Sunday, May 11, 2008

On Dealing With Self-Doubts

The point is not to overcome your self-doubts about being an artist. The point is to move through your self-doubts. Many of us believe that "real artists" do not experience self-doubt. In truth, artists are people who have learned to live with doubt and do the work anyway. (from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way)

How do you know if your work is any good?

Every writer asks this question--or one like it--at some point during the writing process in an effort to determine if the work is worth pursuing further.

It's an irksome question, though, because you can't really ask anyone else (especially in the early drafts) whether your story is worthwhile.

You're the only one who can answer the question.

But asking yourself this question only tends to magnify your doubts since it's a question, by its very nature, that you can't answer.

And maybe that's the point.

Maybe it's a question that we should refrain from asking because it's not our job to determine the "worth" of our work.

That's the job of an editor, an agent, or a reviewer. It's not the job of a writer.

As writers, our focus needs to be on the work itself and on how we feel about the story.

Yes, our energy can flag and our spirits can fall, our faith can falter and our hope can disappear.

These are serious warning signs that you need to monitor, especially if you notice them interfering with your work for more than a week.

But despite the days when you find yourself with a desk piled with doubts and pages of words that feel empty, you can't let these self-doubts discourage you from persisting.

As Julia Cameron advises in her helpful guide, The Artist's Way, you have to "learn to live with doubt and do the work anyway."


Learn how to write for the sake of your own curiosity and pleasure, and for the sake of satisfying your own inner passion.

Discover how to celebrate the growth of your characters and enjoy the mysterious way your story unfolds from scene to scene.

In the end, if you can revel in the sound of your characters talking to each other--laughing, crying, sharing their lives with you--you may find your doubts about your story's worth melting away.

And, equally important, you may come to realize that asking whether your work is any "good" is an irrelevant question.

The important question--the essential question--is this: how much do you care about your story?

Caring about your story is the antidote to whatever doubts you may harbor about your story's worth.

That's because if you find your story meaningful, you won't care what anyone else thinks about it.

You'll pursue it because you need to find out what happens to each of the characters who you've come to love and care about.

The drive to write must come from within you.

Which is why the question--how do you know if your work is any good--isn't helpful.

It assumes that you can rely on an outsider's opinion of your work to determine its worth, when, really, your story's worth can only be measured by your own response to it.

You have to trust that response, and learn to trust, as well, whatever draws you to the page each day.

Instead of looking outside yourself for confirmation of your story's worth, you have to learn to recognize the truth that can be found only within your heart.

For more information on doubts and the writing process, visit:


Anonymous said...

Beautiful piece!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this kick in the pants. It is always and will ever be about the story!!!!