“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.”
-William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
Doubt is perhaps one of the biggest barriers between achieving our writing goals and keeping them dreams. Whenever we sit down to create, there’s always that looming fear we just aren’t good enough after all. All artists fear their work being rejected, criticized, ridiculed, and forgotten.
…and yet, doubt is healthy.
Doubt in the creative process helps expand our creativity. If all creators went with the first idea that popped into their brain, they wouldn’t experiment writing a paragraph or character differently. As writers, we should be looking to continue to imagine our characters, plot lines, scenarios, and prose in various brilliant lights. Here’s how doubt contributes to the creative writing process.
How Doubt Psychologically Works
Doubt is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “A call into question of the truth: to be uncertain or in doubt about.”
From an artists perspective, this means we question the truth of our ability. Sometimes, no matter how hard someone works to perfect their skills, they doubt themselves because there’s always someone more talented. Over time, even the best writers tell themselves they can’t create works that are as great as their favorite authors.
However, doubt in the creative process is normal. Every day we question our goals helps us to look for new routes to success. This means doubt can allow us to expand our minds by pushing us towards different ideas.
Doubt as described by Adam Grant
Adam Grant gave a Ted Talk about how originals innovate and create. I highly recommend watching this talk for insight on how people make it through the creative process.
According to Grant there’s two kinds of doubt: self-doubt and idea doubt. He defines self-doubt as “paralyzing,” and idea doubt as “energizing.” This means self-doubt is kind of doubt that stops us from creating, while idea doubt causes us to try something new. One kind of doubt is healthy while other inhibits us from creating. The key is to ensure the doubt you’re feeling doesn’t hinder your ability to keep going forward.
Furthermore, Grant has his own step-by-step theory on doubt in the creative process:
This is awesome
This is tricky
This is crap
I am crap
This might be okay
This is awesome
When you’re creating, he states “you’re supposed to say the first few drafts just aren’t there yet” when you’re at steps three and four. It takes a certain mindset to push through all these steps and keep going towards the end.
However, overcoming doubt isn’t impossible. There’s a way to mentally challenge animosity and persist towards success in the end.
So how can you overcome doubt?
There’s plenty of times when you’ll inevitably begin to doubt what you’re writing. Writers doubt themselves when starting their books, when they receive the hundredth rejection, when their blog posts get zero views, or when they lose that award…again. You might be doubting yourself right now if you’re experiencing a hard time in your writing career.
But you can’t let any of that stop you.
You just can’t, even if your writing isn’t up to par with the pros. Why?
Because if you don’t try to be the next greatest writer, you’ll never be. Period. Sound morbid? Well, it is, but that’s why you need to overcome doubt in the creative process and bring positivity to everything you try. Learn to be the best writer you can today and find a way to become better one tomorrow.
So how can you use doubt to help you improve?
- Identify what bothers you in your writing. Do you hate that you can’t write beautiful prose? Or maybe you wish you were better at writing dialogue. Create a list of what you don’t like in your writing, and make an action plan to experiment with improving upon your starting point.
- You should look for concrete examples of writing you actually like. This can help you study the work and adjust yours to have a similar feel.
- Find the commonalities in feedback. If people are consistently saying they don’t like this or that, there might be a reason for it. Try to find what’s hindering your writing and look to improve upon what you have from there.
- Figure out what’s stopping you from writing. Is it a bit of procrastination? Fear that you can’t put the time into polishing something amazing for publication? Try to find the blockers in your life and overcome them.
- Look to always keep teaching yourself new things. Doubt can close you off from thinking critically about your direction and where you want to go next. Miss out on a book deal? Figure out how you can snag the next one. Don’t doubt yourself just because it didn’t happen once, twice, fifty times. After all, the most successful people are the ones who keep trying no matter how many times they fail.
- If you need to teach yourself new skills (such as marketing your e-book or web development to post your writing online), try finding ways to keep learning. Take a class, rent books from the library, watch videos…no one will teach you these things, so take hold of them yourselves.
- Remember the reason you love to write. Is it because you want to tell stories? Or maybe you enjoy putting characters into strange, wacky scenarios. Either way, find the reason you want to get up in the morning and put words down onto the page.
Keep on Writing No Matter What
Don’t let the little voice in the back of your head get the best of you. You’re talented, amazing, and can make it through the creative process. You just need to put those doubts into a positive light and take writing one day at a time.
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