Curious Rat

Writing Through the Doubt

Creators are their own worst enemies. It doesn’t matter how good something is or how long you’ve spent on it, it’s still never good enough. I bet there are Oscar award-winning actors who gaze upon the statues on their mantles and say, “You know, I could’ve done better.”

As a writer, all I do is doubt myself. It doesn’t help that I’ve been faced with nothing but rejection for my first two books (so far) and every logical synapse in my brain tells me to stop each day and evaluate whether going on is worth it. And every day, I tell my brain to shut up because yes, it’s worth it.

It’s worth it to keep trying, to keep moving forward. It’s how we get better. Does the doubt ever go away? No, not really. Does it lessen? Can’t say that it does, but observing progress does give me hope to see if the next story, or scene, or bit of dialogue is better than the last.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to have someone take a look at what I’m working on. I like to think my writing here has gotten exponentially better since I first started the site and anyone who’s been reading it for any length of time can tell me whether I’m correct or completely mad.

As for my fiction, only a few people have read it and that’s by design. I’m obsessively private about my prose, as it is tangible evidence of my attempts to create something from nothing. These aren’t opinions derived from facts like my tech commentary articles, but fabrications from my imagination. In fact, they are wholly illogical, as who am I to think he can create a world with believable characters fleshed out by competent dialogue and an acceptable narrative?

To help me figure that out, I recently teamed up with a critique partner. We exchange chapters and, well, critique each others’ work. We point out the usual typos and grammar issues, as well as plot problems, weak dialogue, and other nits in order to make our stories better. I also have a few beta readers who get copies of my works in progress and give me notes.

For the most part, what I get back is positive, but it’s so easy to let the negative, no matter how small, burrow deep inside my mind like an earwig and eat at me with each sentence I type. The rejections from agents don’t help either. The ones I do get are form letters along the lines of, “This wasn’t for me, but good luck,” and I can handle those, as frustrating as they may be. However, the rejections that come from queries I submit with sample chapters sting the most. Those come with the implied burn of, “And your writing isn’t good enough.”

At least, that’s what I thought until I received a rejection earlier this week from an agent who had read two chapters I sent along with my query letter. Even though my book wasn’t a fit for her, I was so grateful for the feedback she provided. It told me what I desperately needed to hear from another person and, more importantly, it came from a literary agent:

I enjoyed reading your pages. I immediately felt like I was like in the hands of a skilled, confident writer, and some of your dialogue…is quite sharp. You also do an admirable job of creating smart, well-developed scenes.

My reaction.

I read those words and suddenly I didn’t feel like a complete failure anymore. What I had spent two years doing every morning, evening, and weekend wasn’t a total waste of time.

That doesn’t mean I still don’t doubt myself. My inner monologue is constantly shouting, “No one cares. No one is going to want to read this. Stop now. Stick to blogging and forget your grand dreams of seeing your book on a shelf. You’ll have more success as a greeter at Wal Mart.”

Doubt is a festering sore that never gets better no matter how much you tend to it. It sits swollen on your brain and erodes at your confidence. Admiration from others helps a little, but what do you do when you’re in the middle of a draft you’re not ready to share yet? How do you move forward with such an enormous speed bump slowing you down?

You keep going. Write now - edit later. Focus on getting the words on the page and nothing else. It’s fine if they suck. It’s fine if you’ve worked on them for a year and you still think they suck. We’re our own worst critics. No one is harder on us than ourselves, and that goes for all creative endeavors. Painters, sculptors, filmmakers, and musicians are neurotic, self-hating perfectionists. They have to be, otherwise they’d never stop trying to prove themselves wrong.

And that’s what I’m constantly trying to do: prove myself wrong.