Friday, July 24, 2009
Those Pesky Doubts
by Libby Malin
You've heard the stories -- Bestselling Author X sells his first book after a friend shows a partial of the manuscript to her agent, who signs the fellow and puts the book up for auction leading to a "major deal." Or Bestselling Author Y mentions his idea for a novel to an editor over lunch and she buys it sight unseen, leading to rewards, both financial and literary, for all involved.
Don't those stories just make your teeth grind?
Most writers' publication paths are bumpier, with stalls and stops along the way, and occasional breakdowns.
But the overnight success stories do tantalize, and I wouldn't be surprised if many writers (if not most) cherished the dream that their rewards would be similar to those lucky authors who make it big quickly.
When I first began taking writing seriously and committing myself to the goal of being published -- when I decided to stop dabbling and start working at it -- I cherished those dreams of overnight success, too. But, like most writers, I didn't experience the Fast Breakthrough. Instead, I traveled the road most often taken by authors -- writing manuscripts, submitting, waiting, hoping...trying again.
Those early days were filled with doubt. Sure, I thought I wrote reasonably well. My writing had been praised by teachers and employers alike. I thought I told a good story and had lots of good stories to tell.
But when the first rejections started coming in, they brought with them the Ghosts of Doubt. Maybe my writing was good. But it obviously wasn't Good Enough.
Although I've rarely had trouble getting the writing engine started, these doubts sometimes made my writing stutter and stall. I'd begin to take a story in one direction, then wonder if it was exciting enough. I'd give a character an attribute I thought essential to the story and her own personality as I'd drawn it, and I'd wonder if she was sympathetic enough.
I started wondering about everything--how many pages I had in each chapter, whether it was okay to include more than one POV in a chapter, whether a heroine who used foul language a lot was acceptable, where exactly in the story a "black moment" should occur, whether I had too much exposition or too little, whether my characters' names were okay...
Whew! You get the idea. My Inner Doubt Phantom was working overtime whispering in my ear.
Eventually, though, I captured her, dragged her to a dungeon, locked her in a cell, and threw away the key!
And once her whispers were silenced....I became a better writer with a more confident voice.
How did I manage to control that Doubt Phantom? Simple -- through experience. The more I wrote, the more confident I became. And the more confident I became, the better I was able to write. I had to stop caring about that Doubt Phantom. I had to shrug her off and tell her to get back to her cell and shut up. I had to realize that, right or wrong, I just had to write the story. If I made wrong choices, I'd find them in revision. Or when my critique partner pointed them out and her comments resonated with me. Or when several agents rejected the manuscript all pointing to one problem. I had to learn to trust and accept my own voice...unless and until it was proven false.
Once I became published, the Doubt Phantom's voice became fainter and fainter. Sure, she still manages to shout a message up from that dungeon from time to time, causing me to stare at the blank page wondering if I'm headed in the right direction with a story. But she no longer rules this author's world.
So what doubts do you wrestle with when you start writing? Do they still bedevil you? How do you fight them?