Friday, September 30, 2016

The Monster of Doubt

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

I have these moments. They come hard and fast, drops of sunlight peppering my face as I sprint beneath a canopy of leaves.

There and then gone.

In these rare moments, I FEEL like a writer. Like a published author. Like someone who has the enviable job of writing stories for a living. They’re wonderful, these moments. They bring with them a simple, pure, always fleeting feeling of confidence.

I can do this. I can write another story. I can BE this person.

I work hard to respect these moments. To honor them by sitting down in my office chair and dumping words onto a page. Because the truth of the matter is, these inspirited moments are fragile. They dissolve at the very hint of negativity, at the first wind of frustration, at the stink of words like trending and bestseller. It takes very little to scare my muse away. And without that confidence, without the itch of inspiration compelling me to write, it can be a fight to keep my head in the game.

I’m not alone in this, I know that. This isn’t even a problem unique to writers, but the truth is, these battles are fought in a place where you are of little help to me and I am of little help to you. Bloody battles are fought daily between my ears. In the noisy, crowded, aching place where my thoughts churn and churn with little relief. And when I’m losing, my very own mind flips those once sunny moments inside out and uses them against me.

We writers spend so much (too much?) time here. In our own heads. We dissect everything we read, everything we watch, everything we hear. We try to fashion it and shape it and invert it into something usable. Into something we can write about. We pass a man yammering to himself on the sidewalk and, within minutes, we’ve concocted an entire backstory and plot. We know how we’d write this man.

Or we don’t. And that kills us.

We sulk away and claim writers block. We doubt we ever had THAT THING. That spark, that gift, that mojo.

We doubt. We doubt. We doubt.

We’re afraid to fail. So we stop writing. But that only angers the beast inside us and we’re reminded that just because we may not write in practice, we cannot simply walk away from the lens we view this world through. Whether you sit and write or not, your brain will not let you be. And so you have a choice: to write through the doubt or to let it gnaw on your gut as you wait for another passing moment of enthusiasm.

Should you take breaks? Yes, absolutely. Weeks? Sometimes. Months? Maybe. But should you ever let doubt be the reason you walk away? I think, no. Doubt is a monster we should never, ever feed.
I don’t know that there is one answer to the problem of self-doubt. But I think there are things that can help.

1. Redefine success. This word doesn’t have to mean what you’ve always assumed it meant. Redefine it. What is success to you? To me success is mattering, making a difference to someone. That’s success. I’m a Christian so I want to honor Christ. Success. I want to be of value to my publisher. That’s real, that’s success. Your definition of success might not match mine, but you should take a moment to figure out what it is. And be willing to adjust your definition as you grow.

2. Write through the doubt. It’s hard to swallow sometimes, but the only way to chase away the I CAN’Ts is to prove that YOU CAN. So prove it to yourself.

3. Write fearlessly. Being afraid to fail is very real, but if you let it hold you back, fear wins. Want some truth? We’re all afraid. Doing it anyway is what makes us fearless.

4. Look for inspiration. Those of us who write as a career have to learn something early on. Inspiration will not pay the bills. That said, perhaps you’re missing daily inspiration by assuming it will look as it always has. Try this, go outside. Be with people. Scrounge through bookstores and libraries. Go on grown-up field trips. Investigate the world around you. Inspiration may sporadically attack us, but if we go out looking it’ll have to try awfully hard to hide.
And finally,

5. Inspire someone else. Be the wind in someone else’s sails for a while. Put your pride, your competitive nature, your angst, fear, and doubt aside and lift someone up. Give them a sunshine moment. Not because you’re fishing for inspiration from their lips, but because we all need a little encouragement from time to time. And because others need to know just how valuable their contributions to the world are. Tell them.

These are just a few of the things that help me when I’m lost in the darkness of my own mind.

What have I missed? What advice would you give? 

Today, let’s choose action in the face of paralyzing doubt.

YOU CAN do this. You absolutely can.

24 comments:

  1. Thank you for this encouraging post! =)

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  2. Well, we're all writers. Most of us have talent, the rest have work ethic, and some have both. But if we try too hard, we trip over ourselves. My advice, in addition to your inspiring post, is to not try so hard. You can't fail if you don't care about failing.

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    1. That's an interesting thought. It reminds me of this conversation my husband and I had recently. I think failing is important. I think it's real. It teaches us to deal with disappointment in healthy ways. I don't know if I'll ever NOT Care about failing, but I agree that we shouldn't be afraid of trying.

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    2. Yes, failing is important--but if we think about it too much without thinking about the alternative, it's almost as if we expect to fail.

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  3. I especially agree with your point on writing through the doubt, Mrs. Dittemore. I have found that even if I stop writing, the stories in my head don't stop developing. The best relief is to keep putting words on paper. It helps me clear out my head. Thank you so much for this post, Mrs. Dittemore! Very rich.

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    1. Oh yes! Absolutely. Writing cleans out the clogged pipes in our head and we so need that!

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  4. #5 is something you're great at doing, Shannon :) You frequently inspire and encourage me!

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  5. These are some awesome ideas! I definitely agree with writing through your doubt. It's what I do, and I think it works really well!:)
    -Emma-

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    1. I'm so glad. It's the best remedy I know.

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  6. Wonderful post! I've been on a break because of college, but I've also been battling that doubt monster recently (and before the break as well). Thanks for all these timely reminders! <3

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    1. You are so welcome! Doubt not, friend! The words will be there when you get back to them.

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  7. I needed this post! Although I wish none of us had to deal with the doubt and fear we do in writing, I'm always encouraged to see published authors being vulnerable and sharing about the struggles they still deal with that are basically the same as mine. It shows that writing takes perseverance at any level. Thank you so much!

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  8. Absolutely! And we all go through doubting seasons. Never, ever feel alone in that.

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  9. Absolutely! And we all go through doubting seasons. Never, ever feel alone in that.

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  10. Thanks for the encouragement!

    I would add to this list by saying remember why you write. Whether you're a word lover, have stories to share, or can't imagine not writing, this is what you do. So don't let that pesky naysayer tell ya different. -Samantha

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  11. Thanks so much for this! I really needed to hear it right now. I'll admit that I have been feeding my monster of doubt Thanksgiving sized portions, which has caused me not to write for months. I'm afraid and keep telling myself I can't do it yet because I'm not good enough. This really encouraged me, however! Thank you very much, I'm going to go do some writing right now!

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    1. I'm proud of you! Write through that doubt, girl. And remember, all of us write garbage first drafts and sometimes even second drafts. It's only by chipping away at a work that it gets any better. Write on, friend! Kick doubt in the teeth.

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  12. Really good post. Every writer I've talked to suffers these doubts in one way or another. I'm just coming off months of doubts and fears that kept me out of my writer's seat and away from my computer. Even now, every time I sit down, I have to remind myself I can do this and I will.

    Thanks for the good reminder, and the knowledge that even people who are contracted suffer this too!

    Anna

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    1. Absolutely! You're not alone in the doubt. We all deal with it. Every single one of us.

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  13. I agree with these. Something encouraging I remember is that a real writer doesn't just want to write, they have to write, and it helps me feel better because I can't go more than three days without writing something.

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