Posted in Musings, Publishing
September 18, 2013

No Doubt About It – Doubt Is Evil

SisyphusMy local RWA monthly chapter meetings generally proceed with a more or less consistent agenda: we discuss new business, hold an author round-up about what we’re all working on, and then begin our critique sessions. Steady as she goes.

But last Saturday’s meeting swayed a bit off course when it came to the critique session. One of our regular writers didn’t so much need help with her manuscript, she needed help dealing with her highly critical father. Dear ol’ dad, it seems, is himself a published author (this particular member is not yet published). But instead of lending fatherly wisdom and praise to his aspirational daughter, he’s crushing her with the biggest stick he can find – doubt.

How many really great would-be writers’ careers have been destroyed before they’ve ever gotten off the ground because of doubt? How many critically acclaimed and highly successful authors have found themselves paralyzed by doubt’s destructive ways, questioning whether they really have it in them to write another word? Doubt is an evil, toxic brew. It flows through a writer’s mind like venom, killing creativity and snuffing out hope.

Once a mind has been poisoned with doubt, the damage can be significant. Our chapter member, for example, was questioning whether she can or should write romances because the seeds of doubt her father planted have sprouted long, strong roots. Her father scoffs at romance novels and emphatically brags that he could “easily” write one of them. He even sat down at the keyboard and started banging one out, just to show her. Β And our chapter member? She’s now doubting whether to go on.

Of course we encouraged her – and had a few choice words about dad – but in the end, she’s now struggling against doubt’s hellish weight. It’s the Sisyphean boulder, ever present and on the verge of rolling down the hill and crushing our dreams. Shakespeare eloquently wrote, “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” (Measure for Measure).

The other tough thing about doubt is that it ambushes us at our most vulnerable. When we’ve just gotten a heartbreaking rejection from an agent or editor with whom we thought we had a shot. When we’re battered and bruised, trying to lick our wounds, doubt is the little troll sitting on our shoulder and whispering insidious things in our ears like, “Hey, bonehead. You didn’t actually think you could write one of these books, did you? AndΒ get it published? Are you kidding?!” Then the f**king thing cackles like a witch while we hang our heads in shame, wondering if the bastard’s on to something.

Remember, however, that when it doubt, kick doubt’s ass. It might not go down without a fight, but itΒ can go down and itΒ will go down. And bear in mind, doubt is a struggle against which we’re graced with plenty of company. And that’s OK. As critic Robert Hughes’ said, “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.”

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  • Post authorcpmandara

    What a lovely father! If all of us had a little bit more encouragement in life… most of us would achieve bigger and better things. Why can’t people spread a little love?

    Great Post (as usual!)

    Reply to cpmandara
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      Yeah, it was astounding to me to hear her story. And you’re so right . . . how much more could we as a society achieve if we all just spread a little more love?

      You’ve certainly done your part, Christina. Thanks for the kind words. I’m all warm and fuzzy inside thanks to you. πŸ™‚

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorAlexa Day

    I think your chaptermate and I might be related.

    I received the contract for my first novel via email in the Charlotte airport last Thanksgiving Day. My brother was (and still is) so excited about it that you’d think *he* sold the book. My father has yet to congratulate me. Instead, he devoted part of that weekend to making sure he told me he always knew I’d be a failure as a lawyer but was good enough not to say so because he knew I’d “rebel” by going to law school anyway.

    (Best part — none of that is true. I presented my parents with loads and loads of plans for my post-undergrad future. Until this past Thanksgiving, law school was the only one he could be bothered to give a damn about.)

    Sometimes, as sad as it is, one must cut off the people who are not contributing to one’s forward movement toward the accomplishment of one’s dreams. I know Dad will try to join the bandwagon once it really starts rolling. Until then, I’ve got lots of supportive friends and family!

    I hope my long-lost sister doesn’t let this get her down for long!

    Reply to Alexa Day
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      Alexa, such a sad story. Where does the lack of support come from, especially when people speak about it from a parent? They’re the ones who are supposed to be our rocks, telling us no matter that no matter what everyone else says, we’re awesome. But for your Dad to doubt your dreams and be so dismissive . . . that’s cold. So happy you’ve got your circle of friends and supporters to cheer you on. And your new Lady Smut family, too. πŸ™‚

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
      • Post authorAlexa Day

        Funny thing — as soon as I posted, I realized I should have mentioned Mom! She’s been exactly the rock you describe, and we’ve had lots of adventures in publishing. She even has her own tag on my blog, and I think she would forgive me (eventually) for not mentioning her in my original response. πŸ™‚

        It is great to be part of the crew here! Group hug!

        Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorCharmaine Gordon

    Elizabeth, this is a powerful post and so true. Constructive criiticism is what critique is supposed to be. I, too, have felt slings and arrows and inappropriate laughter at my writings. I say, better to hold up your head and write, listen to the characters you create. They become your intimate friends during the solitary hours writing.
    Thank you for your eloquent words, my friend.

    Reply to Charmaine Gordon
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      As I titled my post, doubt truly is evil. It’s tough having to deal with it at all, and none of us should be on the receiving end of it from those who are supposed to be our closest friends and supporters.

      Tell those doubters to jump off a cliff. You don’t have time for their crap, you’ve got wonderful books to write.

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorKelly Janicello

    Great post. I am lucky to have folks around me who are supportive and I know how easily they could have gone in the opposite direction. As I write my first novel friends and family always inquire how it is coming along. When I told my dad what my pen name was going to be he said “very cool”.

    Elizabeth–You are so right, you cannot let doubt beat you down. Cackle back at the f***ing troll.

    Reply to Kelly Janicello
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      Yeah, and maybe bang its little troll head against the wall. Then you could stop the doubt *and* get your aggressions out! Ha!

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorKat Attalla

    Doubt is indeed a roadblock to success. In the business of writing it is easy to stumble. The very nature of the business– submission and rejection– is enough to drive you nuts. I’ve yet to meet a writer who has never been rejected. It’s what you do with it. After a verbal tirade, a few glasses of wine, beer — what ever your poison–and a bit of distance I reread the critique or rejection to see why someone else felt that way.

    “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” Eleanor Roosevelt said. I live by those words. However, even I am not sure how I would have stood up to the criticisms of my father.

    Reply to Kat Attalla
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      I love that Eleanor Roosevelt comment! Something to post on my bulletin board so I don’t forget it whenever that jerk doubting Thomas stops by for a visit.

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    I’ve met your mom Alexa and she ROCKS! Yes, by all means it’s great to give out the love and I’d like to toss some extra loving kisses to my DH who is so supportive, who believes I can do it no matter how long it takes.

    I’ve known children who at 7 have been told “you’re just not creative” and they believe that’s it for them for life! Kids who write great stories only to be told that their spelling sucks. Teens who are so proud of what they wrote and were told “But isn’t this just a bunch of teen angst?”

    So unnecessary. Why do people feel so satisfied judging others dismissively? Where does this come from?

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      I personally think it stems from insecurity and jealousy. People are threatened by others’ success because it makes them feel inadequate. By planting doubt in the minds of those who aspire to achieve, the jealous ones hope it’ll make the achievers question whether they can reach their goals. And if that’s the case, maybe those darn people will just stop trying and not do anything threatening – like become successful.

      Ah, like Christina said above, if only we would just spread the love a little more . . .

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorelfahearn

    Doubt. Look at the storm of feelings in this comment section alone. There’s probably not a single one of us who hasn’t suffered (and I mean suffered) from it. Reading Miss Peachy’s eloquent post, I’m reminded of the extraordinary talent (ie; your’s, Peachy), that has been made to feel inadequate.
    Persistence is what wins the race, but persistence is tough to maintain in a vaccum. That’s what I love about my community of writers — we suck out the poison of doubt and fill the veins with … ice cream?

    Reply to elfahearn
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      Ha! Yes, ice cream!

      Thanks, Doll. You always make me feel good. πŸ™‚

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorAuthor Charmaine Gordon

    Elf and Elizabeth and the other positive writers who have jumped in, thanks for every word. Out out damn spot. I prefer hot fudge with vanilla, dear friends.

    Reply to Author Charmaine Gordon
  • Post authorJane Toombs

    I was lucky enough to have a father (he was a nonfiction writer) who encouuraged me by always critiquing what I wrote in a positive manner, before telling me where I could improve. I’m sure his critiques are why I’m published today. I can’t imagine such a negative man as this person’s father. Hope he finishes the romance and nobody will publish it–that’s what he deserves. Yes, doubt can be a killer of talent. Jane

    Reply to Jane Toombs
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      You’re so right, Jane. There would be justice in that. Some people have this weird compulsion to declare, “oh, romance novels. They’re nothing. I could write one!” to be sure they do their best to make us feel petty and insignificant with our desire to write romance. And, indeed, to doubt the ability to do so.

      But doubt can be overcome, and conquering it makes us stronger.

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorterriaw

    Well said! Every creative person, or person entering a field new to them, feels this heavy burden of doubt. I can relate to this as I enter a creative field, and a field new to me. I don’t have the experience or success with my mad skills to push on with confidence. Instead, I fake the confidence and push on. At the end of the day, giving up is not an option. Having a group of people around you to help squash the evils of doubt can be a lifesaver. No one can go it alone. And why is it that parents seem to be the worst? I’m sure your group continues to encourage your friend to keep on keeping on, to follow her gut and her passions.

    Reply to terriaw
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      Going through the anxieties certainly makes the victories sweeter but sheesh! It’s tough when it’s dark out there. Supporters are a must and should include parents. So sad when it doesn’t.

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorSue Ellen Turnbull

    Wow! Thanks for the kick in the butt – it was sorely needed. Doubt has been slowly overpowering my mind these last few months, eating its way through the very core of my creativity. I will be spending this upcoming weekend with dear ol’ dad, but with so many encouraging words of support I feel confident I can survive the impending fallout. I will meet you all on the other side; ready to work on my manuscript come Monday morning.

    Reply to Sue Ellen Turnbull
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      Write on, Sue Ellen! We’re cheering for you. πŸ™‚

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorTara Stearns

    Liz – This is a great post. Doubt, my evil friend, and I go way back. I don’t exactly have the most supportive parents either – but mostly because they just don’t understand. Although not deliberate, it still hurts. They celebrate my achievements, but it would have been nice to have their encouragement along the way. But I just decided, long ago, that it’s OK to go in a different direction then what they expected and follow my heart. They had their dreams and opportunities to follow, I have mine.

    Reply to Tara Stearns
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      Good for you, Tara! Stay strong – dream on!

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorjanflora

    Awesome post. I have been battling doubt for decades. When we are young and teachers and parents praise our writing, telling us we are writers, we have no doubt about our abilities. It is when start to write for ourselves, to explore our craft and we start comparing ourselves to other writers that we begin to doubt ourselves so much.

    My mother is not a published writer, but she was an English teacher and is a stickler for perfection. While I did learn a lot about writing and grammar from her in my formative years, she has also been one of the most critical readers I know and I have residual anxieties about sharing my own writing with her. Is it any wonder I have not told her I am writing a novel? I am not prepared for the questions, comments, suggestions, etc. That would seriously mess with my Muse and she has enough of her own issues πŸ™‚

    Reply to janflora
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      It’s not surprising at all that you haven’t told her, and a bit sad as well. Parents are supposed to be our personal cheerleaders. They’re the ones with the big sticks who beat the crap out of doubt when the bastard starts getting to us.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jan. So glad you stopped by!

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
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