I recently read a couple of blog posts and a NaNoWriMo pep talk that came together for me, so I want to share my thoughts on these. If I had reblogged the posts, they would’ve been kept separate — but it’s the intertwining of them that carries a beautiful impact for me.
Here are the posts and pep talk, and I highly recommend reading all three:
- Tamsin Flowers On Writing and Self-Doubt. Which was also published in her column on the One-Handed Writers blog.
- Pep Talk from Neil Gaiman.
- Drew Chial’s Every Little Hit Counts.
Here’s how they came together for me…
I completely agree with Tamsin Flowers about having self-doubt in writing. Doubt has crept in with my writing. And not just crept in, slammed in at times.
But it turns out that she and I are not alone in this. In an illuminating NaNoWriMo pep talk from Neil Gaiman (an imaginative author I admire), he talked about the arc of writing a book. The brilliant spark in the beginning with your mind on fire with ideas, and then the slow slog in the the middle, before the head-long rush to the ending. Doubt arrives at the door, plunking its baggage down on the floor, planning on staying a while.
I’ll step aside while Mr. Gaiman describes this feeling along the process of writing his novel:
The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”
I was shocked. “You mean I’ve done this before?”
“You don’t remember?”
“Oh yes,” she said. “You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients.”
I didn’t even get to feel unique in my despair.
His agent drops two gems in her last line. Mr. Gaiman had that doubt with each of his novels. And that’s the same with all of her other clients.
Book by book, author by author. Every project, every writer.
I would imagine that doubt visits artists, and not just writers. Those who create something and having concerns along the way if that something will work out successfully, or if they will even finish it. And if they do finish that something, will anyone out there care? Will they read the story, listen to the music, see the painting, view the movie? And if they do witness that something, will they like it? Will they connect with it? Or will they walk away from it and think that the experience was a complete waste of time, that they could’ve instead drank a beer or played a video game or watched another episode of Modern Family (or done all three simultaneously)?
Consider the flip side, of not having doubts. Would that be thinking your story, music, painting, etc., was perfection itself? And if you felt that, wouldn’t that lead to cockiness? And would cockiness lead to complacency?
Of course, there’s the level below cockiness: confidence. Of trusting your ability to finish that work of art. Of pushing through the slog and doubts and finishing the sucker. And looking at it not as perfect, but as the best something you could do at this point in your life. If you had created it five years before or five years later, it would’ve been different. But now, in this person you are at this point in your life, that’s how the something came out.
To me, that’s the reward for pushing through the worry, fears, doubts, the nagging-ass voice that wonders “Am I good enough?”
Because once the story has been written and edited, and then I sit back, it’s a seriously good feeling to have finished it. It’s not perfect. Far from it. But it’s a piece of me at this time in my life, with all the weirdness inside me.
It’s an idea made concrete. It’s done.
And once that special something is out in the public, you can’t control how your work is perceived. Inevitably, some will think it’s a waste of time. Some will ignore it. Some will click the “like” button without ever reading it in a blog post, maybe because they want you to reciprocate “like” something they’ve done.
But your creation will make a connection with some people. It will move them in some way. That doesn’t have to be a holy smokes you changed my life! kind of way. It could be a you were a bright spot in my day kind of way.
In Alan Wilson Watts’s tremendous quote about writing, he eloquent states “… and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone.”
That’s some seriously powerful shit.
Speaking of some seriously powerful shit: support. This is where we get into the third item in the bulleted list above. As passionately described in Every Little Hit Counts, Drew Chial talks about the importance of feedback and sharing. The hits, likes, re-tweets, pinning. The sharing on the thousand social media sites out there. These are wonderful forms of giving feedback to someone and spreading the word about them. Doesn’t have to be about an author, of course. This is liking a poem, an illustration, an essay that someone wrote on their feelings about something.
To Mr. Chial’s mix of ways of support, I would add reviews on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc — especially for indie authors. Yes, I’m biased as hell about this, since I’m a self-published author. These go beyond that “like” button (which is nice indeed — who doesn’t want to be liked?). And if a writer made you feel anything close to what Mr. Watts said about feeling less alone, then it’s a beautiful step to tell that writer about it. Doesn’t have to be an essay in the review — I get that everyone’s busy. It could be a short, simple note of appreciation.
Speaking of appreciation (yes, I repeat my transitions), I want to say a big thanks to those who follow my blog… but not those out there who clicked follow and hoped I would go to your blog about Yes, You CAN Make $5,000 A Month From Your House! Because I did go to your blog, and that’s ten seconds of my life I’ll never get back.
So forget those folks. I want to say how much I appreciate you genuine readers, and your hits, likes, and comments. Indeed, Thanksgiving is next week (for those of us in the U.S.), and I have much to be thankful for — those who read my posts and give me feedback through likes and comments. So, a big THANK YOU! Your comments help me deal with those self-doubts that come up.
Both photos are from Flickr, used under the non-commercial Creative Commons license. Click on the images to launch the photographers’ Flickr pages.