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Posts Tagged ‘doubt’

Red-headed_vultureIf hope is the thing with feathers, then Doubt is the thing with claws. After writing gloriously since August, I’ve come to the end of yet another draft of Ellen, a novel. No sooner did I lay my keyboard aside, then Doubt barged in and started clawing at my confidence.

Hope sings the tune without the words; Doubt whispers: This story’s no good, you’re no good, and who cares about Ellen, anyway? Doubt might as well just pluck out my liver and be done with it. I think about consigning my typescript to the wood stove and getting a day job with Dilbert.

But Doubt is no stranger to my door. By now, I know he’ll always return at my most vulnerable moment – when I’m flush with achievement and have a new draft in the box. By now, I know that I can’t lock my doors against Doubt; I can’t starve him, poison him, or get a restraining order to keep him away. So this time, I’m trying something entirely different: I’m befriending Doubt. This time, I’ve offered him a perch in the corner.  Now, at least I know where he is.

I don’t think I’m unusual; aren’t all writers plagued by Doubt? First come the doubts of ability: How can I possibly tell this story? Then the doubts of endurance: Will I live long enough to finish? And finally, the doubts about worth: Is it any good?

If the questions don’t paralyze me, the answers might – but only if I lay down my pen in despair.

For years, it seems, I’ve exhausted myself locking Doubt out of the house, and I’m tired of toiling against the same old demons. So when Doubt arrived last week, I smiled weakly and said, “Come on in.”

I figure Doubt’s like one of those relatives we all endure, the cousin who never misses a family gathering, always drinks too much, tells off-color jokes, brags about things you don’t care about, and asks in a tone of slimy superiority, So, have you written a best-seller yet?

Like  Emily Dickinson’s Hope, my Doubt also wears feathers – shaggy black ones, like a vulture. And he’s hulking in the corner right now, as I write this. It turns out, he’s splashing his tea, pecking at a Christmas cookie, and making a mess. But that’s okay, because he’s also leaving me in peace. And I’m comforted to know he’s there, comfortable by the fire and unlikely to blindside me at the moment. In fact, he’s just about to nod off.

I’ve come to the radical belief that while Doubt isn’t my best friend, he’s not my enemy, either. Doubt is just something a writer lives with, like hope.

Wishing you all light and love as the earth turns back toward the sun, and holidays filled with hope.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. She’s a regular commentator for Vermont Public Radio and the author of Into The Wilderness, an award-winning love story set in Vermont in 1964.

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You’re a writer on a deadline. You know you should be cranking on your assignment, but instead you’re staring at a blank page with your mouth open, your heart pounding, and your mind doing its best impression of a black hole. You have no good ideas. You can’t string together a single sentence. The lifeless forms of impotent words are strewn around you like so much literary roadkill. You’re suddenly sure that everything you’ve ever written is crap. The void of the stark white and oh-so-empty page starts to give you a bad case of vertigo.

Writer’s block – the kryptonite we dare not name. 

Whether writing is how you make your living or how you feed your passion, there are few things more terrifying to a writer than sitting down and finding the words have stopped flowing. But what causes this sudden paralysis? It’s not a virus or a temporary gene mutation. It’s not hereditary or influenced by environmental factors. In fact, there is no clinical proof that writer’s block exists, and yet writers routinely claim their muses are held hostage in its grip.

What if writer’s block is simply a convenient name for a collection of common roadblocks that keep writers from writing? What if, instead of fearing this mysterious affliction, you could break it down to its most basic elements and wrest yourself from its control? I believe that’s not only a possibility, but also our obligation. As writers, we have a responsibility to create. We don’t have time to waste with fabricated demons.

Writer’s Block Cause #1: Fear

Yes, it’s that obvious.

Writer’s block isn’t about some external force sucking your ideas and talent away. Writer’s block is about your own fear taking over your nervous system and depleting your confidence to the point of paralysis. It’s about attempting to avoid pain and disappointment by eliminating risk. Putting your thoughts out into the world requires courage and conviction. When your fears inspire a case of vicious self-doubt and second-guessing, it’s no wonder you end up feeling sapped of creative juices.

The bad news:

You have every right to be afraid. Your fears are not unfounded or irrational.

The most common fear – fear of failure – is totally justified. There’s every chance you might fail. You might find that you don’t have the chops to deliver a particular assignment. You might come under fire for “doing it wrong.” You might find yourself suffering the slings and arrows of self-appointed critics. You might have to endure public exposure or ridicule. Worst of all, you might be awoken one night by the initial tremors of your writing dream’s death throes.

There are so many things that can trigger our fear. Apart from the human impulse to imagine the worst case scenario, writers have a particular aptitude for self-flagellation via comparison. We read the brilliant work of someone else and start to wonder why we even bother. We dread putting our own work out into the world for fear that someone else will make the same comparison and find our efforts wanting. The world is full of heartless assassins who won’t hesitate to put a bullet in our writing.

The good news:

The good news is that your fear comes from love. You love writing. You love story. You love your craft. Your fear mirrors the depth and intensity of your love. No wonder it’s powerful enough to strike you dumb! Your fear is just a normal reaction to your desire to protect something you care about. It’s not unusual for a stressful situation to send even the most rational of us into that fight-or-flight space. And what could be more stressful than risking the survival of something that is such a big part of who we are? Bring on the lizard brain and forget about sticking your neck out. Give in to writer’s block and keep your tender dreams alive, right?

Wrong.

Now What?

You’ve identified and acknowledged your fear. You understand that it’s holding you back. What’re you going to do about it? Fear is a pretty tenacious emotion. It’s not impressed by logic. You aren’t going to argue your way out of this one. Instead, let’s try a story.

When you start to feel the waves of doubt and fear creeping up from your heart into your brain and then down to your fingertips where they rest motionless on the keyboard, tell yourself the story of your journey as a writer. Start with gently reminding yourself that it is a journey. No one wakes up one morning a fully formed writer. The transformation from aspiring writer to accomplished writer requires traveling a usually long and almost always twisting road. Your writer self needs to grow and learn and evolve, just like you do. Be gentle with her. Don’t expect her to be a master craftsman the first time out.

Remember that you are the hero of your story. Guess what – the hero never has it easy. If you’re going to have your happy ending, you’re going to have to go through some stuff. Some of it will be good, some of it not so good. You will be challenged. You will fall down and have to get back up. You will face demons and dragons and bad guys. You will lose your way and find it again. Each time you get derailed or discouraged, remember that this is just part of what it means to be a hero. These are the experiences that will prepare you for later victory.

Accept where you are in your journey. Celebrate your triumphs and embrace your failures.  Know that you must experience both to become the writer you’re meant to be. Count each elated high and each desperate low as equally valuable notches on your literary belt. Remember that your fear comes from love and is a completely normal reaction to the stress of potential failure. Feel the fear and write anyway. Savor the lessons learned at least as much as the outcome of your efforts. You may never fully eradicate your fear, but you will at least learn to live with it and – more importantly – write through it.

How does your fear keep you from writing? What are your biggest fears? How do you push past them? 

This is the first post in a series about the causes of that fictitious condition known as writer’s block. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who feels they have suffered from this inability to put words down. I just believe that if we can uncover and face the root causes of this uniquely literary affliction, we can slay the writer’s block dragon and get back to the work at hand. Who’s with me?


Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image Credit: Darren Hestor

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Why do you write?

What small yet untamed beast lives inside you, driving you to put down the words?

I am a writer, but I am not the writer I want to be. Each time someone asks me what I do, my writer’s heart dies a little death when I answer that I am a writer, but then have to explain that I’m not that kind of writer. “No,” I say, “I don’t write books. I blog, publish the occasional print piece, and mostly make my living writing marketing copy.”

Of all the things you can do in this world, why write? Writing is not easy. It does not typically bring fame or fortune. People often look at you funny when you say you are a writer, and your brain is never truly at rest.

So, why write?

Simple.

Love.

Stop laughing and, please, no eye rolling.

Love is the only possible explanation. Not so much for commercial writing, but certainly for creative writing. Each word we write is an expression of our love for the world, life, nature, humanity. Whether we are writing an essay, a blog post, a poem, a story, or a novel – each piece we create is a proclamation, a confession of the heart.

And that’s why it’s so damn scary.

When you love something so much, there is a part of you that would rather see it dead, than subjected to cruelty, disappointment, or pain. There is a part of you that would prefer to keep your story pristinely unmade, rather than risk destroying its perfection by creating it.

I have been writing for my whole life. I began journaling when I was seven years old. Though my practice has fluctuated with the uneven rhythms of my life, I have never stopped putting words down. Three-and-a-half decades of words, but it is only in the past three years that I have shared any of them. Though I now earn my living as a professional writer, I am still only taking baby steps towards owning my work, my beast.

Because, you remember, I am not the writer I want to be. I hold her hostage, in a high tower of doubt and fear. And while the writer-I-would-be languishes in her protective prison, my feet-on-the-ground, commercial writer walks free. She crafts her product and collects her respectable paychecks. She is pragmatic and slightly smug. She is, after all, bringing home the bacon. She is pulling her weight. She is living in the real world.

And yet …

… and yet sometimes I feel an unbearable ache to tear all of this away, to stop inhabiting the skin of this almost-writer. I have an urge to recklessly lay it all on the line, gamble the whole thing. I want to stop contaminating the words of my heart with the words of commerce. I want to divert my life force back into the stories that sing through my mind, instead of siphoning that energy off to feed the machine of business.

But, I don’t.

It’s not just that I have a living to make and a daughter to provide for. It is my heart that stays my hand – my writer’s heart, full to overflowing with love for the world, the stories, and the craft. “What if you fail?” it asks. What if I fail? What if I cannot do justice to this love, but only mar it with imperfect words? Would the story be better off dead than maimed and mutilated in my inept hands?

No. Emphatically, no.

No one else can tell my story. No one else inhabits my world.  No one else can even dream of bringing this love into the light, except for me. If I stumble, I will find someone to help me back on my feet. If I lose my way, I will find someone to guide me back to the path. If I lose hope, I will find someone to believe in me more than I believe in myself.

That is what’s in the writer’s heart – a story all her own; the drive to bring it to life; and a sometimes fragile, sometimes ferocious hope that the journey will end with happily ever after.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who, among other things, works as a marketing strategist and copywriter. She helps creative entrepreneurs (artists, writers, idea people, and creative consultants) discover their “natural” marketing groove so they can build their business with passion, story, and connection. She also blogs. A lot. She is a mom, a singer, and a dreamer who believes in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Look her up on facebook or follow her on twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image Credit: Luke Hayfield

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