by Donnell Ann Bell

Ever since Adam took the apple from Eve, man has been doomed to experience doubt.  To  bite… or not to bite… Hmmm.  The answer’s not always so simple.

I’m not claiming that writing is like eating from the Tree of Good and Evil.  However, doubt can be akin to a serpent that slithers around a trunk.   In my case, the serpent transforms into a little guy with horns in a red suit.  The fiend sits on my shoulder and debunks everything I write.  “Your descriptions are lacking, conflict is weak.  You’ll never be as good as…

Sound familiar?  It should.  I haven’t met a writer yet who thinks as Muhamad Ali does, that . . . “I’m the greatest.”

Rumors abound that Stephen King threw Carrie in the trash. And I don’t think doubt is exclusive to men named Stephen.  I ask you.  How many of us have manuscripts still in a drawer?  No need to raise your hand.  I’ve got your names and numbers.

There is nothing more personal to a writer than writing.  The words that flow into sentences, evolve into chapters then culminate into books are part of us.  The characters we create are real—maybe more so—than the stranger standing beside us.  We’re truly odd creatures in that respect.  We have a rare ability.  To produce three-dimensional characters we know as intimately as we know ourselves.  Imagination is a gift.  Believe it or not, so is doubt.

Cicero wrote, “By doubting we come to the truth.”  Profound words if you ask me.  When I wrote my first book, I experienced no doubt.  I truly believed from the depths of my being that it was bestseller material.  Sandra Brown had nothing on me.  Then I joined my first critique group.

These ladies kicked me in my proverbial backside, something I’m still smarting over, but for which I’ll always be grateful.  I had no knowledge of POV, no understanding of goal, motivation and conflict, adverbs were my friend, and I pitied anyone who didn’t have my amazing talent.

Ahem… Thank the stars I found them as well as Pikes Peak Romance Writers and RWA®.  These people and groups instilled in me some marvelous tools.  But along with this eye-opening knowledge came—you guessed it—the doubt.

Does it ever get any easier.  Honestly?  I don’t know.  But I have learned some things that can help disparage doubt, and I’d like to share these tips with you.  Remember, this is what has worked for me.  Every writer must find his own way.

  • Become Educated:  RWA® National isn’t the only place that offers workshops.  Several RWA loops offer on-line classes.  The KOD mystery writers’ loop I’m on offers workshops from Synopsis Made Simple, to Show Don’t Tell, to A Day in the Life of an FBI Agent.

Inclusive in Education, read.   Read everything you can.  Whatever you’re writing, understand the genre.  Learn the differences, what the public likes and what sells.  But use caution.  Write what you love, write the story that’s in you.

  • Spare Up Your Free Time:  Becky Hamilton wrote an article on free time.  She gives lessons.  Becky, sign me up!  Veronica Hollingsworth introduced us to Flylady.com.  Wow!  What a service this woman performs.  I have learned firsthand that free time isn’t free.  It’s the venue in which I daydream, something crucial to a writer.  I’m not saying don’t get involved.  I am saying know your limits.
  • Develop Your Muse and Get Unstuck:  Ever heard of the sagging middle?  The point where you wonder which direction you should take?  Besides daydreaming there are several ways to pull out of a writer’s bog.
  • Write the scene in multiple POVs:  This allows you to tell the story in the strongest way possible.
  • Outline:  In-the-mist writers often utter expletives when it comes to this chore.  I’m an in-the-mist writer.  I don’t always stick to the outline.   Still, it leads me in a general direction and my muse takes it from there.
  • Play word choice games:  If you’re still adrift on that life raft of uncertainty, try something I learned at AAL/Open Critique.   Take a word and put it on a piece of paper.  For purposes of this article, let’s use a word that surrounds doubt.  Let’s take the word dubiously.  Forgive the adverb.

Okay, the word has nothing to do with my current work in progress, but I’m stuck.  I want the muse to flow.  So here goes.  Dubiously.  Dubiously, I allowed my gaze to wander the darkened street.  It had been hours since I’d lost the tail.  But a voice inside snaked out its warning.  I wasn’t alone.

I’m sure if the word or words you select surround your WIP, you can do much better.  Still, I’ve found these tools work.  Heck, I may even have the start of a new story!

Does doubt ever disappear?  My guess is probably not.  Unless you’re as naïve as I was.  Still, think of it this way.  Only by developing tools, giving into your muse and transferring those words onto the written page, can you advance your writing career.  Using this knowledge and inspiration, each scene will flower to life, and so too your confidence.  Yes, the above is merely my opinion.  But here’s one truism I do know.  Only by writing can we banish that devil called doubt.

That Devil Called Doubt ran in several RWA® chapter newsletters.

Copyright© 2007 Donnell Ann Bell