The 7 Faces of Doubt, Or How To Never Get Anything Done, Ever


That bat-faced little shit in the bottom right, he’s the Distraction Of The Internet.

Doubt is the worst of all demons. You can keep those weird ones with the goat faces that haunted Sunday School when I was but a wee impressionable young thing.* Doubt is the worst because 1) it’s insidious and 2) most of the time, you’re the one producing it. I’ve never met a creative person who wasn’t, at some moments, a festering boil of doubt. You’re being your own demon, which I imagine is a big savings for Hell. Teach people to condemn themselves, save demon-power. Of course, it’s non-unionized work, but you can’t have everything.

But doubt it a tricky bastard. It doesn’t always look the same, and sometimes it brings friends. Sometimes it takes the form of something so different that it could be mistaken for something sensible. But it’s a lie, and you need to be able to see through it.

So, to help you with your daily projects, writing and otherwise, here is my spotter’s guide to doubt:**

1. Procrastination: If you never get around to it, it doesn’t count as ‘failing’, right?

2. Research: I just need to know how yaks were essential in to the culture and economy of the mountain people of Outer Mongolia***, and then I can start.

3. Tiredness: Oh, I was totally going to get to that today, but I didn’t sleep too well last night because I had that dream about the robot otters again. And, you know, there’s not enough coffee, and I could really use a cookie, and *indeterminate waffling noises*. Tomorrow. Tomorrow’s fine.

4. The ‘Muse’: I just don’t feel it. You don’t expect me to work when she’s not here, do you? Art cannot be rushed!****


6. Perfection: I can’t start until I have the perfect opening line. And I can’t move on until I’m sure that everything is in place. It has to be perfect, or there’s no point. It’s not like there’s a thing called ‘editing’.

7. Timing: Ehn, it’s not really a good time now. I haven’t had enough Yak Butter tea*****, and it looks like it’s going to rain. Besides, I only start things on the first day of the month, and this month that was a Sunday, and I don’t work on Sundays. Maybe next time things will line up right. Today….mmm, doesn’t look good. Sorry.

So, what form is your doubt taking today?
*Honestly, I’m surprised more Catholics don’t write horror. The shit they tell you in Mass is fucking terrifying.
**At the moment, I’m dealing mainly with #3 and #7, with a side order of Holy Crap Am I Busy.
***…I actually wrote ‘yak’, realized I was just going on old movies to assume they were in Tibet and the like, and had to take a ninety second research break. IRONY FOR THE WIN.
****Fuck yeah it can. In the words of Henry Miller, “Even when you can’t create, you can work”. It’s not all fairy dust and magic wands; sometimes you need a sledgehammer.
*****Now I’m stuck on yaks. Though using the reference twice means the research is less a waste of time, right?

The Dust-Bunnies of Doubt

Dust bunnies

Just like doubt: grey, floppy, useless. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m 30,000 words into this rewrite, and I think I’ve made a mistake.

Not like a fucking typing error, either, but a mistake that changes the entire plot. And some of the characters. And maybe makes some things exist that shouldn’t. And definitely made at least one character exist that shouldn’t.

So I’m staring at this manuscript, wondering if I’ve damaged it beyond repair, wondering if I’ll ever get this one finished, wondering if it’s even worth going on with.

This is a crisis. Or, to a writer, Friday.

Doubts are like dust-bunnies: they’re mostly made of pieces of you and they’re not useful. And just when you think you’ve got them all, you spot another one lurking under the furniture. And then another. And then a herd. But if you don’t keep on top of them, sooner or later you’ll be drowning in them. Or something. Is that how it works with dust-bunnies? I’ll admit I’m not sure and I’m so not getting further distracted by Googling it.

I wish I knew some way to stop the doubts. They slow me down. They’re the opposite of coffee. Fear-juice, designed to make your brain less functional and reduce the day’s word count.

Tom Pollock wrote a great piece on this feeling entitled “The Fear Never Gets Any Easier” over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog. Go read it. It’s an excellent summation of how this feels. The line that sums it up for me is this:

I’ve spent a year and a half telling myself I can do this, and I’m terrified of finding out I was wrong.

Writers are stage magicians in their own heads. We wave our hands and say the words and wink at the assistant, but we know that it’s all an illusion. That one mis-step is the difference between flawless and broken. So sometimes it seems like it’d be a hell of a lot easier to not make that step. You can’t trip if you don’t move.

How do you get past it? I don’t know. I wish I had some magic advice to give about how to put the brain goblins to rest, if only because then I  could take that advice myself. But I don’t, and I suspect it’s because there’s no magic formula.

So, how do you get past the fear and the doubts and all the other shit? You just do. You go on punching the keys or scrawling the pages. You move on. Even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to.

It’s going to be a long day.