My revisions weren’t going so well yesterday. To put it mildly. I took Nala on a walk, but that didn’t help. So then I started chatting with a friend:
Me: “My life is meaningless and full of pain. Being an artist sucks. I mean, it’s obviously better than anything else. But right now it sucks. Why can’t I just write a decent novel???????”
Him: “Ah yes. This is one of the best parts of the creative process: crippling self-doubt.”
At which point there may have been a few tears, but they were relieved tears because putting a name to an emotional experience and having somebody who understands is infinitely better than mucking around in the dark.
Crippling self-doubt has this insidious way of expanding. First, I doubted one issue in my book. Then I doubted the whole book and thought maybe I should throw it all out. Then I doubted my overall writing skills and my ability to ever write a novel. Then I spun around in the fail well for a while.
Then it spread further. Maybe I shouldn’t go to the UK and Iceland in the fall anymore! Because that was partly for research, and maybe I don’t actually need to research and therefore should go somewhere else. Like Bali! Or Italy! (The fact that this train of thought actually might have some validity, in that it’s true I don’t need to take the research trip, did not help.) Then my brain went absolutely haywire and I decided maybe I should go to Antarctica. Never mind that I almost certainly cannot afford to go to Antarctica right now.
Then it sent a few questing tendrils out to the rest of my life. Maybe things weren’t going as well as I thought in general.
This is the point where I put my foot down. I felt I’d been very generous with my crippling self-doubt. I’d allowed it some free rein and let it make me very unhappy for an hour or so. But enough was enough.
The most ridiculous thing was, I already had a plan. A good plan. I knew I would finish this revision, come hell or high water, and then I’d send off the book to some readers. It is perfectly obvious I’ve lost any shred of objectivity I might have ever had about the book, which means it’s a perfect time to seek an outside perspective.
Plus this is what I was planning to do anyway, and when faced with crippling self-doubt, I find the answer is usually to carry on with your plan. The plan you made when you weren’t reeling from a stressful emotional experience.
In the meantime, though, I also had to gently talk myself down from my unhappiness, by reviewing the following points:
- Finishing is the most important thing right now.
- Nothing had actually changed from the day before, when I had been working perfectly happily on my revisions.
- There will be another book after this one. And another book. And another book.
- Even if this book crashes and burns and is an utter disaster, that doesn’t mean all the books I ever write in my entire life will do the same.
- It doesn’t matter what other people think about my writing career.
- Yes, even that one thing that one person said that one time that made me question the fact that I’m writing at all and seemed to call my very self-worth into question. That one doesn’t matter in particular.
- Some writers write at least TEN books before they get one published, which means I still have several to go before I should start really freaking out.
- Meanwhile, I can eat some cheese.
- And work really hard on this book.
- And maybe try to decide where I actually want to travel this fall.
- And think about Disneyland.
- And snuggle the little dog.
- And remember my emotions do not necessarily reflect reality accurately.
- And regain my sense of humor.
- And feel grateful I have friends to whom I can send a melodramatic sentence like “My life is meaningless and full of pain,” which is very satisfying to do, and still have them be sympathetic and insightful.
And now the crippling self-doubt, while not eradicated, is at least behaving itself with a bit more decorum.
What do you do when you’re suffering through a bout of self-doubt?