YAWB: Doubt

My last-but-one post was on disappointment, which is just one of the prongs of the industrial-sized pitchfork wielded by the angry mob consisting of publishers, reviewers, editors, agents, and our own muses. Disappointment doesn’t have to be all bad, though. At least you can counter it with a good attitude and a bit of professionalism.

Doubt is a different beast, a more tenacious foe, the Michael Myers of creative afflictions. We writers are a self-obsessive bunch. We spend our time creating things with (in the vast majority of cases) the intention of releasing them into the wild to be appraised, judged, and ultimately to try and survive, and are utterly terrified by the prospect of doing this process of being judged and found wanting.

Almost all my work, from short stories to novels, have precipitated mood swings accompanying their creation. At one point impenetrable braggadocio will reign as I convince myself I’ve crafted something objectively magnificent, and the next week I’ll look at the same work in progress and realise, beyond any refutation, that it is in fact utter bilge.

Five months ago, when I signed with Snowbooks, I spent a few glorious days informing friends and family of the good news that somebody somewhere had decided that I’d written something publishable. But then, days, weeks, even now, the doubts start to reappear. What if the fine folks at Snowbooks had and off day and made a mistake? What if Man O’War is the work of a charlatan? Perhaps I should just withdraw it save everybody the embarrassment of reading it…

In fact, at this very moment, I’m going through a dirge of doubt concerning my WIP (work in progress) novel, Satan In The Woods, after a fever of excitement about how good the concept was (after a beta read of the first couple of chapters, it turns out it might not have been the world-beating concept I thought it was) and now I’m considering walking away in favour of some other new projects that are tickling my muse buttons.

Bloody stupid, really. Dribbling between confident excitement and fits of eye-gouging terror of my own inadequacy isn’t a useful place to be. So if I finds myself in such a situation, I find it a good thing to remember that the truth lies somewhere in between. That’s the case with SITW – I’ll be sure to return to it when I think I can develop a better approach.

In fact, doubt can be quite a good thing, really. In small doses it can curb expectations (which in turn can prevent disappointment), keeps the ego in check, and encourages improvement, keeping complacency in check. However, if allowed to grow and fester it can crush ambition, and stifle the writing process completely.

So if you are doubting yourself, it ain’t no bad thing. Learn to harness it to improve your writing, and don’t listen to it overly. No one is as bad as they think. It’s the writers who don’t have the doubts who you want to watch out for. But that’s another story. So you can doubt. Just don’t stop.

Published by Dan Jones

I'm a science fiction writer and podcaster. My debut novel Man O’War was published in 2018 by Snowbooks, and I’ve had a few short stories published here and there. I also host Chronscast, the official podcast of SFF Chronicles, the world's largest science-fiction and fantasy community. Away from writing I work for the UK Space Agency on a programme of space robotics for advanced satellite and planetary exploration technologies. All of which comes in rather handy when coming up with new ideas for science fiction stories.

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