Blockades - Doubt

When we question our own abilities we are ultimately questioning ourselves.

Transferred by Melissa Devlin on May 11th, 2023

There are books on the market dedicated solely to the concept that it takes courage to write most likely because there is something odd about the mind of the writer.

We hate writing.
We really do.

It’s not that there is no joy in it. When the ideas flow and all that is in your head are the words and worlds of you characters it is like a drug no chemical can produce.

But getting there...
Staying there...

Should our concentration waver, or worse fail to gain ground, a voice may fight us from within. And this horrible shadow has no love for our passion or our work.

If you are an artist you don’t chose your work, the obsession chooses you. Somehow we are either born or made into creatures who can not survive without putting form to the ideas in our head. It is so for all creative types.

A man does not paint for the money. He paints because not doing so tortures him.But all the victims of the muses, writers, painters, sculptors, what have you, are also born with critics inside their heads. And whomever they are for you, they are harsh and unkind. And also liars.

The courage to write is the strength it takes to overcome nagging doubt: “That sentence is terrible. You can’t do this. Just who do you think you are? Why would anyone care about this?”

For many the bravery it takes to ignore or silence those voices become habit. We keep going because it fills the emptiness we feel without words. But sometimes even the most practiced can fail to beat back the “The banshee’s wail”:   

“I can’t do this. I will never write again.”

Of course it is not true, but as soon as the thought slips into our minds we are convinced that this time, this time she is right. We’ve lost it. Our strength and resolve has been sapped. There is no way through our foggy concentration and the false realization our work is unforgivably flawed. Our characters call to us but we are positive we can not measure up to their demands.

How can we be free of this?

Well first it is important to know we can never be entirely cured of this ridiculous cycle. It is part of the writer’s life to have moments when we lose all faith in ourselves. What we can do is learn how to cope with it when it strikes our psyche.

First we must break it down into the two types.

Emotional Exhaustion

There is good news and bad news. The good news is part of it will go away on its own. The bad news is it will take time. You simply don’t have the resources to write at the moment. You have no other choice than to deal with your stressors and recuperate.

It’s like a sprained ankle. Part of the healing process is time, and part of it is physical therapy. Trust me I know from personal experience sitting on your patootie while nursing an injured foot is incredibly frustrating. So is letting go of the daily desire to write. For both, the urge to try to push on the limits of your pain is there. But while nudging at the gates at some point will help. First you must put up with being fixed in place for a while.

The dreams of yesterday are the hopes of today and the reality of tomorrow. Science has not yet mastered prophecy. We predict too much for the next year and yet far too little for the next ten.

How will you know when you have enough strength to return? You will be driven insane with desire to the point that naught else matters but the book. If you are lucky the writing itself will provide therapy and relief. You will find courage in the aggravation from doing nothing. But without giving yourself time to heal first you will only fight against the impossible.

At first glance these things may seem at odds but they are not. You must take care of yourself, do what it takes to recover from what has strained you. And with that nurturing ember you may find the fire once again consumes you.

But how to start? Everything is at a stand still. Your critics are waiting and you haven’t touched your work in months. On to Type Two:

Lost Momentum

Start with the basics. Keep writing, keep crafting, keep working, even if it has nothing at all to do with your novel. Write reviews if you have to. Most people have some content they wouldn’t mind sharing, and many have a rant or two perfect for a blog. Eventually you will trust you are capable of stringing a sentence together and one of your inner critics will be shoved into a corner  

Then print off your first five pages, or first two chapters or however many you want and start reading. It is important that you print them because the visual cortex is engaged differently when looking at paper than when you are looking at a screen. That is what you want, a change of state in your brain. Sometimes any change at all is what it takes to move you forward

Also the mere inability to fiddle with the words on the spot will allow you to look at your work in a different way and help you gain a little bit of needed distance. You will be a little closer to viewing your work as a reader would and you are more likely to find you enjoy the process of re-engaging.

Just wait till you get to draft one - and realize that's now step one!

Once you are capable of looking at your work with a kinder eye read the whole thing. I’m not kidding. Beginning to the last point you left at, or further if you are like me and write out of order. Allow yourself to sink into the world again and soon you will find you don’t notice the doubts because your characters will tell you what is happening next.

Listen to the people inside your head -the ones your story is about. Theirs is the good kind of nagging.