Sunday, January 20, 2013
Fighting A Writer's Self-doubts
Motivation…and the kinds of doubts unique to writers. I know exactly what you're up against to make it as a writer. Writers work alone. There's no one to give us attagirls or attaboys on the days when the words won't come. There's no rule book to tell us if we have enough talent, if our writing is good enough, if we have what it takes to make it. Worse than that, no matter how good we are we face repeated rejections of our efforts. Rejection is a part of life, but it's still different for a writer. When we submit a manuscript, we're sending in part of our heart and soul…our blood, sweat and tears. When a story is rejected, it's like a kick in our heart, a direct and personal blow—and everyone is vulnerable to that kind of hurt.
That's intrinsic to the job of writing, but it's also easy to get sidetracked by the wrong things. When we're working on our first book, we're afraid we'll never finish it. Then we're afraid it's not good enough to be published. Once we get it published, we're afraid that first sale is a fluke and we'll never publish a second one. Along the way, maybe John Doe got a better review than we did. Maybe Jane Doe got a higher advance than we did. Then there's Suzy Smith who used to be such a close friend, and she just sold a hardback mainstream novel to a major New York print publisher. We can't even talk to her—we feel left in the shade because we write ebook short stories. And then there's Mary Jones who we feel is a much better writer than we are. We'll never be that good and we know it. And Polly Perfect…she just sold the first manuscript she wrote and we're on our fourth one after having the first three rejected by every publisher we submitted to.
Possibly if we didn't work alone we wouldn't be so susceptible to letting those kinds of doubts affect our confidence. But we DO work alone. And that makes it extraordinarily easy to lose sight of what motivated us to start with. There is a reason we started writing, and for most of us it's because we love doing it. That's the strongest tool we have to beat the nasty dragon of doubt. All those other things that can sabotage our confidence—some of them are real and some of them are doubts we lay on ourselves—are not strong enough to beat us if we keep what matters on the front line.
No flower has the chance to grow if it's getting choked out at the root level by weeds. When we sit down to write, we have to get the irrelevant stuff out of the way. We need to give ourselves the right—the freedom—to concentrate on one thing only. Write the type of book we love. The first magic we found…when we first discovered the wonder of characters coming alive for us, the joy of watching a story take life on a page…that magic is not something we use up. It's not something we can lose, like a pair of socks. It's not something we can forget like a memory we can't get back. It's still there, the same place it's always been, inside us.
Confidence is like a suntan. It comes and goes. There's nothing we can buy in a bottle to eternally keep that tan. There is no cure for the doubts we go through. There's no magic elixir that will make us feel better after a rejection, or guarantee that we'll never suffer writers' block, or help us not worry during a rough stretch. All I can tell you is that I've been there, as has every writer I know. Doubts detract from what matters and trick us into focusing on things that don't matter. The next time we sit down at the keyboard we just need to remember to keep what counts in front of us and not allow those doubts to sway us from the task at hand.