No matter how long I’ve been slogging through articles, papers, stories, novels, and marketing copy; no matter how many other writers’ works I’ve contorted, massaged, and gutted; no matter how many times I’ve improved my craft with writing classes, seminars, and groups, I still have moments in which I wonder if any of it is any good and contemplate stopping.
Doubt has invaded.
Although I do not know the source, the best definition of doubt I’ve come across is “fear projected outward.” What started as a nagging feeling has now become manifest in the world outside your mind.
First come the fears:
People are going to hate my work.
There’s no way I can finish this project.
The editor has no choice but to reject my article.
No publisher will take a chance on my book.
Doubt happens when those fears impact your mindset and your actions. They cripple your writing, slow you down, and perhaps make you give up on a project.
But you don’t have to let doubt conquer you.
The first thing to remember is that there’s a fine line between fear and instinct. Your writing instincts show you what works and what doesn’t. Not liking the current draft and worrying that it might not work out doesn’t make a failure of it. In fact, your instincts are simply being honed, sharpened for future writing. This draft didn’t work. You knew it. That’s a sign of progress.
Second, doubt has warning signs. Long before you feel like burning your computer, notes, and everything else associated with the written word, you’ll have moments of intense emotional stress, indecision, and uncertainty. When those come, make sure that you deal with them. Remind yourself that writing is not an easy task, and it takes a lot out of a person. You can’t turn off those feelings, but you can use them to drive you to improve.
Next, blunt doubt before it starts. Writing on a consistent basis dulls a great deal of doubt. You may have 99 drafts that don’t work, but you know a new one will be finished soon. Beyond that, actively seek ways to enrich your knowledge and skills. Progress is a doubt killer—through supportive writing groups, classes, reading for research (or pleasure), writing conferences, or trips to see places where writing and history collide.
Finally, and this is a big one, examine what influences you. Surrounding yourself with people who mock you and your writing will inevitably drag you down. You need support and understanding as a writer. Conversely, not reaching out to other writers (or a personal community) can just as easily make you feel unchallenged and uninspired.
Doubt comes to us all–what makes us successful writers is the way we deal with it.
You can do this.