When in Doubt

Ever have days when you wonder what the heck you’re doing?

You answer someone’s question about writing, but at the same time wonder, "What makes me think my knowledge — such as it is — will be useful to this person?" After all, there are far better experts out there.

All I have to show for what I know is three little 100-word stories and an unpaid how-to article in a trade magazine . . . Oh, and a self-published novella. How could I forget that?

Lately I’ve been questioning every word I write, whether it be a blog entry, an email or post on a message board. As I type I keep thinking, "What if I’m not making myself clear? What if I misunderstood what the previous person said? Am I showing myself as a complete idiot?"

How audacious of me to think I have something worthwhile to share!

Perhaps I need to adhere to the advice made by Samuel Johnson: "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than open one’s mouth and remove all doubt."

Ah, self-doubt. Gotta love it.

It’s a constant fight, and one I’m tired of fighting.

Why do I, then? Wouldn’t it be easier to simply give up, or remain silent in any and all circumstances?

The answer is an unqualified "no."

I can’t claim expertise in much, including writing. I’m still learning and will continue to learn as long as my body draws breath. But to say I have nothing to add means I’ve wasted the 20-odd years I’ve spent practicing and studying the craft. Certainly I’ve learned a thing or two that others will find useful.

As for looking foolish by opening my mouth, that’s not so bad, either. It’s one more opportunity to gain new knowledge. If keep my ego reined in, that is.

At the same time, I shouldn’t always ignore my doubts. They have a purpose aside from relentless torment.

I’m a dreamer and tend to fly off toward a goal too quickly. Doubts make me pause, consider other possibilities and measure the consequences of my actions. They keep me grounded.

When I experience doubt, I need to ‘test the spirits’ and ask: Do they beat me down to the point of quitting, or encourage me to pause and research more before I continue to fly?

9 thoughts on “When in Doubt

  1. One of my former creative writing professors said “Don’t worry about whether your audience will get it, just write and trust that they will.” Yeah, yeah. That’s true to a point, but hard to put into practice. Especially as the stack of rejection letters keeps getting higher and higher.
    Yesterday, I had a “bad” writing day, was second guessing every word, and only managed to revise three paragraphs. The last chapter I revised was brutal, and I think I’m still a little drained from that. Perhaps, sometimes, we just need to give ourselves a break!


  2. All the time. Lately I’ve been reading Hemingway’s short stories and one of the biggest things I keep bumping against is all the writing “no-nos” I catch while reviewing and tell the author she might not want to do. And then I find Hemingway doing them. And I wonder if I should just hush because what do I know?
    I figure, though, they’re always free to ignore me. 😉
    I suppose the self-doubt is better than arrogance.


  3. I ran into something similar today. I read the first chapter of a book and found all the ‘no-no’s that’s been pounded into my head of late.
    It makes me want to throw up my hands in frustration.
    And then I realized something: Sometimes we concentrate so much on how we write, we forget how good (or bad) our story is. The reason this particular book was published was because of the uniqueness of the story and characters.


  4. Hey Girls:
    I’m eavesdropping on your conversation.
    What’s the Lost Genre Guild about?
    I too, while doing my last CWG assignments, had to read some other writers’ works and found lots of “no nos” in their writing. It got me thinking, are some of the no no’s we’ve heard specific to a genre?


  5. Hi Diane *waves*
    Eavesdrop all you like, as long as you don’t fall wrongly and bust an ankle or something. My liability insurance has expired.
    Lost Genre Guild is a group of Christian speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, et al) writers. We talk about writing, publishing, critiquing, editing, anything writing related.
    Good question about genre-specific ‘no-no’s. I myself haven’t paid close enough attention to see if that’s true, but others might.


  6. I listen to a lot of writing podcasts, and read a lot of writing advice. The only piece of advice that I’ve found all these authors agree on is that if you want to grow as a writer, you need to write more. They don’t say that what you write needs to be any good, just write more.
    Put what you have out there, and then write some more.
    I like simple advice like that.


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