You know what it is. You’ve felt it. You’ve seen it on the faces of others. Heard it in a lover’s voice over the phone from across country ostensibly at a librarian convention as the sounds of “Hey, I lost my thong bikini AGAIN” and a conga line are clearly audible in the background.
“Well, you say you had nothing to do with murdering these twelve people, but, I dunno, that bloody axe in your hand…”
“If there’s nothing going on between you two, why is she monogramming her initials on your tonsils with her tongue?”
“For a bunch of really spiritual people, Father Flynn and crew sure got lots of ‘splain’ to do to God.”
Whoops! Sorry! That last one was a mini-review of John Patrick Shanley’s play “Doubt”. And, really, it has nothing to do with this post.
Anyway, DOUBT hangs heavy over everything thing we do. Forcing us to second-guess ourselves and others. This can be beneficial when it brings us greater clarity; it can be debilitating when it makes us question every little thing.
Enter: The Writer.
With the exception of my cat scrutinizing a proffered toy, there may be no more doubting creature on the planet than the writer. We question EVERYTHING. Would the protagonist really do that? I had him turn left, but should it have been right? Does this sentence make the best use of subject/verb agreement? Have I developed this enough? Is this Tweet witty and/or insightful enough? WON’T ANYBODY LOVE ME EVER!
It’s hell to be a creative type. Painters, sculptors, actors and politicians all have the same problem. We all make stuff up, crafting something out of nothing, and we all know what we think will make the audience happy, but we really have no clue. None of us. We fumble around trying this and that until something sticks. Then we beat that into the ground for all it’s worth until it’s time to fumble over something else.
Unlike, say, math, where there typically is a RIGHT ANSWER. For the writer, except for points of fact, there is no RIGHT ANSWER. Writers make choices. Go left or go right. Kill this character in chapter five. Let her live. The book is done. THE BOOK IS NOT DONE. Whatever the quandary, we make a choice. We can never know if it’s the right one.
But we press on. We keep writing and revising. Editing like made. Keep this in! Cut that out! Hate that word! Don’t ever write THAT WORD AGAIN!
Until, finally, we’re done. How do we know we’re done? Instinct. How do we develop instinct? Lots of practice. Lots and lots. So much practice, it’ll make you puke. Wait, that might be the gin & tonics consumed while practicing…
Anyway, even for all this time put in at the keyboard, doubt never really goes away. But if you put in the time and develop your writerly instinct (and really there is no other way to do it than by putting in the time) your instinct can taser that doubt long enough to let you sneak out the side door and finish your project with some degree of confidence, even as doubt screams in your ears, “Don’t tase me, bro! Doubt is your friend….maybe. owowowow! I mean doubt is your friend definitely.”.
Is that all there is to be said on the topic of writerly doubt? Probably not. But have I reached the end of this post? I’m gonna go ahead and say yes.
And I’ll just have to deal with that.