Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Fear: Writing and Self-Doubt


I haven't posted here in a while. I suppose that's because I haven't written in a while. And why is that? The dreaded block back? No, not at all. Actually, I'm full of ideas. They're rattling round my head on a permanent spin cycle, waiting to be verbalised. It's more the fear.

You know the fear I speak of. The one that plagues all creatives. 

Fear that you're not good enough. Fear that your talents have left you. Fear that you can't do it anymore. So why bother at all? Doubt, to be more precise. Self-doubt. Sylvia Plath was right when she said that 'the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.' It is. It is crippling, debilitating. 

It's different from block. Block is more the outward manifestation of a deeper root cause, a malignant source of all stop-and-stutter verbal hesitation.

All writers experience the fear, the doubt. Even though some might come across as utterly confident - even to the point of arrogant. You wouldn't ever suspect that they too were hounded and haunted by self-doubt, but they are. 

The closest career to writers I can think of are trapeze artists (yes, trapeze artists). Of course, you need confidence to pull off those moves, to swing in sky so triumphantly. One ounce of doubt would bring you down. (Like Peter Pan and flying).  And when it happens, when you fall, your bones may hold up, but your faith breaks a little. And it's hard to swallow it down and get back up again. Also as a trapeze artist, you must depend upon your partner to catch you, as in writing, a writer depends upon their inspiration, that second gravity-defying dimension that is not always tangible. 
 I don't know why we doubt but I suspect it is because we work in the realm of creative swells and trickles. Good writing, great writing is never a constant process. For every good sentence produced, there were probably about ten flaky ones that scaffolded it. All our words are not gold. Some are flint. Some are copper. Some are lead. We have to work at it to get it good. We have to work with a heavy hand to make it seem feather-light. Some days, words will flow easily, graciously. We will feel like we are gliding on the crest of a wave. Everything is glittering.  It is so easy to surf this wave of writing. But then other days, it's hard. We can't catch a wave. The ocean is flat and will not rise to our bidding. We splash around a while before calling it a day. It's all highs and lows, ebbs and flows, waheying and worrying. And it's in between these extremes that doubt sneaks in. We begin to doubt our own abilities on the flat days and wonder how we will ever get so high again, and with that, we're soon in the dark territory of fear. We begin to fear the process, fear the taunting of the blank page, the many words that will bleed and die there. We begin to fear that our dream was a delusion all along.  So that's where I've been this past while. And instead of hiding from it any longer I thought, hell, I'll write about it, I'll take the first steps out of the shadows. I know doubt is a part of the creative process, but I didn't know it could be so overpowering at times. What is it that Pi says in Life of Pi when his faith is faltering? - 
“I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always ... so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further ttacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.” 

So here I am shining the light of words upon it. And maybe it's opening up the darkness just a bit.And a last word on it from Pi, Yann Martel's fictional embodiment of all our human emotions -   If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”Yep. That's it. Doubt will get you nowhere. We must get over it and move on. Move on. Write on. Besides, it is just a mark of a true artist: ~ Siobhán                    


  1. Bonsoir Siobhàn, votre texte est très beau, il coule comme un filet de source, il me plait, vous êtes une cérébrale :-), mais en parlant de filet, le trapéziste, lui, joue sa vie ou la ne peut gommer.

  2. Bonsoir Thige, et merci beaucoup pour vos compliments, c'est trés sympa!

    Oui, vous avez raison en regard le trapéziste - sa vie ou la vie... C'est vrai, sans doute! Mais, j'aime le métaphore d'un trapéziste pour décrire l'écriture... je comprends qu'ils sont différents en réalité :)

  3. hé oui! j'ai les pieds sur terre :-)

  4. j'ai ma tete dans les nuages, comme les trapézistes! Ha :)

  5. pardon mais vous êtes sur mes épaules :-)

  6. Ah, les reveurs et les réalistes! Les deux sont nécessaire pour créér l'art.

  7. Ahhh, yes and yes, and yes! In a strange sort of way, I don't know if anything good could be written WITHOUT least a healthy measure of it. If we thought the sun rose and set on what we wrote, it probably wouldn't be very polished. If it was easy all the time, it wouldn't feel worth much. Does that make sense?

    It's when we let doubt set up home in our minds that the problems occur - when it settles and spreads like the worst kind of damp and makes everything feel sort of rotten and soft.

    I think it's the price we pay for having those lovely golden moments where, as you say so beautifully, 'we are gliding on the crest of a wave. Everything is glittering.' But I'll take those fleeting moments of wonder and glitter over a life without them any day, even if self-doubt is the tax on them.

    And trapeze artists? I never thought about it like that before, but yes! Grace and balance, trust, swinging from sentence to sentence and trying always to sit somewhere between air and ground...yes, I think that sums up the writing life quite perfectly.

    1. Hi Cheryl - yes, that does make sense! I suppose self-doubt is better than too much self-confidence when it comes to writing!

      That's such an apt description of how it spreads like damp and yes - how everything then is 'sort of rotten and soft.' That's what it feels like exactly! Ha, and yes I suppose that's a good way of looking at it - that doubt is the tax on them!

      Thanks for your wonderfully-worded input! Here's to the trapeze! :)


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