Doubt is a thing every writer struggles with — no matter how famous, no matter how many book awards, nominations, praise, cakes, etc. Your favorite writer has doubted themselves and their work. And probably quite a lot.
My friend Aidan Doyle has assembled a collection of essays about doubt, and he solicited content from other doubtful writers too — me included. (If you didn’t back the Kickstarter, it will be available for sale in July, so stay tuned!)
I’ve been struggling with writing a lot this year, and the reasons are varied, but the result is the same: I doubt every word I put onto the page. I’m trying to draft a new novel and it isn’t going well, Reader.
This past week, I decided I needed to set fire to the first 17k words I’d finished. Oh, they’re fine words and there’s a lot of content and detail that will still end up in this next round, but overall, it’s missing that spark of something. One reader said it needed more stakes, and they were absolutely right. I’m not yet into the hollowed out heart of my heroine, so I’m in the process of figuring out how to get in there.
(Right now, we’re rappelling and we love the sound of the singing rope as we plunge into the dark. Was that a scream??)
I always feel like we don’t talk about this side of writing enough. We see the highlight reel on Twitter and elsewhere, we see the shiny finished books with their beautiful covers; we see everyone signing copies, and talking about their work; we don’t really see everything it took to reach that point. We don’t often see how books are assembled — how it’s just a person and a page. A blank page.
A lot of writing is sitting and listening to the silence.
Part of my journey (is that the word) back into my own writing has been reading a lot of things that (hopefully) bring me joy. Some of that reading has been fan fiction. My writing roots are in fan fiction (X-Files taught me a lot, but my first piece was Star Trek TNG).
Nico‘s writing has also been helping me get back in touch with my voice. That Oscar Isaac poem. Whew. And also a really beautiful piece of Jaime/Brienne fiction, “If Tomorrow.” (Shout out to AO3 for being a Hugo finalist this year!)
I’m also reading When Women Were Birds: Fifty Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams. Mothers, daughters, faith, writing, not-writing, absence and presence, and it was not what I thought it would be. It’s better.
I’m also playing No Man’s Sky, which involves finding planets and scouting them and following clues and discovering outcomes, and it’s a lot like writing. You have an unknown thing, you discover the best way to explore it, you write down what you find.
Kelly Link said writing is terrible, and she’s not wrong.
But it’s also great.