On self-doubt

I enjoy a good pity-party as much as the next guy, but some days merely feeling sorry for myself simply don’t cut it.  On those days I decide to step it up and start questioning my entire existence.

Today was one of those days.  It started out quite well – hot filter coffee while watching the sun rise over the ocean (feeling jealous yet?) and I was all set to plant myself behind the computer and break that writing block that had been vexing me lately.

As they tend to do, some distractions got in the way, but I dealt with them and watched a movie.  Then I finally warmed up the laptop (some days it’s like an old diesel engine – have to let it idle a bit before I can start working) and started to write…or tried to.

I got three paragraphs into a review, then stopped.  It just wasn’t working for me.  Then I turned to the last chapter I’ve written of my novel, the one that I’m currently stuck in.  I read through what I’d written thus far and almost deleted the whole thing (not that it would have mattered if I had – I have backups in five different locations (double redundancy isn’t for me; I opt for quintuple redundancy)).  I opened a blank Word document a few times, then closed it again.  I didn’t even feel like reading.

I went and took a nap.

I know the root cause of the problem.  I’m doubting myself and have been for a while now.  Common sense seems to be catching up with my dreams.

“What on earth makes you think you can become a successful author?” it says.  “You don’t know the first thing about writing.  Sure, you can slap together a half-decent scene if you really want to, but there’s no way you can do a whole novel.  And even if you do, there’s no way you’re gonna get published.  People far better than you can’t even manage it.  You might as well quit now.”

And it’s not satisfied after giving me that scolding…

“And by the way, you’re wasting your time with that degree you’re doing.  Wanna know why you can’t seem to make progress?  Because deep down inside you know the degree is worthless.  It’s not gonna land you your dream job.  Hell, you’re inventing your own job!  How daft is that?  The only way you’re going to get a salary is if you convince someone to fund work that’s not even going to directly benefit them.  In today’s economic climate?  You fool!  You should crawl back to your old boss and beg him to employ you as a toilet cleaner and then beg your wife’s forgiveness for making her bring home the bacon for the past five months.”

But while I’m still reeling I hear someone else clear his throat.  This voice is quiet and polite.  I really have to strain to hear him.  This is ironic, because he’s me.

“Why did you quit your job?” he asks.  “Was it an impulsive, selfish decision?  Or did you think it through for months?  Did you discuss it with your wife?  Did she support you?  Your idea which prompted your studies – do you really believe it’s a worthwhile endeavour?  Would you still do it even if you don’t get a cent for it?  And the writing – did you start it because you love it or to get rich?  Isn’t writing a novel something you’ve been wanting to do forever?  I thought you enjoyed writing.”

He doesn’t drown out Common Sense, not by a long shot.  In fact, I have to strain to hear him and he’s so easy to ignore – I don’t hear him unless I really want to.  I know he speaks the truth, but listening to him means I have to take responsibility to get myself back on track.  It means I cannot blame writer’s block or de-motivation or any of those guys we usually blame because it’s all me.  I made the choice to change my life and I have to keep on making that choice.  No one’s going to swoop in to save me; there’s no deus ex machina in real life.

I wish there was.  It would be so much easier if I could throw my arms into the air and say I can’t do anything about it. But I can.  It’s my choice.

I wish it was easier.  But if it was, achieving your dreams wouldn’t be considered significant, would it?

14 thoughts on “On self-doubt

  1. You’ll be better off knowing that you’ve tried your best at something rather than have ‘what if’ haunt you for the rest of your life. Highs and lows are just part of the process. Embrace them.

  2. Anyone can be a writer. Right from Stephen Hawking to Dr. Seuss.
    But it takes genuine passion to dedicate your life to the art instead of being a hypocrite like the rest of them are; kissing their bosses ass during the day and then whining about it on Facebook later in the night. You’re not that person, you’re a writer!

    As long as you don’t spell grammar as “grammEr”, you’re good to go.
    And even if you do, it doesn’t matter, they’ve got editors for that.

    1. Hmmm. Now you sound like my one friends who, after a mere sampling of some of my shorter writings, is convinced I’m going to be a best-selling author in a couple of years’ time. Sometimes I really wish I could see myself the way some people in my life see me. Of course, there are others whose perspective I never want to be privy to.

      Thanks for the encouragement.

    1. Not just of writers, but artists, musicians and academics as well. You know who could do with a bit more self-doubt? Politicians and lawyers. I’m happy to give them some of mine 😉

  3. I recognize this so much. I’m currently addressing all the feedback my thesis advisor gave me and although I see it is and understand it is constructive feedback, there are those times where it might as well have said “This is crap. you are crap. You are nowhere near intelligent enough to earn a masters degree. Your research design is laughable. You should be ashamed.” and every time I talk to my mom about this she says “what, did you think getting a degree would be easy? You got to work for it, honey.” Which is basically the only thing we can do, like you say. Turn your brain off and just work. We’ll face the consequence afterwards, right? I mean, writing and publishing a whole book is amazing in and on itself, isn’t it? No matter how many people read it.

    Easier said than done though 😉

    1. “Turn your brain off and just work” Hmmm. Interesting strategy. So you’re saying writing and studying are endeavours better attempted brainless? I’d never have thought of that 😉

      But seriously, yes, we get stuck when we start over-thinking stuff. A little less thinking and a little more working could be the answer.

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