Sunday, March 4, 2012

Writer's Doubt

Everyone knows what "writer’s block" means, even if they’ve never experienced it. At least they think they do. It is a condition that occurs when one is writing something and suddenly the words stop flowing. For some the flow is generally easy, for others it is never a "flow" so much as a trickle, but a block is a block. When the words stop coming, the writing stops. It always starts again, though maybe not easily or fluently, but the words are there, and eventually they begin to move from brain to fingertips again. Or mouth if you dictate. It is not a permanent condition.

There is another, similar condition (one which can lead to writer’s block), that I recognize as

"writer’s doubt." You are working along, watching the words build pictures and tell a story, and the process is moving smoothly enough; perhaps too smoothly. Your mind begins to let the story write itself, at least in this draft, and another part of the brain begins to wake up. You begin to ask questions.

The first is often "Where is this going?" Then: "Do I know what I want to say, do I have a complete storyline in mind, are the characters fully dimensioned?" All are legitimate questions, and ones a writer must always be able to answer. Usually, though, they are answered before the first word goes down. It is later, when the story is formed, when the characters have identified themselves to you, when there is a line the action and people will follow, that the writer can ask the most difficult of questions: "Should I be writing this story?" "Am I telling a story that is believable?" "Have I done enough to make the characters true and real?" "It’s a story that needs writing, but am I the one to do it?" "Will I be able to tell the story I want?" "Do I know enough about what I’m writing to be doing this?" Writer’s doubt.

There is a tendency I think, shared by most writers, to question one’s own ability to plot and create and make believable, a story that one needs to tell. Ego will only carry one so far, and then this other emotion awakens and comes oozing down into your consciousness. You stop writing, start agonizing. Writer’s doubt.

And then, like writer’s block, it goes away. The words start forming, the belief in what you are writing grows stronger, and you are back to work. It only remains to finish the draft so that you know you have a story to tell, and that you have told it. The thing you have to do now is start again from the beginning and make everything work.

It looks easy. But I doubt it.

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