Writer's Doubt: Getting Out of Our Own Way

I clicked the submit button yesterday. This isn’t much of a novelty. I’m a writer. I write and submit, sometimes short articles, sometimes long articles, sometimes books. Between my freelance work, my blogs, and my books, I usually hit submit at least two times a week. Yesterday it was a book submission.

At first I felt a wave of elation, accomplishment. A passing, you are awesome, Jacquie, floated through my mind. Although only around 4 in the afternoon, I debated calling a friend to go for a celebratory cocktail. Instead, I took a nap.    

About an hour later, I woke up a little cold, hungry and filled with doubt. Staring at the ceiling, a squall of uninvited thoughts entered my mind: Maybe I should have changed this; maybe readers won’t like the ending; is the characterization convincing? Is the plot taut? Is the dialogue fluid?

Aye, Yi, Yi.

Here’s the thing: Every writer I know goes through a similar inner dialogue. When we write, our most authentic self is exposed. We discover things about the way our mind works: ideas we weren’t cognizant of, emotions we didn’t realize. Our fingers type and we sometimes can’t believe what materializes on the computer screen. More than a few times, I have thought “foreign fingers” because my fingers typed thoughts that were so unfamiliar to me.

It’s one thing to write stream-of-consciousness in a journal kept privately. It is entirely different writing for an audience, an audience who we often don’t know and who will be evaluating, whether conscious or unconscious, not only our prose, but our ideas, our most private self our barest self.

Still staring at the ceiling, another insight surfaces. As much as I want hundreds of thousands of readers to read my work the thought simultaneously, leaves me feeling vulnerable – painfully vulnerable. I don’t know how other writers do it: navigate a world where their work is constantly evaluated by masses and masses of people. Artists, even those with a seemingly strong backbone, are usually sensitive. I know I am. And being sensitive means no matter how hard I try, things affect me.

Every time my work reaches a few more people and a few more people, I get nervous. Excited, too, of course, excited, but equally nervous. Sometimes I want to hide under my bed.

At the same time, I want my work to be read. Whether it’s to share thoughts and ideas as in my non-fiction work, or for my stories to thrill and entertain, as in my fiction, I want readers to read my writing. I want my characters’ voices to be heard and to resonate for people. I don’t necessarily want to be known, but I’d love for my characters to be.

How to reconcile? Hmm…

Navigating the nebulous and almost contradictory writerly path set before me now is very different than the act of writing and completing a manuscript. Many writers I know have a hard time carving the time out to write, the discipline and the sacrifice. Thankfully, this hasn’t been a struggle for me, but the idea of the work being known, that’s a different story.

I’ve written it before (actually it was said by one of my characters), but it’s worth repeating: Sometimes we have to get out of our own way.

So I move myself over and decide that I’ve got to put my big girl panties on. It’s easy to be brave and courageous while sitting behind the computer. Maybe I will always go through this to some degree, or maybe I will develop calluses which will make baring my soul easier. Either way, I’ve never backed down from a personal challenge, so I know I will work this out internally. In the meantime, I guess I will run some extra miles to remind myself that just because I’m vulnerable doesn’t mean I’m not strong, actually it’s the contrary.

Do you have a similar experience? How do you quell the thoughts?