately, a very normal aspect of creative industry – because if we all want to reach ‘the right answer’… What is it?

I mean, you could argue that Stephen King has reached it. You could point out that – surely! – JK Rowling and John Le Carre have, that Tolstoy, Austen, Harper Lee did, and that countless others have done so, but that’s all completely subjective. [disclosure: I love these authors and fervently recommend them to you all!] There are people who may not like any of those authors and who would argue that popular success doesn’t meant that you’ve reached ‘the answer’, preferring instead to tout others for this achievement.

The point is, we’re all searching for a creative end state that aligns with our own ideals of ‘right’, or ‘perfect’… but this pursuit of perfection can stop us from creating at all. For me, writer’s doubt surfaces frequently; primarily when I’m working on my novel. The idea of writing my own novel and of it being worthy of existing in a world populated by these amazing authors is a daunting one. I read about how long it took JK Rowling to create the Harry Potter universe and I’m floored. Maybe I haven’t done enough world building – surely I should do more before I keep trying to work on this novel. While we’re on that, why haven’t I more strictly planned out my novel? (Hint: I don’t even know how my novel will end yet. gaspThe horror!) The number of rabbit warrens available for me to ‘Wonderland’ through seem endless  – are my characters shallow? Is my political system nonsensical? How does magic work? Is my storyline boring? -and I’m sure that a lot of other people have felt the same.

So the big question is… How do we get past this?

Make no mistake, writer’s doubt can be crushing. And my solution may seem as ridiculous as it is simple.

Just write.

This sounds stupid, but you have to let go. Especially if you feel like you can’t write, because it’s just not working, it’s not flowing, it’s terrible – you must.  I write my novel using a special fountain pen and a notebook and I set a timer. It might be fifteen minutes, or thirty or an hour, but I set a timer and I just write. I prefer pen and paper to the laptop because I can’t just backspace in my notebook, I just have to keep pushing on. Even when I’m writing the words and recoiling from the page at how average it all sounds, how the characters are wooden and the plot progression awkward, all I think is – better something than nothing. Even if you have to chant it to yourself, even if you have to say it out loud or put it in a poster over your desk, even if you have to write it down so that you have somewhere to start writing, it is always, always, better something that nothing. You can refine and perfect and redesign the words on the page, even if you think they’re terrible (welcome to my life trying to redraft the first few chapters of my novel!)… But you can’t rework something that you haven’t written. Everyone has to sift through some dross to find the gold underneath, but first you have to pick up a handful to search through. The thing is with writing, you have to make that handful of words to reshape into something amazing.

Australian Writers' Centre

If you’re stuck and full of doubt, just write. It’s what you need.

I promise.

— A.

[Image credit to the Australian Writers’ Centre – https://www.facebook.com/WritersCentre/]

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