If someone were to ask me, “why do you write?” I’d have to respond with something along the lines of, “Well, why do you eat?”
Writing is something that I have to do. Or, rather, it’s something that I feel is essential to my well-being, and to the well-being of others: If I don’t eat, I’ll eventually kick the bucket. If I don’t write, I’ll eventually kick someone, or at least become quite difficult to be around.
So, I write short stories, I write short scripts, I write feature-length screenplays, I write copy for ads, and I’ve just written a novel. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some of those short scripts turned into short films, and one of those feature screenplays made into a feature film. Next on the list is finding a publisher for that novel.
But then there’s that voice that whispers in your ear every time you’re revising what you’ve just written, or perusing the manuscript you’ve spent months, maybe a year, maybe years labouring over. That voice sounds the same to us all, and we call it Self-Doubt.
I mean, how do you know if your writing’s good or not before you share it with the world? Before you share that latest blog post, before you direct people to your latest short story, before you approach agents politely begging them to read your damn manuscript! The simple answer is: you don’t.
For most writers I’ve spoken to or read about, Self-Doubt has always been by their side, breathing down their neck as they type away. Bukowski lamented that “the bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self–doubt.” Zadie Smith says that when it comes to the writer’s work, satisfaction will never arrive, no matter how long they’re willing to wait out in the cold for it. And Virginia Woolf opined that the writer “could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.”
However, I think you do know when you’ve made something as good as you feel you can possibly make it. That’s the best you can hope for. But Self-Doubt is something that tends to be there. Like it or lump it, it’s there, and it’s going to be there, like your partner’s morning breath.
For me, Self-Doubt will be a morning fog that will never fully clear. Confidence does grow as you develop your writing skills, as you read more books, study more writers, and write, write and write. You become more assured of your own work when you’ve finally found your style, when you can finally say “this is how I write.”
But Self-Doubt isn’t planning on walking out on you. It’s not going to disappear, apart from the few times it needs to wander off and badger the other writer a few blocks from your place. So, if you’re waiting for it to leave, stop waiting. Grab a blanket, and grab Self-Doubt. You’re a couple — try make an effort to get along.
And don’t forget to snuggle every now and then.
Read my latest short story from Sounds From a Dublin Café here.