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what happens when self-doubt gets a foothold?
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[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ere I am, back in the blogging chair. My plan to nix other writing commitments (no frivolous blog posts or freebie feature articles – I iz a serious writer now) and pour all my creativity into ‘The Book’ didn’t pan out as I imagined.
It was that much-maligned beast ‘Social Media’ that forced me to see the truth. Facebook regaled me almost daily with memories of how productive I was in previous years and this helped me realise something had gone awry (and before anyone yells, ‘there’s your problem’ I’m on FB less now than I was back when I was at my most prolific creatively). Dogged by self-doubt, inexperience, and uncertainty of how to organise my material I vacillated between the freewheeling ‘just write, you can organise it later’, and brainstorming the most staggeringly genius way to set it out so I had a plan to work to. I was distracted by any book or article on the routines and methods of other writers (‘how did they do it?”) but simultaneously paralysed by self-imposed pressure and information overload.
Writing, once a realm to lose myself in, became a test I felt doomed to fail. Indeed, it wasn’t just The Book that seemed way beyond my ability, but any writing that wasn’t a shopping list. I read old work with nostalgia for the skill that had since deserted me, the pleasure I once took in doing exactly what I wanted to be doing seemed replaced by aversion.
When a friend suggested we sit together at a weekend meeting of the Writers Community of Durham Region I knew this was a lifeline I shouldn’t let slip through my fingers.
It was my first breakfast meeting since joining the WCDR a few months before. I’m not great with ‘firsts’, or meetings, but I can do breakfast. Feeling as though I’d agreed to swim with sharks I knocked back a mug-full of coffee and hoped no-one would spot the interloper. It was a relief when the meeting began.
Gradually, as I listened to people share their recent achievements and rejections, I felt the novel relief of being in a room full of people who get it, who know the importance of writing as a multivitamin for the soul, who share the struggle of creating while punctured by self-doubt, who don’t judge simply on word-count. They understand that words on paper reflect just a fraction of the writing process, that much of it happens away from the page. Here, the confessions of my ‘difficulties’ were met with knowing nods and empathy.
Writing is such a personal and solitary act. It’s taken me time to recognise that sotto voce of an idea searching for a page, and to learn to tune out all the other stuff and take off on a whim following a trail of breadcrumbs. Theory is one thing, practice another, and I had to find what worked for me.
A lifelong overthinker, this trust in instinct makes my logical brain extremely uncomfortable. It comes up with all sorts of feints and cons to lure me back to the clear and concrete: “Y’know, you should draw, you haven’t drawn in awhile”, or “Hey, while we’re here might as well clear out your inbox. Implement a new filter system and leave the writing til tomorrow.” It reminds me to journal – “… still counts as writing!” and suggests books I should read that promise to transform my writing, or, just books I should read…
Because, let’s be honest, the idea of writing is so much better than the reality. Who willingly sits alone, for hours at a time, macerating their mind to craft a sequence of words just so, only to read it back twenty minutes later and be bull-rushed by Self-Doubt? (Which, by the way, wages a war of attrition much like my late Nana’s Jack Russell terrier who, despite increasingly vexed rebukes, would return each time, yapping and nipping, until you finally shut him in another room. Only Self-Doubt is harder to shut in another room.) You read the sentences and wonder how you could have come up with something so agonisingly, eyeball-bleedingly awful. Repeat this a few times and you’ll understand why writing is nudge, nudge, wink, wink likened to ‘therapy’; you get to know all your demons on a first name basis.
When the meeting ended I stayed for Tobin Elliott’s #storywhisperer workshop where he was trouble-shooting writing woes. Tobin is a horror writer with a boyish face that belies his writing and teaching experience, and listened to my troubles with interest and enthusiasm. The high point of my day came when he said, ”You’re writing your book right now with what you’re saying.” (I’m sure he worded it better but you get the gist). It was like a dam had been broken – I felt my own interest and enthusiasm coursing through my veins again, pumping ideas into my brain faster than I could focus on them. My journal entry that evening reads,
“Today I was reminded I’m enough. I get stuff. I notice stuff. I make connections. What more do I expect of myself? I set the bar too high when I’m alone – in everything from body image to writing. A dose of reality goes a long way.”
It seems to me that when it comes to experiences you’re either a witness (you learn from them) or a victim (you succumb to them), and if you believe in anything wholly and without question you limit yourself, close yourself off to the possibilities beyond your rationale. All belief is fervent hope, a cover-up for doubt and uncertainty, but it’s the doubt and uncertainty that tell us we’re alive. I finally understand that it doesn’t matter what I think, write or feel – it’s more important that I do think, write, feel, that I turn up and put in the hours. It may never get any easier, but I’m starting to view Self-Doubt as a sparring partner instead of a mugger. It’s all part of the process, but it would have taken me a lot longer to learn on my own.