Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Self-doubt and you, the writer Discuss.

As writers, exposing our inner selves with every word that we write, whether we realise it or not, courting rejection with every piece we submit.  Waiting.  That interminable waiting.  The spectre of self-doubt is never far away.  Lurking and smirking and ready to pounce.

So what do you do about it?  Is the writing a help or a hindrance?  Do you take a break at such times?  Do you withdraw to that white tower, pen and notebook in hand, or do you fight it out?  Do friends and family help, or is this a purely private battle?

This is not writer's block.  Self-doubt is something far more pernicious.  And giving up?  Is that ever really an option?

And do you, can you separate your writing self from the self that runs around in your daily life, replete with responsibilities?  Are your loved ones aware of the burning within that impels you to write and write and write, even if the world is collapsing around you?  Or do they see it, do you present it to them, as just something you like to do every now and then, even if you know that statement to be less than the truth?

Mmm . . . I'll have to think about this one.  The whys and the wherefores, you know . . .


  1. It's horrible, isn't it? That chilling moment when you're umpti-thousand words into a big project, immersed in the world you're creating and loving your characters - even, sometimes especially, the bad 'uns - and a little voice says: 'What if it's rubbish...? What if I am the only person in the whole world who gets it/likes it/ever reads it?' It can be paralysing.

    I've had four business books, loads of training materials, and a bunch of short stories published, and I still feel self-conscious - unworthy, somehow - when someone asks what I do and I say I'm a writer. I'll get found out one day. Then there'll be hell to pay!

    (But meantime, there's this itch inside my skull demanding attention - and the only way to soothe it is to write it out of there!)

  2. That 'getting found out one day' thing is a real big one for me too, Jools. It's like I'm some sort of fraud, fooling people into thinking my stuff is any good.

    I'm stunned every time something is accepted. Not sure if that will ever stop.

    For me, though, the big one is, where does this go from here? Am I barking up the wrong tree? Wasting my time writing when really I should be doing something more 'constructive'.

    In my more settled moments, I know I'm on the right track. It feels right.

    But when I'm older, what if I look back and wonder at the cost of my misplaced faith? What then?

    I suppose only the months and the years yet to come have the answer for that.

  3. I think the getting found out thing comes from your background. I'm still amazed when people let me into restaraunts!

    Pull on the self doubt thread too hard and your whole life will unravel. Look at Tony Hancock.

    We're all getting away with it, whatever 'it' is!

  4. I think even the greatest writers in the world, those with multiple published books and fame a-plenty have to deal with this, because when it comes down to it anyone can fail.

    I guess it's a matter of perspective for me. I treat the publishing/other people part as a completely different bag from the writing. The only person my writing has to satisfy is me (which is a whole new wonderland of insecurity and self loathing, but not quite the same as self doubt). Of course the heart pounds and nerves tighten during submissions and while reading rejection/acceptance letters, but if you never think of yourself in terms of a 'good' writer or a 'liked' writer, it becomes less a reflection on your reputation, and more a sort of game.

    Course managing those mental acrobatics isn't exactly easy.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Long may it continue, Paul!

    I've been thinking more about this, and I've come to realise that I have fewer doubts about the non-fiction writing I do. That's not to say I don't have moments of mild panic, especially when something is due in the public domain, but it's largely manageable. With non-fiction I enjoy what I write, but it's very much the 'job' aspect of my writing.

    It's the fiction side that causes the most angst and also gives the most satisfaction. A well-crafted sentence or clearly expressed idea will never have the same effect in non-fiction as in fiction, and I think that's what matters to me the most: getting the thoughts and experiences of characters across clearly and honestly. (Mind you, since my stories so often involve hookers, thieves and punch-ups, I might be getting a bit ahead of myself here!)

    (Had to delete and re-post as there was a missing word... what are we like, us writers!)

  7. Interesting debate this. Good shout, Ian.

    Every writer has self doubt, even the best. I think that's what keeps us fresh 'n' sharp, keeps us on our toes, makes us probe deeper for that elusive perfection. If any writer gets complacement, then they're doomed. 'Our' doubt is necessary, like the nerves of a footballer before a big game, or a performer prior to going on stage.
    To cope with the this potentially eroding 'doubt', I have one word. It's not pinned up above the computer, it's pinned up in my mind, in vivid capitals...

  8. hat's interesting, what Julie said above: I am horribly self doubting (really? says Ian haha) - it's my diary based non-fiction stuff that has (very recently) given me confidence.
    I dont think I'll ever be without it. Maybe like and actor with backstage nerves, you need those adrenaline type nerves to keep on top of your game ?

  9. Cool discussion. My biggest fear is that my work is merely average--good, but not outstanding. In rolls the self-doubt. Will I ever have better ideas? But the only cure for this is pumping more work out and shutting down those voices in my head... while simultaneously encouraging the good voices.

    And, oh yeah, coffee!