How to Write Through Doubt by Rochelle Melander
Remember these things. Work with all your intelligence and love. Work freely and rollickingly as though they were talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers. critics, doubters. —Brenda Ueland
Doubt happens. Rejections pile up. Someone offers a not-so-kind remark about our work. Our inner editor gets mouthy.
We face the page but worry if anyone will ever read our work. Instead of writing, we argue with our demons—those negative voices inside our heads that whisper: you’re not good enough to succeed, no one cares about this story, do something useful with your life, who do you think you are, you’re just saying the same things over and over again.
We won’t last very long as writers if we’re fragile beings who can’t take rejection, criticism, and difficult people. We need to shake off that doubt and write even when we don’t feel like it. Here’s how to write through doubt:
1. Expect it. Doubt happens. Shirley Hazzard said, “The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums to get rid of.” Most writers deal with self-doubt from time to time. Fighting against it takes work. Instead, expect it and accept it. When your inner doubter pipes up with a critique, acknowledge it, dismiss it, and keep writing.
2. Disagree with it. John Steinbeck wrote, “The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.” Sometimes, being a writer means believing your own crap—and when it comes to writing through doubt, this is absolutely essential. Forget the friends and colleagues who dis you and your work. Instead, dig up all those nice notes your readers and editors have written to you over the years and put them in a box. Read them, remember you rock, and write.
3. Nurture yourself. Criticism, rejection, and inner doubt can damage our resolve to write. It can also deplete our inner reserves. In Daybook, Anne Truitt wrote about harsh critiques of her Arundel exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art. She said, “I am not concerned with reviewers’ judgments, yea or nay; they cannot deflect my course. What they can do, and this seems beyond my resistance, is hurt my general self, the supporting troops, so to speak, of my striking force.” (Daybook, p. 140) Make a list of ten soul-strengthening actions and do them regularly. When you’re feeling especially low, give yourself a day of nurture!
Your turn: What do you do when self-doubt strikes? What soul-nurturing actions do you use to support your art?
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I don’t even need a harsh rejection to have doubt. The gentlest kind will do it. Or no response. Sometimes that’s worse. So I take a long walk until I remember that I just write because I need to witness life: I’ll do it regardless. When I feel better physically my head gets strong.
Good reminder and good advice, Chris! Thank you.