“…The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ~Sylvia Plath
It comes up from the screen, crawls across the back of your hand and waits. It’ll sit there, staring at the unsuspecting – you – until it decides it’s time. Tentacles stick, going deep, as it inches up your arm until it reaches your neck. It sniffs around at your scent because—because it needs to be you, control you, smell like you. It wants to OWN you. And it will. Oh, it will.
It moves like a snail, goo and mucus trailing – snail slime – until it gets to your earhole. Then—well, then that insidious little mutherfucker whispers sweetly into your cartilaginous space.
Your writing, it’s going nowhere.
EVERYone thinks your writing stinks.
Your hair – do you go out with it like that? No one does that.
You should just give up. Throw it in. Kick the can.
Why are you lounging around in boxers? No one wants to see that.
You—you thought you could do this, didn’t you?
And then it’s done. The creepy crawly bastard seeps into your headspace, planting tiny little seeds of self-doubt that sprout into massive, booming trees. You go through headsplode. You decide that yeah, boxers aren’t right. I probably should wear a shirt. You change. You become a self-doubter.
SELF-DOUBT IS A HEAPING SHITPILE OF NOTHING.
It’s the staggering enemy of any writer, like ice cream, it is just one of many. It creates laziness, fear, loathing, piss-saturated pants. Or boxers. It’s that rogue wave that topples you when at the sea of words.
SELF-DOUBT IS A SOUL-SUCKING ASSHOLE.
It makes you stop writing. It gets you to stop in the middle of that one story where things happen and shit moves fast – you’re best work – and print it out for the sole purpose of ripping it to shreds and flushing it down the toilet only to grab the remnants and scoop them into your facehole.
Hide yourself from the sweet seduction. Plug your ears to the whispers. Ignore the fugue state it uses to envelop your senses. You must stand tall, boxers and all. Your laptop, the shield. Your pen, the perennial spear. Charge and spike the bullseye of it’s prolapsed anus to the back wall and walk away with a grin.
Alas, you ask, “How—how do we do this? What techniques work against the great beast?”
Many there are. A few I shall share.
STAY CLEAR OF THE SHITTY TRAP
At one time or another, everyone suffers from a bout of self-doubt. True fact. Everyone. Creative types, especially. You. Me. Them. The best writers of our time and before all suffered from it. It tickled at their necks until embedded deep within twisting its pointy claws, penetrating the soul.
You don’t think as you once did. Makes mushy brain goo. You do things you normally wouldn’t. You develop a new standard of nothingness. A truly shitty attitude because, hey, you ask yourself, “Why the fuck even?” your answer is always the same, “Befuckingcause.”
LONELINESS IS NOT A FUCKING FRIEND
We all go through it.
You’re not the only one. The difference, though, is that some writers feel it. They refuse to get pulled down in the bog of shit. They tighten their boots and walk the fuck through it.
They decide they want the ball on the mound with bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth. They wanna be the shooter with four seconds left, down by two with the title on the line. And all other sports metaphors that fit here. You get the picture.
HURRAY, YOU’RE GONNA GET ANOTHER CHANCE
Writers have the one glorious thing that most others don’t. It sets us apart from most, if not all. It’s a splendtastic, monumentous, granddaddy of ‘em all: A do over.
We create all the time. We WILL write bad shit. Monumentally bad shit. But we move past it, stepping on and crushing self-doubt along the way. And know this, nothing is written in stone. We can go back and fix stuff. Edit it. Recreate it. Change the unholy shit out of it.
*Side note: Sure, some things were written in stone, of course, I know this but that was back before self-doubt was a thing. Move on.
CLEAR YOUR MIND OF THE BOGGITY BOG, JIGGITY-FUCK BOOHICKY
Clear your mind.
Deep breathes in.
Deep breathes out.
I SAID REPEAT.
Find your downward dog. Do yoga.
Do something different. Sometimes self-doubt just needs you to make a change. Aim your attention gun at something else. Walk your dog. Walk someone else’s dog. Get an untrained dog and let it walk you. Walk yourself. Read a book. Watch porn. Bake a cake. Watch porn. Visit an animal shelter because animals, DUH. Get yourself a different perspective. It makes you ponder elsewhere other than the twisted tangle of desert vines – the ones with those goddamn spines and thorns – working through your head.
Clear them from your mind.
SERIOUSLY, IT’S NOT MEDICAL BOARD TESTING OR OTHER VITAL THINGS
You’re not trying to practice medicine. This isn’t a large-scale test that’s tantamount to a year’s worth of studying two hours a day. You’re not a Navy Seal magically appearing to save hostages, then disappearing in the wind never to be seen again. You’re not donning a fire suit and charging full-bore into a raging inferno to save little kids, babies, and puppies. Nope. You’re a fucking writer. You mess up, you start over. You delete shit. At worst, the words on your manuscript run from the salty tears of your fear. Those other people mess up, shit goes south. Fast. The epic quest you think you’re on, you’re not. Relax.
TAKE THE TIM TEBOW APPROACH
Failure, which is a breeder of self-doubt, only means that you gave it a shot. You didn’t sit aside and wonder the dreaded “what if” bullshit. You tired and it didn’t work out. You can try again. Tebow considers success as giving your all. Leaving nothing behind. Just like him, we can learn from failure.
I have a thought on this. It goes thusly:
“Failure comes from regret. The two mash hard popping out self-doubt, which jumps up and bites you in the nibbly bits, hanging on until you can no longer sit comfortably. It’s like bumping up and down on a bike, except there’s no seat, just the seat post ramming up your butthole while the devil smiles in the background.”
PISS IN THE FACE OF SELF-DOUBT WITH PRACTICE AND PATIENCE
Self-doubt sits, silent and still, waiting with mouth agape. Heavy wind coming. Turn sideways and let ‘er flicker. Take it in mutherfucker. Take. It. In.
That’s how you handle self-doubt.
Just in case that analogy wasn’t clear, the piss is practice. Waiting for the right wind is patience.
Don’t judge me.
When you settle in the kitchen with your bottle of Booker’s and give it a go at baking that aforementioned cake, you realize, after a few straight-from-the-bottle swigs, that yeah, you need baking practice. You prepare the oven, get your shit straight, fold when told to fold. Stir here and stir there. And then you bake. You bake your ass off. You bake like it’s the absolute last cake of creation.
And you fuck it up.
It’s not moist. It’s not dry. It’s a version of wallpaper paste. It sticks to your mouth like peanut butter, except that shit’s not PB. Nor is it the J of PBJ. It has a fine nothingness flavor bordering on blah and holy hell this is horrid goat shit.
You do not set a ten-pound brick of dynamite in the oven and stomp off. You cannot do that. It’s wrong.
You go back in there, well, first you toss that overcooked slash undercooked piece of shit, then—then you start over. You practice. You grab a chunk of your patience and try it all over again. You repeat that process until you’re awarded the world’s first ever Michelin star for a private kitchen.
Just like getting your new Michelin star, writing takes time to perfect. Hell, scratch that. It’s never perfected. Never ever ever. It’s a constant of practicing and getting better every day.
So remember the 3P process: PISS-PRACTICE-PATIENCE. Just don’t piss on your cake. Ever.
DON’T LET SELF-DOUBT NIGGLE ITS WAY INTO YOUR PSYCHE
REMEMBER: You validate yourself. No one needs to validate your writing worth. Learn that writing around self-doubt is your best defense against the creeping death.