The Cycle of Doubt

[As I’ve only had two days, I don’t have a ‘fail of the week’ this week—which is the biggest fail of all, I suppose. I’ll definitely have something next week, though… I hope. :)]

I wrote in another post that the key to being a writer is commitment. It sounds like something that should be relatively easy to do, especially when the only thing you want in life is to be a writer and you have the time to do so. And yet… it’s the hardest thing I have ever tried to do, and I still haven’t done it. Why?

Some writers and artists talk about their creative process as a rush from the muse, and they are just channeling it. I envy them endlessly. My creative process is more like trying to build a cathedral with a pile of bricks and no blueprint, where I have to think my way through every step with deliberate analysis and calculation. And the thing that keeps me from starting, or forces me to start over, is that every time I begin to create I think of something that my story does not have (or that it has and I do not want), and then I can’t think of anything else. An example, for clarity, is if my story is cliché and unoriginal in a specific way (say, it’s a contemporary fantasy with a love story between a human and non-human… sigh)—once I realize this, it’s all I can think about. And then I abandon the story completely.

My process has always been to answer these doubts by trying to solve them, changing or abandoning the story in order to do so. But I realized that the quality of these doubts, whether they are true or not, whether I should listen to them or not, is not the issue at all. Because no matter what the doubt, no matter how I address it, I always end up not writing or finishing anything. And my subconscious wins.

My subconscious is the home of fear. It fears failure, and success, and judgment, and discomfort, and emotion, and… everything. I believe that it fears what writing and finishing something will do to me, and so it keeps me from writing anything at all. That way, I never risk all of the highs and lows that would come with being a writer; that way, I am safe. It doesn’t care that I am miserable, only that I’ve learned to tolerate this misery so far and that is easier than change.

And so my subconscious stops me from writing anything by perpetuating this seductive lie: “If you let your subconscious/muse find what you really want in your story, writing will be easy, fast, fun, and successful—if you don’t, it will be none of these things.”

It follows this with the following myths:
■ There is ONE story that encompasses everything I ‘really’ want, and nothing I don’t—I just have to find it
■ I CAN’T write anything that doesn’t have what I want (and can’t like it either)
■ I can ONLY write when it is fluid, fun, natural, daydream-like, and not work
■ Also, that the BEST kind of writing occurs like this
■ If there’s even ONE thing that I want that my story does not have, then I can’t write it and I have to find another story that has it
■ I have to love EVERY bit of my story, and I can’t leave ANYTHING out

Again, it doesn’t matter if these myths are true or not. I’m sure there are many artists who feel that you should love everything you create and if you don’t, you’re not doing it right. I think you should write for love, but sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly what you love, or you have to frame what you love in some things you don’t love in order to make it work as a story.

Arguing with the subconscious is a self-defeating act, because though the subconscious pretends it’s trying to help you be better, it’s actually just trying to stop you. It’s trying to distract you, because the solution is NOT to find a story that fits all or as many of the wants as possible—the solution is to commit despite the lack of some wants. The subconscious is trying to fix a problem it can never fix, with the myth that fixing this problem will somehow avoid all the others.

Once I realized this was going on, I saw how my subconscious’ tiny, wheedling voice could destroy everything I ever worked for. I heard the doubts it spewed and how hard it fought to keep me from writing. And even knowing this, it still manages to defeat me most of the time. So the big question is… how do you stop this?

I think recognizing it is the first step. And I have a few other ideas that I’ll post in a follow-up, since this post is already way too long. But I do think the first step is seeing that this is going on, that these doubts are not real (or that it doesn’t matter whether they are real or not). And wanting to fight it with all your heart and soul and mind… what little of your mind you can control, anyway.

This may not apply to anyone else’s process but my own. However, if anyone out there struggles with even some of this, you know how painful and difficult and self-defeating it can be… Maybe you’ve learned how to fight it—if so, please share. 🙂 If not, let’s figure out how to fight this together.


About J. Sevick

Just write.
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