On Writers and Self Doubt.
I’ll admit it; the past few days, I have had a crushing feeling of not being able to ‘make it’ as a writer. The definition of ‘making it’ has changed a few times — from something as big as making a living, to the small things such as just getting a release done every month — but it has always doubted it, regardless of meaning. I’ve only just come from talking to J.A. Marlow about it, and we found out some interesting points about self-doubt amongst writers; so interesting that the cobwebs have cleared and I feel ready to go again!
Here are the two things I learnt about self-doubt:
1. It’s part of the trade. Many people have different definitions of what makes up a writer. When people come into the craft, they think being a writer is about writing down stories, rejection letters, small (and hopefully big!) successes and a general rollercoaster of ups and downs. What nobody tells them (or told me!) is that when you become a writer, you also earn The Voice.
The Voice is very seductive, and somehow ‘right’ despite the fact it discards all logic and reasoning to make its point. If you’re a writer, there’s a very good chance he’ll pop up and start talking crap about your ability, your work or your prospects.
Here’s a fun fact; what do all three of these people have in common?
- Neil Gaiman, a popular writer who has worked on books and comics. Makes a very good living off of his work.
- Lazette Gifford, a writer who is coming up to fifty years of writing. She leads a website called FM Writers which is dedicated to the teaching and learning of writing, and has written several books on how to write. She helps other writers with their plots, giving them advice which, 90% of the time, works for them.
- J.A. Marlow, a writer who has been going twenty-five(?) years. She keeps her finger on the pulse of everything writing and business, and knows how to build a successful indie publishing gig from the ground up. She also attends workshops and classes and relays everything she knows to those at FM Writers. She has a solid indie backlog of 30+ works.
Give up? They’ve all admitted to hearing The Voice. Not just as a beginner. Not even when they were in their stride. We’re talking as close as this year, and none of them express any confidence that next year will be any different. When I first heard that these people heard the voice, my jaw hit the floor. How can someone whose been writing for that many years/made that much money feel bad about their work? Surely their voice has been obliterated into nothingness and left as a shade, a memory?
Well, as mentioned above, J.A. Marlow is the one who talked to me about self-doubt. Neil Gaiman admitted to The Voice during this amazing speech, and Zette is so to-terms with The Voice that she actively (but jokingly and not seriously) bans authors to talk negative of themselves. If you write, you are a prime target of The Voice. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting, or a professional. Old or young. Rich or poor. It’ll appear. And when it does, don’t stress it too much; he’s just part of the craft. You are by no means alone.
2. Don’t worry about the quality of your work. “Blasphemy,” you say. “If that’s so, I’ll write a half-assed vampire novel and self-pub it.” Before you do that, though, I want to make something clear:
There is a big difference between striving to improve your work’s quality, and worrying about it.
The former, I highly suggest everyone does. Why the hell not? Try new things, find your weaknesses and build on them, do whatever it takes to make yourself better at the craft. Read around, write a hell of a lot and enjoy it. However, when it comes down to self-analysis and how you feel about your own work, worrying about its quality, if it’s ‘good enough’, will do more damage than good. The truth is, what we write is to the best of our ability. We can’t write any better than our ability, else it wouldn’t be classed as ‘our ability’. When you write something, be happy with it. Yes, you might feel that it’s not as good a Stephen King. Yes, you might doubt that anyone will want to read it. But what can you do? Unless you have ideas on how it can be better — at which point, you have nothing to worry about because you can just, you know, do it – be happy with it. Send it to editors. Put it up for e-publishing. If you’re not so keen to sell the work, put it up for a critique or take it to a workshop.
Never worry about the quality of the words you’ve written. If you do, you’ll end up keeping things tucked away or in an endless edit-cycle, never showing them to anyone. You might not be as good as Stephen King yet, but you’ll never get there if you don’t get things up for people to read! Take the plunge, don’t feel afraid of failure, and dare to be bad.
And have fun with writing. If you play your cards right, you’ll be doing this for the rest of your life; might as well bloody enjoy it while you can.