Writing for a living and being beset with self-doubt go hand-in-hand. In becoming an author, you might as well face up to the fact that anxiety and angst are your new best friends.
And I don’t care how famous you are, the gig is still the same.
Nothing you do is ever going to be good enough. Get used to that, and get over it. Your previous works will seem a little clunky, and full of passages you wish you could rewrite (regardless of how proud of them you are). Your latest manuscript - the one you’re working on right now, or at least would be working on if you weren’t reading this blog – has, in your opinion, gone from being a ‘sure fire winner’, to ‘something with legs’, to ‘hmmm, is this really the book I set out to write?’ You’ll curse yourself for wasting nine/ten/twelve/twenty-four* (*delete as appropriate) months on the damn thing when you could have been working on that other ‘whizzer idea’ you’ve thought of (the one you’re sure everyone will love.) All normal, all okay. Again, get used to it, and get over it.
This all sounds like pretty woeful stuff. But there’s a flip side to this self-imposed torture. It’s this very self-doubt that makes you strive to make your work the best it can be (and in doing so, become the best writer you can be). It’s the thing that makes you edit your work to within an inch of its life; worry about the weak points in the plot, and go back and shore them up; to ensure that the characters are as rounded and believable as you can make them.
Once you recognise both sides of the coin, you can turn what, on the face of it, could become a paralysing and demotivating factor into a positive strength. Your doubt is what makes you seek out the flaws in your work (that, and bloody good editor), and in doing so you are able to address them and turn your work into something finer than it would otherwise have been. Writers who appear not to have any of this doubt (and let’s face it, we’ve all met a few) are unable to recognise the weaknesses in their work, and if you’re unable to put your finger on the flaws, well, you ain’t gonna be able to fix ‘em.
There’s a thin line between love and hate, and an even thinner one between using your self-doubt as a positive force and allowing it to destroy your confidence. Writers, especially new ones (hark at me), can focus too much on their weakness, telling themselves that they’re not good enough, and end up stultifying their talent. Hey, nobody said this writing malarkey was easy. If it was, anyone would be able to knock out a book, ignore the editing process, pop it up for sale on an online bookseller’s site for 99p or give it away. Oh, er, hang on a minute…
I was giving a talk recently about writing for children, and somebody asked me what the hardest thing about writing was. I told them it was taking that initial leap of faith. Because that’s what it is. We all sit on the lip of the airplane door and tell ourselves that we can’t do it. The man behind us is screaming at us to, “GO, GO, GO!”, but there are a million reasons NOT to jump. Eventually, it’s those brave souls who shout, “Geronimo,” and throw themselves out into the void who are the people with the biggest grins on their faces at the end of the day. I tell people who want to write, to simply sit down and do so. Don’t worry TOO much about the mistakes you’ll make, but do worry about them enough to recognise that they can be a positive thing.
So, here’s to all the skydiver writers out there.