I recently got over a doubt infection. It wasn’t a particularly bad case, but it did lead to some serious thinking. I considered posting this as a regular blog, but decided that an IWSG post was the way to go because I believe every writer has or will experience this little adventure. To catch up on other IWSG posts, check out the master list here.
Like any infection, well-meaning people are carriers of the dreaded doubt. They sidle up to us at the store, over lunch, or even digitally, carrying doubt that breeds in our soon-beleaguered bodies and minds. Writers are dreamers at our cores, people who lose a lot of time in fictional landscapes while the real world carries on around us. It takes a truckload of belief to smother the doubt that always resides in our bodies, even when dormant. Doubt about our words. Our purpose. What all of this epic enterprise means and where it will lead. Doubt is something that must be controlled, otherwise we never get past the first Once upon a time... that leads to stories and novels, and perhaps our dreams coming true.
From the first instant of accepting a goal like becoming a writer (or any big goal), the well-meaners line up to lower our expectations, to cushion the inevitable blow of failure.
“You know how many people are trying to be writers? Better prepare yourself...”
“Most writers are never successful. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather be a/an...?”
“You have to write every day to be a writer and I’m not sure you have that kind of ambition...”
Or the classic, upon hearing a person is a writer:
“Well, what have you published?”
(Pet peeve on this one: As though a runner isn’t a runner if they haven’t run a marathon, or a singer isn’t a singer unless they have a Platinum album, or a climber isn’t a climber unless they have climbed K2—Writers are writers if they write.)
What makes the well-meaners’ arguments tough to fight is that they are not technically wrong. More people write than are successful (if success is measured by a fixed definition, that is—I will get more into that later).
Writers and dreamers build our inner fortresses to combat the voices of others, the doubt infections waiting to be caught. But even with that, they occasionally knock us down during weak moments along our paths.
Critiques. Querying... a perfectly good excuse for doubt. Rejections. Any number of places along the publishing path can bring us doubt. For me, publishing my first book without the validation of industry professionals inspired a great deal of doubt that was ultimately overcome by solid belief in my purpose.
My recent doubt infection was brought by a well-meaner’s statement made in the context of a wider view of my life and writing journey, in which the overall advice was that it would be better to give up dreaming of reaching any manner of goals and embrace that right now might be all there ever is and included this statement: "What I don't know is how successful you will be as an author..."
I went on quite a ride after this admittedly unsolicited opinion of my journey and it took a while to figure out what and why and how the concepts it contained affected me. And why my reaction, other than the doubt infection, was so strong.
It took the greatest immunization and curative imaginable to make me see what I rebelled against in this missive—I picked up the phone and called my best friend.
My BFF reached the point in the letter mentioned above and said (roughly), “Huh?”
She then paused to collect her greatness and blathered, “You are a success because you show up and write. You are a success because 400 rejections didn’t stop you. You are a success because you are living your dream and publishing your books. Besides, it’s too soon to tell whether you are a tremendous success yet—your books have been on the market less than a year. And besides that, what does success mean anyway?”
And then came a sigh from me and a question for all of the writers out there: What does success mean anyway? Because to assign success or failure means there is a fixed point out there somewhere in the distance. I believe we all have a vision of what we want out of this goal, but at its heart, we have to know that just getting to the tell our tales is a success. Money. Fame. Fortune. Film deals. Sure, they are the trimmings. Not having to work a day job—yes, that would be nice. For indies, having copy editors/graphic designers/and for some, a traditional publishing deal are signs of success. For others, just being contacted by readers who enjoyed their work is a success.
Success isn’t a fixed point. My favorite authors (some of whom had bestsellers) are the ones who kept writing after their books found tremendous success (even though their other works never reached the same level of success); they continued to tell stories because that is who they are. My favorite book is out of print—does that make the author a failure that her work didn’t stay in print forever? I think not. And even if I did reach whatever elusive meaning success has, would I stop? No. I write because it is how I communicate with this world, how I take in and chew on meaning of life, how I breathe. I would work just as hard if I reached the success I dream of.
I understand the concept of non-attachment to goals. I get it. And I get the visualize your success of the “laws of attraction” folks. I get both (even though they directly contradict each other), but I think we all—we dreamers—have to find our own ways through the hurdles, the reasons to doubt. For me, I want the people who care about me not to say they don’t know if I will be successful or to act as though success is a fixed point. My best friend has been with me in this goal for thirty years and never once said she doubted my success—in fact, she’s been the chorus of the opposite (the You’ll Get There Brigade). I don’t think there is any way to be supportive when feeding doubt and expecting the diminishment of goals or the acceptance of the status quo. Another friend put it in a different way, saying (roughly), “That would be like you telling me I may never find love. We both know that could be true, but hearing it from a friend just isn’t helpful."
Even though this doubt infection made for a bumpy couple weeks, I’m grateful for it because it challenged me to think about my life and what success really does mean to me now, after five years pursuing the goal I’ve held dear all my life. And what I came up with about the meaning of success is the willingness to keeping trying no matter what happens, doubt infections, rejections, sales figures, whatever. All I have to do in this is try. That’s the difference between success and failure for me. And as long as I continue to try and hold some happy thoughts about what future smiles will be built on, then I am doing my part. And since the lion’s share of my life is spent with characters who only ever want me to shut up, sit down, and let them write their stories through my quickly-tapping fingers, I know they approve.
I hope you keep trying with whatever your goal. I hope you have a best friend to pull doubt up short and shake it loose. And I hope you have peace in your heart, knowing your only job is to serve your purpose. If that is to write, then lucky you, because for all of the ups and downs, the heartbreaks and the times of smooth sailing, disappearing into fiction and coming out on the other side with a finished novel is the greatest adventure I can imagine.
To quote a favorite token that I have with me almost always: Write hard; die free.
P.S. After my third book in the 7s series comes out May 17th, I will be blogging more often.
If you are interested in taking a look at my books or watching the trailers for the first two books, links are provided here.