On Doubt

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

Keep Calm and Query On

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.

SWEET RELIEF, I CAN BREATHE AGAIN

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.

 

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Writing is right for me because…

I’ve never really believed in “callings”: That a person could know beyond a doubt not just what they should do with their life, but what they were meant to do with it. Or that anyone even IS “meant” to do anything. I do, however, believe in passion…and call me crazy, but between the self doubt and manuscript-tearing there are moments when I feel with lightning conviction that I have found the thing that is right for me in writing.

Sometimes it’s as I’m researching (I love learning, and writing books is a great excuse to keep expanding your world); sometimes it’s when I make myself, or others, laugh; sometimes it’s when I realize I have stopped looking at the clock or my word count because I am totally immersed in the work.

Recently it was because I wrote a whole chapter of my WIP in just a few hours and when I stepped back to figure out why, I saw how much fun I was having: the day’s work had involved researching a famous painter, brainstorming literary innuendo and coming up with and auditioning a series of woefully bad pickup lines. I’m talking, like, nose-pinchingly, squirrel-meltingly bad. I plan to scrap all but one of them, and I still haven’t decided which to use, but I sure had a blast coming up with them.

Do what you love, and the work is its own reward.

No Doubles

When I was younger, I used to think that the world was SO big and there were SO many people in it that, by default, there must be hundreds, maybe thousands of people like me.

I don’t know that I thought of these people as look-alikes, but I do remember thinking that somewhere– perhaps in Australia, since the water swirled the opposite way down the toilet there– there was somebody in a house just like mine, but backwards. Somebody saying the same things, making the same movements, thinking the same thoughts as me. A sort of mirror double.

I thought, at the time, that there must be infinity other ‘doubles’ like me– thought-doubles, action-doubles, house-doubles, haircut-doubles. I would think, ‘I wonder how many other people are thinking of how many doubles they have RIGHT NOW,’ and I would think, ‘Ohp! I bet I just stopped being somebody’s double!’ and I would get into these imagined contests in which I suddenly broke into a skip or karate-kicked or stuck my nose against the glass to get out of sync with these imagined double-people who had been my double all my life up until that point. I remember wondering if I would ever ‘lose’ all my doubles as time progressed and our thoughts, actions, and whatever suddenly diverged from one another’s.

It’s strange to remember this now (when I have both a better concept of numbers and the individuality/uniqueness of every human being). As a girl in her twenties really just stepping out into that plane of finding/making myself as a person– and especially as someone trying to be a writer/artist– I appreciate now more than ever that no two people make the same journey or have the same experience. And while having no real ‘doubles’ might seem somewhat isolating/island-making, it’s also kind of earth-shatteringly awesome.

May we each burn as brilliantly (and differently) as the vast and varied stars.

Affirmation for the Artist

Since I decided to pursue my dream of being an author, a number of revelations have occurred to me. The one I want to share today is this: that as writers, artists, musicians, and other independents (at least in the vocational sense)– especially unpublished, un-commissioned, and struggling ones– our affirmation comes largely from within; and as such we must either be strong for ourselves or fail.

Paychecks. Publications. Praise. These things are all hard for the struggling artist to come by, especially in the beginning. How is one to go on when nothing– no money, no prestige, at times even no one– exists to validate our work? When we even have negative funds, reproach, and discouragement working against us?

I’d think the answer’s the same no matter where we are in our journey: our affirmation must come first and foremost from within us. We must believe in the work we are doing and the integrity of the effort we’re giving it. We must believe in ourselves at all times– especially when nobody else will.

I think, when one becomes comfortable with this idea– with relieving oneself of the need of the approval of others– it is immensely freeing. Yes, there will still be agents and representatives and business people and business deals and guidelines to be worked with along the way or at the end of Rejection Brick Road, but if you’re happy with who you are and what you’re doing– what else do you really need? You’re your own well, spring, and fountain.

And if you’re gonna be a fountain, you might as well look like this.

ALRIGHT, yes, a paycheck would be nice.

But you get the idea.