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.

Naked At The Podium

Run on the Seamen's Savings' Bank during the P...

Get him! He mispronounced 'sherbet'! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You want to make three-quarters of the people in the world shit a brick? Tell them they have to speak in public.

Then sit back and watch the blood leave their face. A common fear, that. And, for a lot of people, a pretty serious one.

And don’t get me started on the usual advice. Picture everyone naked? How the hell is that supposed to help? Take a representative sample of the population, and tell me how many of them you’d want watching you in the buff as you read something at a podium. Your eyes would be magnetically drawn to their junk. It’s true and you know it. And then they reach down to scratch—

You know what, I’m going to stop this right here. Brain bleach will be available at the end of the post.

This came up in writer’s group the other night. We talked about what a common fear it was, especially as it relates to reading your own stuff, which is what we were doing.  And we talked about how necessary it is, especially for writers.

Other people might be able to avoid doing public speaking or reading. But writers…you don’t get that luxury*. And you shouldn’t. Reading aloud is great for writing. You ever get stuck on a word? I do. Lately for me it’s been ‘glanced’. Characters were always glancing at things. You never notice how much you overuse a word faster than if you read it out loud twenty fucking times in a page. Reading aloud also helps your dialogue. And all kinds of other things. But the fear is still there.

And it’s bullshit.

This is just your brain being an ass. “You can’t do this. You’ll screw it up. And then everyone will know that you’re a fake!”

Fucker. But it’s hard to ignore that voice. You figure that once you screw up, it’s over.

More bullshit.

Speaking from personal experience, I have screwed up almost every possible way there is to screw up while speaking in public, short of actually vomiting in front of people. (I’m saving that for a special occasion.) I’ve stuttered, stumbled, mispronounced, misquoted, and mis-attributed. And that’s only the start. I’ve tripped on my way to the podium. I’ve accidentally cursed while giving seminars, both as a student and as a teacher. I’ve cursed reading in church (Grandfather’s funeral. I like to think he would have been amused.). I’ve lost my place and stood there in dumbfounded silence (wedding vows, no less. And I was reading off a damn sheet!). I’ve flashed my damn underwear to an auditorium (high school play with togas. Should have seen it coming.).

Was I embarrassed? Sure.** But at no point did I die of it, and no one—absolutely no one—gave me shit about it. Yeah, I got a few cracks about the underwear thing, but that’s it. And it wasn’t the end.

And that’s the big secret. Once you do it, it’s not that bad. If you read in public enough times, the law of averages says you’ll screw up at least once. Probably more. But if you’re going to let a fear of screwing up stop you, you’ll never do anything.

Doesn’t mean you can’t prepare, of course. Try reading your stuff out loud to yourself first. Or your cat. Once you feel good about that, move on to a friend or significant other. Someone who is guaranteed not to be a dick about it. And then maybe a small group of friends, like our writer’s group. Small exposure to build resistance to the crushing Red Virus of Embarrassment. If you still feel awkward, try a group like Toastmasters. Some people I know have done their program, and they say it helped a lot. Practice is the key here. Practice, and forgiving yourself for your occasional mistakes. Because everyone screws up. I’m proof enough of that. You screw up, and then you keep going.

And if that fails, try the naked thing. At least the resulting brain aneurism will be a quick death.

*If it is a luxury. I think avoiding it just makes it worse.

**Except for the wedding (it’s my damn party, I’ll take as long as I want) and the funeral (I was more worried about spontaneously catching fire.).