Today I’m thinking about the experience of doubt and encouragement.
I think anyone who creates anything will experience doubt at some time in some form. I think it’s a feeling that is common among people in general. It’s one of those feelings that can motivate or paralyze. It can drive one to ask questions, seek feedback, delve deeper and continue to work on a piece of writing rather than just letting it sit surrounded by doubt. But for me it is most often paralyzing.
The following are some of my writing doubts:
I doubt I have anything of value to say;
I doubt I have any skill with words;
I doubt that anything good I write is a result of skill;
I doubt that if I do write something good that I will ever be able to do it again.
Those last two are real killers. They live in the deep belief that anything good I produce is pure happenstance and luck. That is strangely debilitating. It often translates into paralysis when I get any good feedback. Now I’ve been dealing with this a lot in the last few years and I’ve realized that this is something that has dogged me my whole life. My rather unconscious solution has been to leave everything to the last minute so that regardless of whether the outcome is good or bad or mediocre I can always retreat into “well I just dashed that off at the last minute” as though I don’t really care about it. This is why my school work was often so disappointing to most of my teachers. Now as I’ve said, I’ve done some fairly deep work on this issue and the discoveries have been interesting and even shocking at times.
One of the biggest discoveries is how deeply I fear being good at something or succeeding. It’s so counter-intuitive to fear success, though I know it’s not uncommon. Writing has brought me face to face with this fear more intimately than anything I have ever done before in my life. It has also brought me face to face with how community and encouragement affect that fear.
A few years back I started a writers group with two friends who each had specific projects they were trying to get finished. We met every Monday night for over a year and the impact of that group was nothing short of life altering for me. I had written the first script for a six book comic series that two friends had asked me to write. I had never written a comic book. I didn’t, and still don’t, read that many comics. They loved the first script. LOVED IT. So nice to hear that, …and then I didn’t write a word for three months. I was caught in that doubt and fear that it was all a fluke and I’d never be able to do anything they liked again.
So the writers group was an attempt to battle that doubt and fear, a tool to just let go of the expectations, good or bad, and just write the next bit. It worked. It helped me to focus on the work and not on how the work might or might not be received. The encouragement to simply do the work was so powerful. I remember one friend in the group said “Just get the words down so you can get to the fun part which is making the words and story work the way you want it to work. Until you get them down you have nothing to play with.”
I am still struggling with this but more gets written now than ever before. I keep trying to place myself among writers so that I will stay focused on just getting the words down. I am currently working on a story that started as a piece of flash fiction and an online friend of mine from a readers group fell in love with it. Her encouragement and excitement has affected me so differently than ever before in my creative life. Little by little I’m starting to believe that it’s not really a fluke if I write something that someone likes, it’s a result of getting the words down first and caring enough to try and make them good words that tell a worthwhile story. While that still sometimes feels dangerous I’ve decided it’s worth the risk and staying firmly planted in a creative community helps me to take that risk.
I’d love to know if, and how, doubt and encouragement affect you and your writing process?