Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Don't think aloud

I’ve been thinking about self-doubt among writers. Have you ever read something that just blew you away and made you want to walk away from writing because you’ll just never be that good? Or read something that was so poorly written that you couldn’t understand how you weren’t a well-published writer already?

I’ve been dealing with self-doubt a lot lately. And no matter how good our support network is, ultimately writing is a solitary thing, and I think it all comes down to your inner self. How do you deal with self-doubt?

Oh, and btw, Fiction Groupie is running a critique contest here so go over and check it out.


  1. You and I both.

    I deal with self-doubt the hard way, I force myself to get back on the keyboard and tap away. No matter what it is I'm writing... because if it's bad, I can make it better. And I know it. And so do you. You write beautifully, don't ever let anyone take that away from you, especially you.

  2. I think you're right. That is a great way to deal with it. Because you can always make it better. Words to live by.

  3. I read a great quote by Jason Reitman, the director of Juno and Up in the Air. He was asked what kind of things he reads. Here's what he says:

    As far as writing, I like watching bad movies. Nothing stops me in my tracks more than watching a great film like The Godfather or Dog Day Afternoon or The Graduate. You watch one of those, and you never want to write again. Whereas with bad movies, it makes you think, If that counts, I certainly could write.

    .....Man, can I relate to that!

    I like Piedmont's suggestion to keep writing. Actually, truth be told, just about everything you write makes me want to throw in the towel. I'll have to find some bad stuff soon (other than my own) ;)

  4. See? You always come up with great stuff like this.

    And it's funny because your stuff is stuff that makes me feel less than stellar in my own work.

    So I guess when it's all said and done, we just need to keep writing.

  5. Well, that IS funny that my stuff would make you feel that way!


    I think I'm going to lay off contests for awhile, though. but will keep writing anyway.

  6. I thought you would appreicate the humor in that. :)

    And I can appreicate the desire to avoid the contest thing for a while. It's perfectly understandable.

    But you should definitely keep writing.

  7. Agreed, there is only one answer: keep writing. :)

    And another way to deal with negative thoughts might be this: how about considering that the people who wrote those stories that make you "want to walk away from writing" might have been in this very same place themselves? Harbored the same doubts? Been prey to this same misery?

    Being a well-published writer does not depend only on quality, because in this case we would not be treated to the 'poorly written' stuff that is so sadly widespread. More probably it's also a matter of time and place and circumstances, that work together to create…well, what comes to mind is the beginning of an avalanche, the small pebble that starts rolling and creates the bigger slide.

    As I told you in another…place, a small dose of self-doubt could be healthy, because it helps us keep some sort of inner balance, but I also believe that you should not give in to it to the point of letting it rule your perceptions. Or your hopes.

  8. It’s true that there is so much more than quality that determines things like whether or not something gets published. Quality, I’d like to think, is the baseline. And then everything else that’s involved, like luck and perseverance in the process and reception by agents and publishers work together to create the finished, produced product.

    And the other variable in this mix is the reader. Everyone likes different things, sometimes at different times, and no one can predict reception. It’s a scary, scary thing. For every one ‘poorly written’ book that does get written/published, I’m pretty sure there are a lot more ‘really well written’ books that never see the light of day.

  9. You know, your comment started a train of thought that led me to some uncharacteristically bleak conclusions:readers are partly responsible of the way a book is received, because their choices often influence the publishing world, yet there is also a part of the publishing world (how big? one wonders...) that seems inclined to lead the public toward a certain kind of book, trying to convince readers that a certain book *must* be read. Because it's all the rage, because it's...fashionable and not-to-be-missed or else.

    This is much more scary than the unpredictability of the public, because the public can be so easily swayed by ads and widespread consensus, artificial as it might be. The "Twilight" books and the various Dan Browns are a good (?) example of that.

    And this consideration managed to put a dent in my usual optimism: if qualitative standards keep getting lower, there's no predicting the future - or maybe there is. It's already happening with tv, where reality shows triumph and quality entertainment dwindles to nothing.

    Not a good thought with which to end a day...

  10. You know that you and I have had this conversation before, so I'll just point you to Eric's post on Pimp My Novel since I thought of you when I read it.

  11. Oh yes! I'll second the motion, Your Honor!
    In a perfect world, this rule could be applied to every circumstance, but we know that's not always possible, at least not in the particular environment we're both thinking about – where silence is the best option, because otherwise you risk stirring a hornets' nest.

    If I am in agreement with the poster about the necessity of pointing out flaws so they might be corrected – or at least to give the author a different perspective that might lead him/her to re-think the approach – I can't forget that not everyone is disposed to accept criticism (positive as it might be), or to turn it into the drive to get better.

    So, I'd rather not battle windmills… :)

  12. Silence is indeed the best option, if only for one's own sanity. And while I believed at one time that silence was indeed the best response, it seems that time has come and gone.

    A tipping point if you will seems to have been breached, where not only does no one want criticism, no one seems remotely interested in becoming better at what they claim to love.

    It's interesting if sad.

    And I do agree no tilting at windmills.