The subject of doubt seems to be coming up a lot lately in my conversations with fellow writers and artists. I’m not sure why that is, but I know it’s an intrinsic part of the artist’s life and since I’ve experienced it quite recently I thought this would be a good time to reflect on some of the observations I’ve made about it. I’m always curious to hear how other creative types operate, too, so feel free to chime in with your experiences in the comments below!
Now, stop me if I’m being biased, but I think I’m pretty balanced of mind. I do my best to look at my work objectively, I welcome constructive criticism, and I don’t freak out when something doesn’t work– I think about it, and then I fix it. I approach creative challenges eagerly, with the mindset that there is a solution; I just have to work to find it. Meaning, I think I have an overall positive attitude in my work. I address what I can, and mostly that keeps me too busy to experience any more serious, hard-hitting doubts.
But there are times when they find me.
When they get in my head and under my skin and blacken my heart with their hollow, faceless terror.
So far these occasions have been limited. In fact, I count all of two:
1) When I decided to pursue writing and artistic efforts as a career. This, however, was not a short-lived doubt. Even knowing in the back of my mind since the second or third grade that I wanted to be a writer (and/or artist); even having funds from a previous job squirreled away; even realizing that no other work could ever be as satisfying to me as the creative livelihood, I struggled for a very long time to put both feet in the water and really give myself permission to pursue that life wholeheartedly. I’m talking months, maybe even more than a year since the time I began my first real attempt at a novel. I’m sure there were many reasons for that, but perhaps the easiest to point to is the simple fact of being a black sheep among peers. I’m in my twenties: my former classmates are in grad school or landing real jobs, getting married, buying houses, starting families. Me? I’m writing books. I wouldn’t have it any other way now, but it took some serious time, commitment, and effort to get to the stage where I didn’t just realize I had found the thing I loved; I accepted it, and embraced all of the outlier implications that came with it.
2) When I send out queries. Yeah. Notice that this one’s present and not past tense, because (at least, until I have an agent and actually sell something) I have a feeling that queries will be a perennial source of self-doubt. Up until the query stage I have been writing primarily for myself: indulging in artistic fancy, directing my work after my own vision. But once I come to the point where I must show the precious thing I have made to a professional whose opinion is tantamount to validation (or lack thereof), the doubts come thundering down: Is my opening right? Does the rest of the manuscript deliver everything it promised? Am I trying to do too much? Is this part cheesy? Is that part too complicated? Am I doing myself a disservice in submitting the work as it is now, utterly dashing all chances I have of finding representation?
It’s not even rejection I’m afraid of. I don’t take rejection personally and am content to revise/improve, then
I think my real fear– the fear that swells up and can swallow me whole at times– is the thought that my book isn’t good enough.
Then I get a full request…
…and the doubts evaporate. Or, at the very least, I know I did something right.
I think that’s how the majority of the artist’s doubts are: recurring, perhaps, but temporary. There will always be bad days. Days when we question our work or even our life choices. But there’s only one thing for it:
…And pretty soon life is beautiful again. Because you love what you do, and that’s all that really matters.