I’m going to be perfectly honest. Doubt plagues me for the duration of every story that I take on. I have never once sat down at the computer and said,
“Oh yeah, I got this. I can write the socks off this story.”
In fact, the more I love the idea I’m working on, the more vulnerable and frightened I become. I worry about not having the necessary skill to take it on.
Can I really do this?
It is the near constant refrain traveling through my brain on an endless loop. Before I was published I thought that I might stop feeling this way once I had an agent, that this would somehow make me feel validated about my talent. And then I got an agent and literally as soon as the euphoria of the moment wore off, I was back to doubting, maybe even harder than before because now I was worried that my agent’s belief in me was somehow misplaced and so I told myself that the real moment when I would feel validated would be when I got a contract with a publishing house. Surely then I would know I had real talent… except I got that contract and almost immediately all I could think was maybe they misjudged the quality of my story or me or—if truly they did think the manuscript was good—maybe this would be my one success, something I would never in a million years be able to do again.
As a published writer I’d like to tell you that at some point the doubt goes away.
But I can’t.
Now, maybe you’ll read this and think well, she’s just really neurotic, surely most published writers don’t doubt themselves all the time and I’m sure that there are those that don’t, but now that I’ve been in this game a while I think those writers aren’t the norm. Most of us doubt ourselves. There’s no way you can’t, working in a craft as subjective as writing is. Two people can read your work and one can love it and one can hate it with a fiery passion. Ten editors at publishing houses can pass on your manuscript and you can think you’re dead in the water and then one editor loves it, takes a chance on buying it, and that much rejected manuscript ends up on a Harry Potter-esque trajectory. Or conversely, you can garner nothing but praise and excitement about your story from editors and book buyers, but readers—for whatever reason—never, ever catch the excitement, sales tank, and all that enthusiasm for what you do from those people who are “in the know” just goes away. When your stories’ futures are always that uncertain and subject to the whims of other human beings, their fleeting interests and fluctuating pocketbooks, it’s hard to feel confident in your ability to write something, anything free from doubt.
And doubt can be absolutely paralyzing if you let it.
So don’t let it.
But how, how do you not let it?
You write in spite of it. You won’t get rid of it. It will be there every time you pick up your pen or open your laptop, but instead of letting it perch on your shoulder and chuckle at every word you manage to get down, you banish it to the corner of the room where it has to stay while you GET STUFF DONE.
When I started writing I had every reason in the world to doubt. I hadn’t really done anything in terms of writing except journal since high school. I had exactly one college level English course to my credit when I decided to try to write novels with the hopes of one day seeing them published. I was in my late thirties and a stay at home mom who fought to fit in my reading time between diaper changes and temper tantrums (mostly the kids’, but sometimes mine). When I realized that I wanted to be a writer I had zero idea where to start. I literally Googled it. I typed in “How to write a novel.”
I began watching interviews with authors and reading books on the craft of writing, but I always felt woefully behind, and wondered if I would be able to figure it all out. There weren’t any novel writing groups near me and so out of desperation, I joined a poetry writing group run by English professors from the local university. The last poem I’d written had been in fourth grade and rhymed. I was terrified that I would be awful at it, that everyone would laugh and that they would banish me from the group. I literally shook like a leaf every time I showed up. But despite the fear and doubt I kept showing up. And you know what? Over time that group became less scary and I got better at the poetry. I created a novel writing group as a spin off to that poetry group, stealing participants away to join me on the weeks the poetry group didn’t meet. I went to writer’s conferences, signed up for agent pitch sessions. Every new thing I did riddled me with doubt and fear and NERVES, but I just kept walking through it. One step at a time. Eventually the agent, editor, book deals happened.
And then the first book came out.
While it sold okay after release, it didn’t live up to the expectations everyone had for it, not by a longshot. And that doubt I’d managed to put in the corner roared back into the room, sat on my chest, and nearly smothered me. Writing became a battle I waged every day, a “one typed word at a time” fight against paralysis. I still wanted to be a writer, but doubt had me thinking that maybe because I wasn’t the success I was supposed to be no one would publish me again. A big part of me wanted to hide, to give up. The only thing that kept me going was that as big as the doubt was, my need to keep writing, to keep trying was even bigger. So I did the only thing I knew to do. I wrote. One word. Then another. Then another. And before long I had a rough draft completed and another book deal. Then I wrote some more and ended up with another book deal. Next year it looks as if both books will come out within a few months of each other. If someone had told me that would happen last year, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Doubt is part of being a writer. I know that now. But I also know that it only has the power to paralyze me if I let it. So I don’t let it. I keep writing. One word at a time. Most days my doubt keeps to his corner, but on the days when he doesn’t, I talk myself through the discomfort and fear. I remember who I am—published or not, successful or not. I am a writer because I decide to be. Period.
Amy Christine Parker is the author of the critically acclaimed young adult novel, GATED, an Amazon Best Teen Book of the Month Spotlight Pick for July 2013, a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, and a nominee for the 2016 Sequoyah Award as well as its sequel, ASTRAY, which was released in August 2014. Currently, Amy is working on her third book for Penguin Random House Children’s Books, SMASH and GRAB, which is scheduled to release in May 2016 and ORPHAN CITY for Adaptive Studios releasing late 2016. She writes full-time from her home near Tampa, Florida, where she lives with her husband, their two daughters, and one ridiculously fat cat. Visit her at amychristineparker.com and follow her on Twitter @amychristinepar.