It is often said that we are our own worst critics. That is because no matter what our craft is, we allow doubt to make us feel inadequate. When you love doing something so much, you want to be great at it. You expect perfection from yourself. We define perfection in various ways but one thing is common: if we fall short of what we want from ourselves, we tend to think that what we create is shit. I'm not trying to be vulgar for the sake of vulgarity. I am thinking back to a writer you may have heard of, who said this:
Even beyond the first draft, as writers we feel compelled to tell a story with the dignity and resolve it deserves. That is why we pour hours of research into our stories. It is why we feel so strongly about our characters. Our love of story propels us to do it justice. When we can't muster up our best, doubt tells us that we were never any good to begin with. It convinces us that we are talentless, unworthy of past accolades and that we are not the right person to tell the story.
This is something I am battling right now. I have a manuscript that I love. I am proud of it and sometimes can't believe it came from me. But I also know that it can be better. I know there are areas that need more development. There are characters that need more dimension. There are scenes missing that I haven't thought of yet. The ending could have more emotion and leave a greater impact if I infuse more substance into some relationships. Yet, I've been putting off tackling those areas. Instead I have knitted a sweater for my daughter's American Girl doll, I have taken on coordinating my church's Christmas Eve dinner, I have volunteered to make a Nutella flan for my bestie's birthday bash. All the while allowing doubt to guide me away from doing what I need to do.
I know what needs to be done, but I doubt that I have the capabilities to do them. Am I skilled enough to make this story as incredible as my agent thinks it can be? Am I brave enough to tackle the relationships in it that are a reflection of some of my own complex relationships? Doubt tells me that I can't. It tells me that I have given this story the best of what I can give, that there is no more left. Doubt tells me that it was a fluke that I even wrote 75,000 words. Doubt tells me that no one will ever want to read it.
What I need to do in order to move forward is use that doubt as motivation. It should be the fuel I add to the fire of dedication to my craft. To quote yet another dead, male writer:
Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.
- Khalil GibranIn other words, doubt is only one side of a double-edge sword. The other side is improvement. As impossible as it seems, I can counter the doubts with what I know to be true - that I have the skills to address all the areas that need to be revised; that I've done the hardest part already by getting the story out; that those who have read excerpts believe this story needs to be told; that I love my characters and their stories and I will not let them down. The truth of the matter is, this is all easier said than believed, and ten times easier to think about than put into practice.
I take solace knowing that I am not alone in this struggle. It something that every artist I know struggles with - from designers, actors and illustrators. My Tribe reach out to one another when doubt rears its ugly head and their struggle is my struggle. They are brilliant so it keeps me hopeful that since I am in good company, I will prevail over doubt.