Sylvia Plath said, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
This quote hit home for me the other day and gave me a light bulb moment. First of all, for those of you who don’t know, I used to do quite a bit of acting in high school, college, and in the community theatre in my hometown (there are pictures floating around on Facebook to prove it). One of the plays I performed was called “The Nagging Doubt” (or “Nagging Doubt”). I believe it was a one act play, but I can’t remember the author. I do remember it was a play with only two characters. My best friend, Christi, and I performed it. I played the main character and Christi was my self-doubt. The MC wanted to go to a party or something, but the doubt kept knocking her down and making her feel like crap.
This quote and memory had me looking back over all the times I’ve revised a manuscript (sometimes to death—the manuscript’s death, not mine) and realized how much self-doubt has been involved in my work.
I came to understand I revise for two reasons. First, I revise because so much self-doubt creeps into my work as I write the first draft. It goes like this. I get an idea, I plot it, plan it, love it, build on it, and am incredibly excited about it. I think I’ve got it all laid out. I have a plan. I’m ready.
And then I sit down at my computer and actually start writing. I try to write, not caring that the first draft is crap because I can fix it later. But my problem is that I DO care if it’s crap. I can’t let go and allow the words to spill out onto the paper. I doubt myself too much. Will this be good enough? Is the idea even worth writing? Am I fooling myself? All of these thoughts and more creep in as I write. Sometimes it sends me back to the beginning to revise the novel before it’s even complete. Sometimes it makes me stall out (that thing called writer’s block is really self-doubt)—to the point I stop writing the idea. Which brings me to the second reason I revise.
I revise is not necessarily because the work needs revision, but because I’m too afraid to write. It’s so much easier for me to revise something I’ve already written than it is to sit down and write something new—especially when I’ve stalled out. I know I can write a novel because I’ve done it—but that self-doubt gets me all tied up and stifles my creativity.
Ms. Plath was completely right in saying self-doubt is creativity’s worst enemy. It certainly is for me!
I’ve collected hundreds of story ideas—but have written so few of them. Some ideas are fantastic, others not so much, but all of them should have been written by now—or at least the fantastic ones.
The only thing stopping me from being the kind of happy and successful writer I want to be is my self-doubt.
So, what the heck am I going to do about it? The character in the play I mentioned earlier stood up to her self doubt. She gained the confidence she needed and drove the doubt into the ground. I’m going to follow her example. I’m not going to let doubt drag me down and creep into my work. I’m going to stop doubting.
Yeah, I know, easier said than done. But I’ve identified the problem and that’s the first step to changing it. I’m not saying things will be awesome right away or that I’ll never have any moments of self-doubt again, but I’ve printed out Ms. Plath’s quote and taped it above my computer as a constant reminder. I hope this reminder will help me get that nagging doubt under control.
It’s time for me to let go and allow the first draft to be crap (and—news flash—it’s less likely to be crappy without all that self-doubt creeping into my writing from the get-go). I truly believe that those who have experienced success in writing have done it because they’ve conquered their self-doubt—or at least tamed the beast enough to control it most of the time.
My second step will be sticking with the writing, even if it gets tough. And my third step will be really thinking about each line when I go into revisions. Am I changing the line because I want to change it or is my self-doubt dictating the changes?
I have a plan to tame my beast, and I’m determined to do it. I may have a few bites and scratches when I’m done, but the beast WILL be tamed.
What about you? Have you tamed your self-doubt or is it something you struggle with in your writing? Do you revise because the work truly needs revising? Or do you revise because you lack confidence in your work and in yourself as a writer?
Write on—without doubt!