The Power of Doubt

angel and devil

Good Critic, Bad Critic illustration by Andy Black

There are times when I reach a crisis of faith.  Faith in myself.  I’m going through one right now. I look at what I have written and much of it feels wholly inadequate.  There are times that I think of myself as unqualified to dispense advice.  I sometimes wonder if I am just making a fool of myself.  I make a comment and feel like an idiot for totally missing the point and dashing any credibility I might have established. I sit at this keyboard and ask, “Who am I kidding?”  Well, don’t worry this too shall pass.

Sometimes I feel like an idiot Photo:Thinkstock

I’ll re-read something I’ve written with fresh eyes and see that maybe it’s not so bad, or that with a bit more work or a change in the angle of attach I can improve it. I go back over the advice I’ve given and see the positive comments I’ve received and feel that maybe I can make a difference.  I will still make my blunders, open my mouth when I shouldn’t, miss the point all together and feel the blood rise in my face.  However, I do have something to say and if I reach one person with my ideas, then maybe what I am doing is worth while.

I think that writing is both rewarding and terrifying at the same time.  It’s the old devil-and-angel-on-the-shoulder thing. The angel encourages me from her perch to revel in the feeling of composing the perfect string words poetically describing a feeling, or enjoy a great run of believable dialogue that comes tumbling out of me in a rush. On the other shoulder the devil is turning me into my own harshest critic making me feel like the last 30,000 words have been a waste of time and that I am naive to think that there is any merit in all of this.  And then—POOF—they’re both gone leaving me to sort it all out on my own.

We need those internal critics, both the angel and the devil. They give balance to each other.  Nothing but empty encouragement is as bad as an earful of bitter, destructive criticism. Building up and tearing down without being backed by thoughtful, honest feedback is hollow and pointless.  If the devil’s voice says, “this reeks,” take another look at it, there might be some truth to what he says.  Make it “reek” less.  Or maybe on that second read you’ll hear the angel’s voice say, “don’t throw in the towel yet, this isn’t as bad as you think.”

We all go through it.  If you have had these feelings, you’re not alone. Self-doubt is part of life.  Friedrich Nietzsche said, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” A little second guessing is not a horrible thing, in fact it might just might make us better.


13 comments on “The Power of Doubt

  1. You are a published author. Welcome to the head trip that writing is. The good news is, as your blog clearly points out, writing publicly makes us better people, and that is our one goal as spirit. Being humbled is the best part (from my experience). My motto: “I don’t have to get it right, I just have to get it going.” All credit for that line goes to http://www.mikelitman.com

    Love the good vs. evil drawing too.

    • Very True. Humbling is the perfect word. Some days are up days filled with excitement and the feeling of accomplishment, and other days it comes crashing down around you as the the little red guy pokes you with his pitchfork and says, “Are you kidding me?” But that’s when we re-evaluate and work to make it better.

      • My goal is a steady state of calm vs. the roller coaster, because I’ve seen how the highs (having my Oz book sent into the Oprah Show a week after she announced her trip to Australia in Sept 2010…talk about a potential life changer that is!) and then the deep low point to find out nothing ever came of it, is exhausting. I have more work to do reach the steady calm, but I’m better than I was, and getting better each day.

  2. I chat with those two friends of mine all the time. What a coincidence you know Angel and Devil too!

    Well I love reading what you post; you’ve reached me …

  3. 1. Nice illustration. You’ve got skills Andy!
    2. I’ve felt similarly. You’re not alone.
    3. I’m concocting a post about sharing your work and how powerful it is to enjoy the process of critique and reworking. Seems to go along with the fears you’ve expressed here. I’ll post it when . . . I’m not afraid to do so. Heh heh.

    • Ah… The illustration, now that’s an area that doesn’t scare me. Sharing my writing is much more intimidating. Sometimes I think I’ll forego toting it out into the light of day, but then again I’m afraid of the dark…

      • Your last comment reminds me of what Anais Nin, a French born American author, once said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud grew more painful than the risk that it took to blossom.”

  4. Jennifer, what a lovely quote. I’ll have to tuck that one away. You are a veritable library of quotes!

  5. Doubt only makes us stronger. There are many out there that have no doubt. These are the poeple who do not struggle to better themselves. These are the people who self-publish before they are ready, and make others look bad. Doubt makes you strive forward. Use your doubt, and make it make you better.

    Don’t let your doubt make you afraid. EVER

  6. I find people rarely have any kind words to say about the doubt…but it certainly is a necessary part of the process. The doubt pushes us to better ourselves, and our writing. It drives the editor in us. Makes us put in the time, forces the imagination to churn through all possibilities, while driving the logical side of the brain to ponder if all makes sense. To have the sense of reward without the sense of doubt…I don’t think that would be good for anyone who calls themselves “writer.”

    • Chris–
      Ahhh to be able to have all the rewards without any of the worry, the questions, or that pesky nagging doubt pinging us in the back of the head would certainly be easier, but as you point out it wouldn’t be good…

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