All writers suffer from self-doubt. Anthony Trollope, known as a prolific writer, suffered from self-doubt, he was misled by thoughts that were tricks to get him doing everything and anything but write. Fears that would floor him for days on end were his daily struggle. But he finished his work, he wrote his stories and overcame the problem of self-doubt, again and again.
Fear is a human condition that occurs every time we set foot out into the world. Yet, we are obliged to overcome it or fail.
The failure is the victory of doubt, success is you planning your writing and forging ahead, in spite of fear.
We will always be confronted with obstacles. Make a plan and create a problem. The problem tells you how important your work is, if you made a plan to write a story and it seemed easy, where there were no problems, no friction in the mind that made you stop and think, then your plan is faulty.
Make a Plan
When you make a plan, create an idea for a story, you begin to flesh it out with related ideas. One thing leads to another. A woman wakes up one morning and discovers that her home is overrun with rats, she investigates and discovers a den of the little creatures living in her cellar. They have a leader, his name is Johnson. He is rallying all rats in the neighbourhood and preparing to attack a cheese factory on the opposite side of the street...
Ideas that Run Away
One idea leads to another, and with each step, you the writer, step into the unknown. The unknown is dark but with the flashlight of your mind you illuminate the space ahead of you to discover what’s there. That little focus of light is all you have, yet you know there’s a big long road up ahead. You intend to travel that road and find out what’s down there.
So, you travel the road that leads to story. Each step is exciting and all looks real promising. Then you walk into a problem. Like the woman who woke up and discovered the rats in her home you can’t just leave it be. Your writerly mind begins to grapple with the problem, “how to get the rats to leave the cellar?”. The problem is that you know that rats have plans too, and those plans will clash with what the woman desires for her home.
Solving Problems or Creating Problem?
She could call Pest Control and have them sort the problem in a jiffy, that would solve the problem and end the story. The rats have done a deal with pest control, they’ve been paid off and promise to ignore all calls from worried residents. This woman doesn’t stand a chance. She tries throwing objects at the rats, she flails around with a broom , but it’s all useless.
Your Mind, Your Thoughts
Your mind is flailing around too. When we think up stories we create conflicts in thoughts. We have to do this to be creative. Conflict creates friction and friction creates sparks that make things look exciting and intriguing – especially in the dark. The slither of light that focuses on the idea of the woman buying a pair of Rat-Catching Dogs and letting them loose in the house, seems like a good idea, and it is. The dogs could finished off the rats in an afternoon – and your story. So, the mind gets deeper into problem solving mode; maybe one of the dogs turns out to be a rat loving dog, that would create a conflict between the dogs and the rats would have a friend deep within enemy territory.
Now, as a writer getting into the swing of things, your mind is full of conflicts. You’ll have a conflict in your story to solve that should lead on to a bigger conflict. Then, your mind will develop ‘conflictites’ and begin to find conflict and problems in everything you look at. The ideas that you work on, the scenes and the passages of your work all have to gel together but yet be in conflict.
Questions that Lead you on
You begin to question the whole thing. Is the story working? Do rats actually like cheese? Are rats violent or do they prefer political discussion? Your mind will find a problem in every dark corner of your story. What will happen when I write into that dark looking area of the story? “I can’t see ahead anymore” – “the batteries are running out on my light!”
The story has promise. You know this to be true because you’re intelligent enough to figure out that it’s logical. The simplicity is that the woman and the rats have a conflict of interest. The woman wants to have her peace and live in a rat free home, the rats want to set up a base camp in her cellar and organise sorties into the cheese factory and finally take it over, corner the cheese market and make Cheddar a rare commodity.
The Beginning of Doubt
Doubt begins to kick in and for some strange reason your rats and cheese factory idea seems stupid. It’s the invention of a half-wit on drugs.
Doubt is now getting a foothold on your mind. And if you don’t watch your step, you’ll become its slave soon enough.
The rats have invaded. Your using your noggin – thinking deeply about your problems of conflict among rats and people. You want the story to progress, you want it come at you like a Jack-Russel on speed and grab your mind so hard, shake it and hopefully allow everything to fall into place. But it doesn’t happen. The thought process is steaming, the pressure is high and everything looks ready to blow at any time soon.
The Flashlight in your Mind
The problem is no longer in your story, it’s in your mind. There’s been a transfer of importance and priorities in your mind.
Your flashlight is focused but it’s done a 180 degree swivel into your own thoughts. Now, they are the problem. You think that you think rubbish, at least that’s what doubt is telling you.
These doubts seem to multiply like rats in a cellar. You had one idea, it led to another idea and it all seemed good. then, it didn’t seem good. There’s rats all over your mind.
The Rules of Doubt
Doubt has its own rules. It takes charge of things and that’s how it flourishes and builds its nests. You don’t control doubt. It wants you to think that you do, that’s its trick to survival. It’s an expert in concealment and camouflage. Doubt will pop up and tell you that you have an important thing to think about. “Rats and cheese?” – “What’s that all about?”. Yea, you go a little red in the cheeks but tell yourself that you’ll sort it. “Maybe it could be a subject that’s a little more intellectual.” – “Rats could be replaced by snakes and the woman could become a teenage boy with a fear of snakes.” Now we’re doing the Stephen King dance, but doubt tells you that you’re not good enough to invent your own stuff – better use a model based on the expert’s ideas.
As writers we are prone to the trap of doubt. It’s not just one thing but it starts with one idea that we begin to judge. Judgement is doubt until a decision is made. Writing is a way of writing down the decisions without the conscious judgement process getting in the way.
If we learn to keep focused on the story, really on the story, and not turn inwards to question our methods and the value of our story ideas, we will find that work becomes what it should be, progress, caused by the building blocks of the age-old story telling techniques.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it”, is a good enough saying that tells us that you can’t do two things to one thing and expect it to work smoothly.
When we are writing, we should focus on story development by using our brain to follow what we are doing. To watch the progress and let it out. Learning technique comes from the practice of writing.
Technique isn’t learned by interfering in the process while writing. Don’t allow the mind to invert itself and start doubting what you are doing.
Just let the story take over and tell it, like it is. Then, you can write a second draft.