Befriending 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.

29 thoughts on “Befriending Doubt

    • “The Art of Creative Dissatisfaction” – I like that! I think that’s what propels me into yet another draft. . .until I get it right.
      Thanks.

  1. Excellent idea! When I finish writing a scene, sometimes I say to myself, “That’s brilliant!” The vulture stays in the corner. I am going to remember to do this every time.

    I love vultures in real life; I wrote a vulture named Clarice as a character in Enchanted Rock Red. I put this quote from Edward Abbey at the start:

    “Let us praise the noble Turkey Vulture: No one envies him; he harms nobody; and he contemplates our little world from a most serene and noble height.”

    My day job is selling securities, and I have learned to ignore the vulture; if you don’t, it will paralyze you, and all you will put in your clients accounts are bonds.

    • Thanks for the Edward Abbey quote. I do like Turkey Vultures on the wing- though I’m always disappointed that they’re not more magnificent raptors . . . There’s a metaphor waiting to be plumbed! Happy Holidays!

  2. Thank you for this Deborah. I’ve got a pile of rejections here that I wanted to resubmit, but this morning was crippled by “these are crap, nobody is ever going to publish them,” and so I did not send them. I was going to leave them to languish in the “rejected – resubmit” folder, but now I think I’ll try again. Doubt is ever at our door, and you’ve reminded me that that’s not only ok, it’s a given in this field. Thank you.

    • Glad this was helpful – and timely. I once met a writer whose goal was to receive 100 rejections in a year. He did it – and placed eight stories as a result. Good luck.

  3. I’ve been experiencing a great dose of doubt lately, and it’s been driving me crazy. Seriously. However, I never thought that I’d just befriend it and let it do it’s thing. Maybe doing so allows its nagging voice to fade in the background of our true awesomeness. Thanks for a wonderful post. Wishing you much light and love as well. 🙂

  4. Love these lines:

    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.

    This is so true. And when we can stop trying to push doubt out the door, he loses his power. He’s just as you say, an annoying relative to put up with now and then! It’s something that takes a lot of practice though. 🙂

  5. Love this, Deborah. You describe the situation with the perfect mixture of wisdom and wit. I can see Doubt so clearly now – perched there with a few scraggly feathers askew and a slightly manic look in the eye. You are right – better to befriend our demons than hide from them. Hiding only gives them more power – let’s them know we are afraid.

    Congrats on completing the latest draft. That is no small accomplishment. I hope you had a little celebration for yourself! 🙂

    • Celebrate? A week with Doubt, my new best friend, and then diving right back into the wreck. Because if I take a break, I’m going to have to deal with my marketing skills . . . 🙂

      • You’ll be able to do both. No worries. 😉 Maybe if you let Doubt focus on your marketing tasks, it’ll leave your writing & editing tasks alone … a little diversionary tactic? 😉

  6. I’ve learned to make Doubt work for me. This is something I’ve worked on this past year. Did I choose the best word? Could I have written it better? Do I have my facts right? I listen very closely to Doubt because sometimes Doubt has something worthwhile to say. I’ve found misspellings, words used improperly, bad punctuation, and a variety of ways to make my writing better because I took a second look, a third, and a forth. Doubt challenges me to believe in myself and to make my best better.

    Great post. Thanks for the chance to take a second look at Doubt.

  7. Doubt is definitely a visitor with me too, along with his best friend Procrastination. I’m still learning how to deal with these two fellows. 🙂 Not stopping to give them a chance to speak up seems to be the best thing, but I have to stop and rest sometimes! Great post, Deborah

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  10. I love the way you write about the duality of Hope and Doubt, and your metaphor of the vulture is superb. Keep him nibbling Christmas cookies in the corner near the fire. while your fingers pound the keys. Keep going… this digital support of blogging gives Hope to all us writers in cyberspace.

  11. Belief and doubt: the yin and yang of a writer. Sometimes I believe in my ability; other times I doubt my belief. I often doubt that belief believes in me; I also believe in both belief and doubt. Some days one has the upper hand; some days, the other.

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