Today YA writer Nelsa Roberto (author of Illegally Blonde and The Break) talks to us about doubting our own writing. Having self-doubt is something that a lot of writers struggle with, myself included. I go through doubt and worry for every manuscript I write–is it good enough, will it move people? So it was great to read Nelsa’s wise words on the subject, and to be reminded that I’m not alone.
Why Doubting Your Writing Can Be a Good Thing
by Nelsa Roberto
First of all, thank you to the lovely, amazing Cheryl Rainfield for inviting me to do a guest blog post here. I’ve known Cheryl for a few years now through the Torkidlit group of writers and I thank the heavens every day I met them and her. They have been a support beyond measure to this writer in so many ways I couldn’t possibly list them all. Especially when I’ve been doubting myself.
I agonized over what I should write about in this post because I don’t really do a lot of planning for blog posts. I write about things I’m thinking of at the time or that are bothering me in some way. So what’s been bugging me lately? Well, what’s been stressing me out is the age old question all writers go through at some point in their writing life: is my writing good enough?
Yeah, yeah, I know. I hear you. Writers are just insecure, angsty, self-obsessed artists who need their egos stroked, right? We just need someone to tell us that we don’t suck, that our writing is super awesome, wonderful, out of this world!
Sigh. That is so not the way it is, people.
Really, the more writers I’ve met and the more experience I’ve gained as a writer, the more I’ve come to understand that doubting yourself and your writing is, in writer land, PERFECTLY NORMAL behaviour. It might actually mean that you care about writing so much that you will never take it for granted. I honestly believe that most writers (the ones who are serious about this game) at some point truly think they can not string together a set of words that won’t come out looking to a reader like a jumbled alphabet put together by a five-year old. That doubt, that belief that what you’ve written should be lining a garbage can and not bound (digitized) into a book form, has hit every writer I’ve spoken to at some point in their writing life (if not on a daily basis).
But why do we doubt so much? Why don’t we have more confidence?
I think it comes down to a couple of things.
1. The Need to Connect
Writers create stories so we can connect with other people. The whole point of writing stories is to share our ideas/imagination/creativity with others so we can share an experience together. It is, in a way, our form of social interaction with the world. For many writers who are introverted, this is a big risk. It is putting yourself out there in the world that can be very cruel. Who wants to risk being shot down? Who wants to risk being rejected and told they’re not good enough? No one. And yet, we write and those doubt demons come along and whisper in our ears and tell us “Your writing’s not good enough. Never will be. Who do you think you ARE?”
That’s what I think about when I read a book or review a contest entry now – those whispering doubt demons might have plagued that writer at some point. Then I think, this person was BRAVE enough to put themselves out there. They shoved the doubts aside (for an hour or two or longer) and wrote and shared their work. Bravo, writer. Bravo. So many keep their stories – themselves – hidden from others. How sad for the rest of us who will never get to read what you’ve been thinking about.
2. The Need to Improve
There is no writer I have yet met who has said, “Yup. I’m at the top of my game. I can’t get any better. No need to read writing craft books. No need to take courses or workshops. No need to revise my stuff. I’m there.”
A true doubtful writer is never ‘there’. They are always looking to get better, to be able to write a story in the best possible way to serve that story. The serious writer sees the flaws or, if he/she can no longer see the work objectively, asks others to point the flaws out. A doubtful writer seeks out critique and welcomes the suggestions. There is no greater feeling than getting comments back on a manuscript from an honest critiquer and saying to yourself “Yes!!! Of course! That totally doesn’t work. I can make that scene so much better…” (after we first cringe and say “Argh. I’m horrible. Why didn’t I see that the first time? J )
So, for me, having doubts is a good thing. It means if I want to connect enough I must be brave enough to hold those doubt demons down and push through and write anyway. It means I will be critical of my writing so that I hopefully improve and grow and make the story better. I know that many times the doubts win out. I know they can be stronger than the will to connect and improve sometimes. It is then that you reach out to fellow writers and ask, “Can you look at this please? Can you tell me where things are going wrong? Can you tell me whether this is worthwhile enough to pursue?”
Because a fellow writer will never belittle those doubts. We respect them. And then … we beat those suckers to the ground.
Nelsa Roberto is a mild-mannered civil servant by day and a ferocious teen-fiction writer/hockey mom/van driver by night.
Her debut young adult novel Illegally Blonde was published by Great Plains Teen Fiction in 2010 and her second young adult novel, The Break, released in Spring 2012. Nelsa lives in Toronto, Ontario with her husband, three children and a slightly hyperactive Golden Retriever, and is busy writing – mostly on the subway and at hockey arenas – her next young adult novel.