I suffer from WRITER’S DOUBT and I need to talk ABOUT IT.
*Sticks up hand* Hi, my name is Vicki and I am a serial-self-doubter. Most days I’m pretty sure I suck at this writing thing.
We talk a lot about writers block but writer’s doubt can be just as debilitating.
What's more, it's a regular companion to most writers I know.
(If you’re one of them – welcome to the club.)
So let me introduce you to the cause of this problem – your judgey inner voice.
I call mine Judgey Mc-Crappy Pants.
Or Ratty Mc-Snippy Pants.
(Or anything that ends in Pants because who doesn’t like to say Pants.)
Ratty is a skinny rat-librarian with enormous glasses.
She has big pouty lips and a long jagged nose dotted with judgey whiskers. If her glasses were any bigger, her head would drag along the ground. She is slightly a drama queen. And Ratty excels at zeroing in on my most hidden fears. Ratty is not at all as quiet as a librarian ought to be. She is rather loud. And she’s concerned that I understand that I suck at writing. If at all possible she'd like to keep my work away from the world, where the vast jungles of the internet can slam me for sucking.
Sound familiar? If your inner-Ratty-pants breeds pellet after pellet of writer’s doubt, we are soul-siblings.
HERE IS HOW I WROTE TWO BOOKS, FOUND AN AGENT AND KEEP WRITING ANYWAY:
I drew Ratty out. I gave her a face, a body and a personality. This involved crayons. I gave her a name and I made it something I could laugh at. The more comical you make them, the less you’ll be inclined to think they are the voice of wisdom.
I listened to her. On purpose. This might seem counter-intuitive. But actually - giving Ratty the floor for a bit meant that I could get it all out in the open where it couldn't poison me from the inside. I asked her what she wanted to say. What was she trying to save me from? Then I said thank you and put it to the side.
I wrote anyway. Trust me on this - Ratty hasn’t gone anywhere. She is there today and she'll be there tomorrow. She will probably be there ten books from now. She is particularly loud when I'm stretching my skills or about to take a big leap.
Your inner judge is like that well-meaning relative who feels its their duty to tell you 'the truth' (which is inevitably awful or negative) so at least you can hear it from someone who 'loves you'. Say to that voice what you'd say to that relative - 'thanks Uncle Stan', then keep writing.
Ratty will pipe up again, telling you that you’ll never be as good as [insert favourite author here]. And the truth is you might never be as good as that writer. Write anyway. (Trust me – those writers probably have their own Ratty-McCrappy-Pants telling them they’ll never be as good as Ursula Le Guin. Fact is none of us will ever be as good as Ursula Le Guin). Write regardless. And if Ratty gets annoyed and tells you you’ll never write anything original and you should just STOP RIGHT NOW, feel free to use this script: “Hey thanks [Ratty]. I hear you buddy, but I’m just going to go ahead and WRITE ANYWAY cause I kind of like it and it makes me happy. Ok? Thnx Bye.”
Then write. Just write. Rinse. Repeat.
Sometimes none of this will work. You’ll have to grit your teeth and write through it. Or you'll have to take a break and go speak to a mentor, or someone else that you trust. But I guess that’s my point. That’s how it goes for all of us. If this is you, know that it doesn’t make you any less a writer. It means you are very much being the writer you’re meant to be. It means you’re going through a growth spurt and growth can be painful. (But oh, it’s worth it).
The incomparable Ursula Le Guin unsurprisingly puts it better than me:
“Inexperienced writers tend to seek the recipes for writing well. You buy the cookbook, you take the list of ingredients, you follow the directions, and behold! A masterpiece! The Never-Falling Soufflé! Wouldn’t it be nice? But alas, there are no recipes. We have no Julia Child. Successful professional writers are not withholding mysterious secrets from eager beginners. The only way anybody ever learns to write well is by trying to write well. This usually begins by reading good writing by other people, and writing very badly by yourself, for a long time.”
So go - write very badly. I give all of us permission.