Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011
Inside each of us resides the demon Doubt. It rests easily there, right on the shoulders of Fear. And like Fear, Doubt attacks us when we least expect it—and when we least need it.
Doubt makes us second-guess others’ motives, our work, and ourselves. The reasons are as varied as we are human, but three are particularly common:
1. We fear reprisal, recrimination. We fear losing an exalted, or even an equitable, status in another’s eyes.
2. We fear failure.
3. We fear success.
Any of the three common reasons can intimidate a human being to the point of stifling them. But as writers of commercial fiction, we’re particularly susceptible to all three. Why?
We’re creative people who, to survive in a competitive industry, must also be business-minded. The business side of us cringes at our business acumen not being “up to snuff” to the point that we don’t represent ourselves well, or our works with the sure-footedness they deserve.
We second-guess our decisions about publication houses, schedules, advances, royalties, reviews, and about our status in the lineup with our peers and competitors. If we aren’t business smart, then we’re vulnerable. And Doubt feeds on that vulnerability.
Our creative side Doubts the reception our work will receive in the house, in the market, in the eyes of other writers. We open veins in writing, allow bits and pieces of who we are seep through into our works. And we want those bits and pieces to shine.
It’s very human of us to want others to like them, to love our stories, because in ways we feel that, if they do, then we, the writers, also have been accepted and won approval.
Our Doubt that we will win approval, maintain our status, or fail to reach an aspired status, feeds our fear of failure. No one wants to fail. And everyone fears it. But as writers, because our work contains those bits and pieces of our souls, if a novel fails, we tend to feel we personally have failed. The failure itself then grows more potent, stronger, attacking our personal self-esteem and the view we hold of ourselves in our hearts. We forget at times that failure is proof of growth. That if we aren’t failing, we aren’t stretching our abilities to reach new summits. We forget these things because Doubt is so very strong and so very competent at instilling and feeding our fears, encouraging us to forget.
And then most of us fear success. We want it. Struggle toward it. Sacrifice to gain it. But when we’ve achieved it—gotten that contract to die for, that aspired to review in PW, that being courting by a competing house—then we fear the success and we Doubt it. We wait for the other shoe to fall. For something or someone to snatch this achievement away. Or we Doubt that whatever magic we possessed to create such a work once, was just that, magic, and we’ll never be able to create it again.
I’d never presume I have an effective way for everyone to vanquish the demon Doubt. I can share my own experience in battling the demon and hope something will be of value to each of you in your own battles.
When I lost my editor, I’d sold a book, written a partial on a second book, and had been asked to do minor revisions. I was reassigned to a new-to-the-company editor, one who liked lighter novels than mine, though I didn’t know that at the time. I revised the partial, which was now a complete, and turned it in.
New editor, a lovely woman, called. She’d read it and had had nightmares for a week. I was elated—until I realized she was not. For the next eighteen months, I tried to overcome that first impression, but never succeeded. During that time, the demon Doubt grew rapidly.
Maybe I was a one-book wonder. Maybe I couldn’t do it again. Maybe I was just a lousy writer who needed to face the fact and go back to my old job as Director of Operations for a corporation. Maybe then I could find some peace, because it was sure scarce during this time.
I sank lower and lower in my own eyes. Went through a gauntlet of emotions ranging from rage to self-pity. Finally, I hit bottom. The personal cost just wasn’t worth it. I told Hubby I was quitting. I’d worked at writing like I’d never before worked for anything in my life. But I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t a lack of will, or of effort. It was just . . . me.
Hubby, being wise and loving, suggested I really think about it. And so for the second time, I locked myself in my office and did just that. I was in there for hours, soul-searching. What if I don’t write? Who will give a damn except me? And then I saw me, older, not writing, and still mourning the loss of it.
It was then that I realized it wasn’t the writing itself I Doubted, but the selling of it. Okay, I never claimed to be brilliant, but as soon as I realized this, I had the tool I needed to face the demon. So I did. So what if I never sell? So what? I can earn money a hell of a lot easier than by writing for it.
Writing, well, it’s food for the soul. It’s fun. It makes me think and feel and dream. I love it. I’ll keep doing it because I love it. If I sell again, okay. But if not, then I’m still going to write. It’s what I want.
I walked out of the office and told Hubby—f or the second time: “When I die, bury me with a pencil in my hand.” I couldn’t bear the thought of going through eternity and not being able to write.
And that day, Doubt lost it’s hold on me. That day, I faced in my head what my heart knew long before. You can learn the skills to write a story. You can learn most of what it takes, but you can’t learn the love for the act of writing. That you have—enough to sacrifice for it—or you don’t.
Within two months of accepting Doubt as human, of finding my own way to cope with its strength, I sold two novels. Within six months, I sold two more. The dark partial, I’ve just pulled off the shelf and am rewriting now. Will it sell? I don’t know. Does it matter? Yes. Why? Because if ever two people desperately needed love, it’s this heroine and hero. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone. That message, I yearn to share.
Doubt still rears its ugly head. But it doesn’t cut as deeply because it doesn’t hold the power it once did. I write because I love it. If I’m fortunate, I’ll sell it and share it with others. But if I don’t sell it, it doesn’t mean I can’t write. Only that—(and, yes, I am smiling as I write this)—I’ve yet to find an editor gutsy enough to run a risk with me on a specific project.
The lessons I learned about Doubt were simple ones. (Aren’t all the best lessons in life simple?)
Don’t deny or underestimate Doubt. It’s a worthy adversary. Acknowledge and accept it and its strength. Recognize it for it what it is, and for why it is as it is.
Only in accepting the reality of something, can we find a way to not just cope, but to overcome the pitfalls inherent to it that can harm us.
Don’t allow a criticism of a work, or many works, to become a personal criticism that conjures Doubts about you, the person, within you. Your worth. Your belief in you. Those are the essence of who you are, not of your characters. And their story truly isn’t your own.
Mostly I learned to be at peace. What I do is an outward expression of who I am. All of what I do. Not just the writing. If I look at my eyes in the mirror in the morning, and I like the person looking back at me, I feel comfortable with that person, then I have succeeded. If I don’t, then I can change that person into one I do feel comfortable with and like.
I want to write. I want to sell what I write. I want to share my stories. Do I still have Doubts? Of course. What human being wouldn’t? The difference is that now those Doubts are about a novel, a chapter, a scene, but they’re not about me. The “me” in them isn’t threatened. It’s at peace.