Doubt and Hot Chocolate
I remember reading the following passage by Virginia Woolf in her diaries a thousand years ago:
“It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.”
When I read this, I had already experienced my fair share of creeping doubts. Over the years, the doubting has ebbed and flowed. One assumes that if one continues to write for twenty, thirty years, the doubts will completely subside. Indeed, this is not the case. So, I offer up this post, some hot chocolate, and some of our friend N's famous shortbread cookies, along with some suggestions about what to do when the doubts come creeping.
One of the scenarios I have when I'm writing where doubt creeps in, is this. I'm writing my thing, thinking it to be quite original. But then I find out another writer is writing on X topic. Has just published a brilliant book on X. Later, there is yet another author who writes about X, but in a completely different way. Okay. Doubts. Then, I remind myself, that I am never tired of reading about this topic, and would love to read other books by yet even more authors from different backgrounds and understandings of same.
Another scenario, this one from my past. I had three manuscripts sitting on a shelf. Or was it four? I had been sending them out and been rejected six ways to Sunday on each of them, one of them had had both more rejections, and also more bites. I retired one of the manuscripts. That actually felt good. That manuscript became this blog. But the others? It took time, it took years, it took persistence and a certain blind faith, but they both ended up as books. When you are looking at stacks of paper 7 inches tall, it is inevitable that doubts will creep in. Have faith that the work will catch up with you. And maybe it's just that it needs a different form, a transmogrification. Try to remember what enticed you to write on the subject in the first place. Try to take yourself back to that early time in the writing when you were giddy, and excited about it.
Some examples of creeping doubts: the world has enough poetry, novels, etc. without me adding more to the pile. Why bother to write when it will be impossible to find a publisher, anyway. X critic thought my work was rubbish and what if it really is? My work isn't widely read. I thought by now I'd be more well-known. Or rich. Or at least critically acclaimed. Why did I ever think I had something to say that other people would want to read? What makes me think I'm an expert on X?
Even as I'm writing this, the doubts creep in. What do I even really know about doubt? Just because I have it all the time, what makes me think I should write about it for other people's consumption?
Things I tell myself:
I write to learn things, more deeply, at a different level, than if I had not written about them.
I write as a way of living in this world, as a way of experiencing the world, and as a way of delving into it. I write as a way of becoming.
I write toward the future, for someone who is off-kilter and maybe a little bit strange, in the same ways that I am.
I write to save my own life, and maybe if this is true, it's possible that one day my writing will do same for someone.
I write because I am the only person who can say what I have to say. The only person who sees what I see in the way I see it. However humble my observations, they are mine alone.
I write because there are never enough of the kind of book I love. When I find an author I love, I always wish they'd written more.
I write and it harms no-one.
I write because I am compelled to write.
I write because I'm determined, because I want to see my thoughts through, because I want to see the shape of the thing I'm writing evolve and mature.
I write because there is always room for art that is new and truthful and unique. In fact, the world is hungry for it.
And: I'm not writing for fame or glory or even money. Though all of those things would be fine, especially money. I recently said to a friend, I'm about as famous as I want to be. Which is to say, not really at all. What a gift it is to write, quietly, alone, uninterrupted. What more do I want?
I've been re-reading Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Remember how popular it was when it came out in 1992? There's still a lot of stuff in it that bears repeating, re-reading.
I'm thinking about how failure can lead us to doubt. In the book she says, that unlike with a fairy tale,
“There are always more opportunities to get it right, to fashion our lives in the ways we deserve to have them. Don't waste your time hating a failure. Failure is a greater teacher than success. Listen, learn, go on.”
The only thing I really know about doubt is that it's an unholy waste of time.
So, while I've been writing for a long time, there is still doubt. We're on a first name basis, we are. But I don't give doubt more than a glance over the shoulder these days. Not much more than, a shoo, go on, you.
I try to just get on with it. I listen to the work, instead.
I also tell myself, if someone as splendid and magnificent as Virginia Woolf had doubts, why do I think I should be immune?