No Doubt About It – Doubt Is Evil

SisyphusMy local RWA monthly chapter meetings generally proceed with a more or less consistent agenda: we discuss new business, hold an author round-up about what we’re all working on, and then begin our critique sessions. Steady as she goes.

But last Saturday’s meeting swayed a bit off course when it came to the critique session. One of our regular writers didn’t so much need help with her manuscript, she needed help dealing with her highly critical father. Dear ol’ dad, it seems, is himself a published author (this particular member is not yet published). But instead of lending fatherly wisdom and praise to his aspirational daughter, he’s crushing her with the biggest stick he can find – doubt.

How many really great would-be writers’ careers have been destroyed before they’ve ever gotten off the ground because of doubt? How many critically acclaimed and highly successful authors have found themselves paralyzed by doubt’s destructive ways, questioning whether they really have it in them to write another word? Doubt is an evil, toxic brew. It flows through a writer’s mind like venom, killing creativity and snuffing out hope.

Once a mind has been poisoned with doubt, the damage can be significant. Our chapter member, for example, was questioning whether she can or should write romances because the seeds of doubt her father planted have sprouted long, strong roots. Her father scoffs at romance novels and emphatically brags that he could “easily” write one of them. He even sat down at the keyboard and started banging one out, just to show her.  And our chapter member? She’s now doubting whether to go on.

Of course we encouraged her – and had a few choice words about dad – but in the end, she’s now struggling against doubt’s hellish weight. It’s the Sisyphean boulder, ever present and on the verge of rolling down the hill and crushing our dreams. Shakespeare eloquently wrote, “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” (Measure for Measure).

The other tough thing about doubt is that it ambushes us at our most vulnerable. When we’ve just gotten a heartbreaking rejection from an agent or editor with whom we thought we had a shot. When we’re battered and bruised, trying to lick our wounds, doubt is the little troll sitting on our shoulder and whispering insidious things in our ears like, “Hey, bonehead. You didn’t actually think you could write one of these books, did you? And get it published? Are you kidding?!” Then the f**king thing cackles like a witch while we hang our heads in shame, wondering if the bastard’s on to something.

Remember, however, that when it doubt, kick doubt’s ass. It might not go down without a fight, but it can go down and it will go down. And bear in mind, doubt is a struggle against which we’re graced with plenty of company. And that’s OK. As critic Robert Hughes‘ said, “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.”

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