Saturday, January 27, 2007


Is it something about writing itself that makes writers doubt themselves? Could it just be the inevitable rejections, the low ratio of reinforcement to punishment? Or is it more that those who are driven to write tend to be self-doubters from within? Kate S, Stewart Sternberg, and Michelle’s Spell all had posts on or around this issue in the last few days.

My guess is the latter, that those of us who have an inner drive to write also have some quirk within us that makes us doubt our abilities. I imagine, of course, that everyone doubts themselves sometimes. But some of us are chronics at it. It’s as if we’re addicted. We just can’t stop. Writing is not the only place I doubt myself, for example. When I was first in graduate school I had a feeling that any day now it would be found out that I just wasn’t bright enough, just not disciplined enough. I doubt myself on my job, on whether I’m doing the best I can for my students. I doubt myself as a father. I doubt whether I’m anything more than an embarrassment to the game of chess.

Why the doubt? Because I’m made that way, and maybe you are too. I think, in large part, this comes from an introverted and introspective personality, and this is why it shows up so frequently in writers. We reflect on things? We question. We study ourselves and those around us, and we know, if we’re honest with ourselves, that we don’t always do what we could or should be doing. We see amazing talents around us, and also colossal failures. And we don’t want to admit that both can exist in the same person. In us.

I think the doubt can make us better writers, as long as we don’t let it destroy us first.


Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

I think there is something strong in this posting. The idea of doubt fueling the writing process is fascinating. As writers we are fascinated by conflict, and the strongest type of conflict is inner conflict. So as writers, we draw on that inner conflict to push our literature forward.

You know what else was interesting, when I wrote my posting on my frustration, I almost wrote, "Do not comment, this is self expression written for me". In retrospect I should have. The blog is a journal, that entry the other day was something I would have put in a journal, so it ended on a blog.

Steve Malley said...

I don't think there's anything inherently 'extra-doubty' about writers. We're just better at articulating the stuff most people keep inside. Which is part of literature's power.

Of course, this is a field where many are called, few are chosen. And even fewer get to be stars. Worry about being up to scratch is bound to enter into that. But we're not the only ones.

Musicians, athletes, artists and actors all go at their passions knowing that, odds are, their talent levels will make them amateurs, whether or not they try to 'go pro'. And every how-to book on sales I've ever seen concerns itself mainly with being able to take 99 rejections and put your best face on that 100th prospect.

Everybody goes through it. We just write about it...

RK Sterling said...

Wow, Charles. I don't know why I'm so surprised to read that you're a chronic doubter (since we've never met, how could I know?) yet somehow, I am--as well as sickly relieved. :) It's always nice to know that others feel the same way.

I do think it's more common to creative types--maybe our neuroses push us to create--but I've discovered it also exists to a greater degree than I ever previously believed in the general population. I'm always surprised when I hear people that I look up to admitting their self-doubt.

"We see amazing talents around us, and also colossal failures. And we don’t want to admit that both can exist in the same person. In us."

How true.

Sidney said...

I think part of the doubt comes because writing is making something from nothing.

Wondering if the "something" is worthwhile or done right is just a part of it.

Craig Spector once said you write and then you hold it up and say: "Does this suck?"

Lately I'm asking myself: "So what if it does?"

There are a lot of mediocre things out there that prosper.

Why should my stuff be in a drawer?

Susan Miller said...

Yes, I believe it is the struggle, the human condition of sorts. Self doubt seems to connect so many of us. Thank you for writing this, Charles.

Danny Tagalog said...

I agree - blogs have helped and allowed me to get words out in written form, something I've been wanting to do for years - just for fun. But doubt holds me paralysed for a while, even while doing my graduate degree. Part of it is surely about introversion, and maybe some sense of inferiority lurking in the darkness. But the format of blogs kicks this into touch. It's like... to hell with that debilitating nonsense...

Donnetta said...

Found you through Stewart. Interesting thoughts about doubt and writing. I tend to think there is something to the introspective personality and doubt. Also in expressing yourself in writing rathr than orally. My husband is a psychologist. He told me when we were dating that women writers are often "hysterics." I asked, "Is that bad for me?" He answered,"No, it's bad for me..." Donnetta

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks everyone for posting. Good food for thought.