Monday, March 29, 2010

Impediments, Part V: Fear and Self-Doubt

I put off writing this post. Fear and self-doubt are at the heart of the funks, the distractions, the comparisons, and the deflated egos we talked about this month. I hoped to cure my rampant insecurity so I could share the process with you (not that you need it), and we’d never again have impediments to our magic. I’m nervous writing this paragraph, which I’m taking as a sign I’m not cured.

Fear and self-doubt keep me from socializing with people of creativity and accepting the help they provide. Fear and self-doubt gum up the writing. I stare at the page, delete the work, decide my creativity flatlined during second grade, and google the Hemlock Society.

There are times (read: every stinking day) when I think my pages of writing will be useful for nothing but wiping dog poop from my shoe treads. I’m so afraid of failure that I don’t want to start. Remember I told you the husband called me out on this self-sabotage?

There’s also fear of success. Fear of losing relationships because of all the time devoted to magic. Fear of “making it” by other people’s standards but not my own or at the expense of my standards. Fear of losing the passion. Fear of others’ judgments. Fear of achieving my dreams only to realize they aren’t what I imagined….

I could go on all day, which would be easier than writing the meat of the post since I have no advice I can verify from experience.

Except one thing. Everyone needs a support system. My husband invented something he calls Exorcising the Inner-Editor. He does a laying on of hands Baptist-style and pantomimes removing the editor, beating it, stomping it, and throwing it out. His antics break the morose shell and I move on. You might consider recruiting a few lovable lunatics to break the enticing spell of self pity.

Lucy loaned me a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and I’m forever grateful. Anne’s humor, honesty, and suggestions saved the tattered shreds of my sanity on numerous occasions. She outlines how she overcomes the doubt that greets her at the computer every day:

  • Close your eyes.
  • Breathe.
  • Call a friend.
  • Use that fear, paranoia, and doubt in your creativity; express it.
  • Kill perfectionism. She writes, “I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
  • Write a letter to yourself, a loved one, anyone at all.
  • Fill yourself back up with the memories, flavors, ideas, visions, and observations that give life its zest.
  • Find those filling things by asking what you’d do if you knew you’d die tomorrow.
  • Realize that all of life is recycling the ideas that came before, but you have your own sensibility, pathos, and meaning to add.
  • Make a present for someone else.

Elizabeth George exercises.

Madeleine L’Engle said we have to find satisfaction in who we are, the work we produce: “We are never satisfied with what we have done. We know that our best is never adequate. If I had to be satisfied with what I have written I’d still be on my first novel. But I wrote what was for me the best book I could write at that moment in time.”

Make magic the best you can. That is enough.

What do you do to overcome fear and self-doubt?


  1. bird by bird is such a great help.

    also i remember its ok to suck...

  2. Taped to my laptop is a sign that says in all CAPS "WRITE WITHOUT FEAR". The less fear I write with the better the story.

  3. Dare to suck! Write without fear! They are going on my office wall. Thanks so much. You guys are awesome.

    (In my home office the wall beside my desk is full of notes, book cover images, and quotes that take the edge off.)