Outrunning and sheltering self-doubt

I want to vomit on my keyboard. Who is writing this crap? Oh wait, its me.

I sent this text to my writing buddy on day 22 of the 30 day challenge. He said that if he had ripped out the backspace key, he would have been finished long ago. I suggested that we turn down the screen brightness all the way so we didn’t have to read what we were writing.

Lack of confidence and that niggling feeling of self-doubt. The feeling that what you are creating is not only poor, but worthless and laughable. I am sure that even successful writers feel this insecurity at times, and there may be no way around it. It is something you just have to plow through. If it turns out you were right, and the thing you were creating was indeed crap, well, you’ll find that out soon enough. No need to torture yourself in the meantime.

I’d like to say that I kept this in mind at all times, but of course I didn’t. Several times a day, that lingering feeling would creep in and stall my progress. But like that one good golf shot that gives you hope after a terrible round, there would be that one idea or turn of phrase that sustained me through all self-critiquing. But it was always a bit of a struggle. I sent up the text message flare because I knew my buddy would understand my frustration.

Another bit from On Writing by Stephen King on the way he pushes through:

With the door shut, downloading what’s in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind, only looking back to check the names of my characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in. 

The time pressure of the looming 50,000 word deadline helped to push me along when I wanted to pause over the next sentence. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, I did not go back and read any of what I had written at the end of the day. I tried to keep pressing forward and didn’t want my critical eye going over any of the crap from the last day or three weeks. I think this helped, but the better lesson came in the very next paragraph of King’s book:

The first draft – the All-Story Draft – should be written with no help (or interference) from anyone else. There may come a point when you want to show what you’re doing to a close friend (very often the close friend you think of first is the one that shares your bed), either because you’re proud of what you’re doing or because you’re doubtful about it. My best advice is to resist that impulse. Keep the pressure on; don’t lower it by exposing what you’ve written to the doubt, the praise or even the well-meaning questions of someone from the Outside World. Let your hope of success (and your fear of failure) carry you on, as difficult as that can be.

I did not show anyone the first draft of my novel while I was working on it. I probably didn’t need the above lesson to keep it locked away, but it helped reinforce the decision. At the very least, I figured I should be the first reader. Since I hadn’t been reading it as I went along, there was a certain amount of excitement to go back and see what I had created. But paired with that was the always present self-doubt, and I think showing an incredibly rough draft to the world would only amplify the feeling. Especially a work in progress. I agreed that the head down, shut out the world approach was the best for me.

Even with these barriers to self doubt, it still creeped in as indicated by the text to my buddy. But by the end of day 22, there were 32,117 words down and I was approaching the turning point in the book. Whether or not the Outside World would ever see it, the creation continued.

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