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Writers' Doubt

Stylised face, looking all doubtful
Not sure about doubt?

I used to think Writers' Block was not wanting to write. Right up until I met the unquantifiable, uncomfortable, unsurmountable dead stop that is Writers' Block. One day I'll write a blog about it, suffice to say, unlike Writers' Block, Writers' Doubt can be easily won over. Better still, Writers' Doubt can be used to your advantage.

There's a whole trolley of uncertainty luggage just being alive in the 21st c, add on the excess baggage of being a writer and it's a wonder we can get out of bed at all. As writers, it seems like the more we chase after certainty, the more uncertain we become. So what's going on?


1. Life is uncertain.

2. The human mind is hard-wired for problem solving.

Put them together and you get the chaos that is solution driven thinking. Great in a maths exam, not so great for conducting a three week post-mortem on the all reasons we messed up at a poetry open mic.

Remember this quote from HH Dalai Lama?

If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.

Great quote, eh? If we can fix something we go ahead and fix it, if we can't then we get to relax and not worry about it. NOTE: Doubt was in the bathroom when this quote was handed out.

There is a MASSIVE UNCERTAINTY MOUNTAIN in trying to figure out whether we can fix something or not. And that's because Writers' Doubt has a few tricks up it's sleeve.

First: Doubt isn't the same as uncertainty.

Doubt isn't uncertainty - it's a response to uncertainty. Slot them both into a comparative sentence you get why this is important:

  • I am uncertain if anyone will read this

  • I doubt anyone will read this

Doubt might share the same dressing room as uncertainty, but it ain't singing the same kind of music. If uncertainty is disco, doubt is emo. But that doesn't stop doubt feeling like uncertainty - which means we don't always see it for what it is. This is important, because if we're not seeing it for what it is, then understanding it is like trying to open the car with the TV remote.

Second: Doubt sounds like the truth.

Let's face it, we HATE uncertainty. Anything that promises to give us an answer gets the thumbs up. And doubt has that itchy, sneaky way of bargaining. Before we know it, the most unlikely suggestions are starting to sound like the truth.

Couple this with the human tendency to identify with our thoughts, and the brightest and bravest of us can be convinced that we don't have the knowledge, ability or courage to write anything beyond a shopping list.

The less we trust ourselves the more uncertain we feel. The more uncertain we feel, the more doubt gets involved. The more doubt gets involved the less we trust ourselves. The less we trust ourselves the more uncertain we feel. Around and around and around we go.

Doubt is like a drug. The more we use it, the more we need it. Way to self destruct.

Third: The opposite of doubt isn't certainty.

Feels like it shouldn't really matter, right? But it does matter. That's because doubt is out there hawking for certainty as an antidote to feeling uncertain. WHICH IS A BIG PROBLEM.

Certainty is a full stop. It doesn't allow for movement. It doesn't allow for mistakes or different perspectives. Once we use certainty as an antidote to uncertainty, all sorts of self-destructive thoughts break lose.

The opposite of doubt is actually confidence. Confidence has loads of room for movement, it allows for mistakes and different perspectives and once we start feeling confident, then all sorts of creative magic can happen,

Forth: Doubt isn't the same as belief.

Everyone knows the self-doubt routine that goes: I can't write. No one will buy my book. I'll never get an agent. Feels like doubt, right? But this little slipstream of thinking isn't doubt, it's belief - I know these things to be true.

Any doubts that profess to be true are not doubts. They're beliefs. Doubt on the other hand won't fix it's damn flag to anything.

Fifth: Doubt is about choice.

Doubt might make us feel like we can't trust ourselves with our own legs, but in a messed up way it actually allows us to stop and assess a situation.

THE PROBLEM WITH THIS STRATEGY is that doubt always comes with that familiar stench of failure - which triggers every single one of our anxieties. Right about now we couldn't pitch a story if our lives depended on it.

Sixth: Doubt can be really useful.

In a weird, backhanded way, doubt is showing us where we're most uncertain. Which is great, because it's not always obvious. AND Lucky for us doubt stinks of failure. Which lights up areas of uncertainty like a runway.

Doubt gives us an opportunity to stop and look at our options. And instead of paralysing us, doubt shows us where we most need to focus our understanding and attention by highlighting the areas of our lives where we feel the most powerless.

As writers, we have this fabulous creative toolbox full of knowledge and experience, and we just go on using the same old hammer and screwdriver. Get creative with doubt, and be tolerant for the days when everything goes wrong. Writers' Doubt isn't screaming out for certainty; it's just waiting on confidence.



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