Kicking that Voice of Doubt to the curb

Usually when I write, I’m excited. I’m focused, of course, but underneath it all, I feel excited about this book. I think I’ve chosen an innately interesting topic, and the story is coming along well.

But occasionally, as I work on a scene, I worry: what if everyone thinks this book sucks?

The first time I had that thought, it startled me. I’m a confident person! And I never thought like that as a newspaper reporter. I never wrote a story and worried that when it came out in the paper the next day, readers would think I was a shitty reporter. Sometimes I stressed that I had made an error — so I’d go back and correct it, if I could. But I never felt like my entire worth as a reporter was based on my next story.

Maybe that was because I didn’t have time to worry; I was always on deadline. Maybe it was because enough readers had praised or complained about my stories — when you work for a large daily, you get a lot of feedback — that I let it roll off my back. Maybe it was because I knew that if I botched a story, I’d have another the next day to prove my worth. Or maybe I’d been doing it long enough to know I wouldn’t botch it.

I think that’s the difference here — writing a book is new to me. I’m still gaining confidence, still learning that I won’t mess this up.

Whenever I start to doubt my book, I give myself a little pep talk. You’re not a literary genius, I say. Face it: Your writing isn’t fabulous. What you are good at is telling a story. So write the type of book you’d like to read. Tell a good story. Nothing fancy. Just a good story.

Then I keep writing.

I’m not going to ask whether writers out there hear this voice of doubt in their head — I think I’m normal in that regard. Here’s a better question: How do you get past it? I tell myself to write a good story. What do you do?

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12 Responses

  1. I take a step back from that scene and work on something smaller, a different scene , a short story. By the time I get back to it I have a fresh perspective and and if it still doesn’t work for me then I rewrite it until it feels good.

  2. Hi Alexis,
    These days, I scream “self-doubt, move out.” I actually blogged about this a few weeks ago. There’s no room in my psyche or spirit for self-doubt anymore. So when it crops up, as it will do, I shift the energy out.
    Karen

  3. I tell myself I’m writing because I enjoy putting words down on a page. As long as I enjoy myself, I’ll continue to do it. Of course,the hope that a lot of other someones will enjoy it eventually is always in the back of my mind.

  4. Self-doubt seems to lurk and show its ugly head at the worst times. Writers are generally emotional people. My emotions are like a roller coaster sometimes, but I just keep plugging away. If something is really bad, it will be caught by an editor, proof reader, or a trusted friend or family member reading the manuscript. Hopefully they’ll communicate it professionally.

    Stephen Tremp

  5. I tell myself that if I don’t write what I’m writing, no one else will read it. Then I do stuff I don’t like doing, sorting hats, sifting through writing room debris. After that I’m good to go.

    If nothing else works I play some guitar (Wild Thing) to get my fingers used to moving. Maybe a piano would be more like a key board. After a few rounds of song writing more is the natural progression. You can only scream “I want to know for sure” so many times before you really do want to know something.

    David Gillaspie
    deegeesbb.wordpress.com

  6. i tend to blog, read or turn on the tv and watch a documentary. it is amazing how getting other info into your system sort of turns the pump back on and you think – maybe I can do this?

  7. Yes that doubt is there, a salutary self doubt that brings positive critics fro the most. Not just what reader will think but almost (las!) more what publisher/ agent will think.
    Take it as a dose of humbling criticism. A bit of going after the things that should have been done elsewhere and my hobby does clean the stopping factor of that doubt.
    The trust and tenderness of your pup should help.
    bluefrog2

  8. First I stop myself from going off to find some chocolate to drown my doubts in then I look back at what I’ve written over and see that I am getting better at it all the time. I have to remember it’s a learning process and that I just need to sit down and write everyday.

  9. So write the type of book you’d like to read. Tell a good story. Nothing fancy. Just a good story. — I think this is the best way of facing self-doubt. You don’t have to be the next Dumas; you do have to create a story you’re excited about. Chances are that other people will get excited about it, too.

    Of course, I’m an awful hypocrite, because when my self-doubt got too bad I stopped writing!

  10. I publish some of my stories on Internet. Everytime before I hit the post button, I’ll get nervous.

    Bargain with the Devil

  11. Kick that doubt in the face. IN THE FACE.

    Everybody feels that way sometimes, and if they don’t, then they’re being foolish and unrealistic. But are we writing for the money? For the fame? Ha ha. Ahahahaha!! If we wanted money and fame, we’d go the sleazy reality TV route. We write for the love, and because we’re writers deep in our bones. The self-doubt eventually gives way under that ravenous writer’s hunger.

    This is usually when I take a break. Switch projects or just put the computer away for the day. I usually drag out the PS2 and play something fun and silly, like Psychonauts or Guitar Hero. Plus my kids think it’s awesome. 😉

  12. These are all such great ideas, fabulous techniques. Thanks for weighing in!

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