If 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.
Deborah 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.