Monday, November 18, 2013

The Necessity of Doubt.

     Doubt.  For an author, or any creative person, doubt can be a crippling paralytic.  It can make one second guess, worry to the point of the demise of creativity, eat away at them like worms burrowing through the nebulous part of the brain responsible for inspiration.  Nevertheless, it must exist.
      An absence of doubt simply means you aren’t looking hard enough.  No one has ever sat down and pounded out the perfect novel...okay, you’ve never sat down and pounded out the perfect novel.  Trust me.  Yeah, you.
      Taking the leap into self-publishing was not an easy decision for me, and it has come after reading many works by those who have gone before me.  Some of them have been great, while others should never have been published, at least not in their current states.  Mistakes happen, typos happen even in the most polished big-publisher books, but I’m talking about something deeper.  That thing that makes a reader ask, “Why am I reading this?”
     Far too often, I come across ill-conceived, unimaginative, and downright lazy writing.  Hey, anyone can write a book.  It’s actually not that difficult as long as you have dedication, but remember, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
      I had an interesting conversation with a self-published author recently, which made me want to give my thoughts on the subject.  This writer told me how much he loved being able to write and publish his own work because it allowed him not to worry too much over it.  He was of the opinion that having created a social network that assured he would sell a certain number of copies of anything he wrote was all that mattered.  I was astounded by his viewpoint. 
      Selling books is great.  Doing so on your own terms is also great.  But should there not be some love for what you do and respect for the audience reading it?  This, in my mind, comes down to doubt.  He has none, yet needs a good deal of it.
      I like to think of doubt as the metaphorical devil on the shoulder.  It allows a writer to put himself in place of his audience and see what works and what does not.  Sometimes it whispers and sometimes it screams, but it invariably is there to remind you that something could be better.
      After all, we use doubt every day in ways we don’t think about, and it makes life better, so why not writing?  Whether it’s choosing which version of a product to buy or the weighing of another’s reaction to what we say in a conversation, doubt informs our lives.  There is no reason not to have it be a part of the writing process.  An appropriate level of doubt is necessary in order to create the best work one can, and I think the audience is owed it.
    Here’s a suggestion for creating healthy doubt.  When you’ve completed an entire “thought” in your writing, ask yourself these five questions.  You'll find the answers will inform each other.

Why did this happen?
Did it forward the story?
Is it interesting as well as informative?
Does it fit well in the greater narrative?
How can it be better?

     That last one is the key because it can always be better.  That is not to say you will always be able to do it, but asking the question allows for the possibility.  And that is doubt, doubt of whether what you’ve written is good enough.
    What is the correct amount of said doubt?  I don’t know.  Some writers will work best questioning every word they write; some will be most comfortable only worrying about the “grand scheme”.  Like most things in life, people must find what level works for him or her and spurs them to be better, without compromising their ability to create.
     I, for instance, am the worry-over-every-word type, but only after completing the worry-about-almost-nothing phase of writing my first draft.  Getting it all out and then fixing my issues is what I find works best for me; I get bogged down in the minutiae too easily.
    For someone else, they may not be able to place their full concentration and best effort into the continuing work because they can’t move past the issues that exist earlier in the text.  The only absolute I can state is that some level of self-doubt is critical.  If you find yourself too easily pleased by your writing, there are probably many things that are not all that pleasing.
     So, invite doubt in, have a good conversation and enjoy your time with it.  Just remember that it doesn’t live with you and has to leave at the end of the night and you’ll be fine.


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