Writing Past Doubt

"...Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. "
-Sylvia Plath
How does one banish self-doubt in a sea of rejection, ridicule, and criticism? One thing is for certain: you can't trust to your self-esteem to others, depending on their pronouncements to keep your head above the water (or drag you under by your ankles.) Somehow, you have to find your buoyancy yourself.

You do it by immersing yourself in the written word, reading, reading, and reading until you to absorb the alchemy of storytelling, the magic of well-crafted prose in your pores. The reading is a continual process, not something you quit once you start writing or when your first book is published.

Equally important is the ongoing act of writing -- every day, or as close as you can come. Only with repeated, concentrated practice will you break through to those moments when you finally hear your own words singing the way the best of what you're reading does. In those sweet, still moments, you'll begin to recognize that yes, you really are a writer, that you have something to say that's worth the listening, that's deserving of the struggle to share your words with others.

Those moments and that knowledge have the power to keep your will afloat through the days that threaten to submerge you. Those moments make the battle worthy, whether or not it's ever won.


Pamala Knight said…
Wise words, Colleen. Thanks for the excellent post and the good advice.
Thanks for this. But what if you already know all that, but you keep feeling like you're up against that one final wall--that one glass ceiling between you and publication? That's where I am, and I've been there for SO long. It really makes it hard to know what's going to give me that final push to break through. Is it just a matter of time, or am I really just not that good?
I'm still not giving up, of course. But I do wonder sometimes if I need to come up for air, to take a little break from the book to get perspective. But then when I do that for more than three or four days, it screams at me to get back to it.
Thanks, Pamala and Kathryn.

Kathryn, no one can tell you that it's time to give up, take a break, or change direction. All I can say is that I know quite a number of writers who broke through to make it big long past the point when any "rational" person would have given up. For these women, giving up was never an option, but intelligent "course corrections" really made the difference.

Sometimes, the course corrections involve experimenting with other literary forms or genres. At the very least, they can serve as palate cleansers and reminders of a time when writing was more play than work. At best, they may end up being the path that takes you through the brick wall and sees you through to a future you never even guessed existed.

Try to find a way to make it fun again, and writing might end up turning into the very best kind of work.
The thing is that I'm not done with THIS book yet, and I feel very strongly that it's going to be amazing. So I just have to press on with it, and hang in there a little bit longer.
That's good. It's important to train yourself to finish projects instead of bailing whenever one gets tough.

Have at it, Kathryn!
Thanks. And yes, I think you're right--I have several students at UHCL who I think would be amazing writers, but they always stop when the revision gets tough. I try to tell them that if they would just take the story through another draft or two, they'd have it, but it always surprises me how few of them take that final step. Then they're surprised when the work doesn't get accepted, and they think they've just failed. But seeing their struggles--and seeing those who I wrote off as not being as good end up surpassing them due to sheer hard work--has reminded me of how badly we have to want this. Yes, it's fun, but it IS work, at least to do it professionally.
Suzan Harden said…
Hang in there, Kathryn! You've got have faith in yourself, and yes, sometimes you have to dig down to China to find it.

And trust me, I know how hard it is.

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