The Sneaky Faces of Doubt

I’ve talked before about how I suffer from depression and how it often affects my writing. It is tough to push away the many negative voices that I think most writers suffer from when you already feel like life sucks and there is no point to anything.  Part of living with chronic depression is learning coping mechanisms and how to pull yourself out of the deeper pits.

While I’m aware that some of my coping mechanisms aren’t the best, I had thought I was getting pretty good at identifying and eliminating the writing doubt voices.  I have three pieces of paper posted above my desk.  The first is a poster of Heinlein’s Rules. The second is a sheet with “It Never Ends” written on it to which I’ve added dates and magazine names for my published stories (I got this idea from Dean Wesley Smith. I’m hoping to fill that sheet front and back someday).  The third piece of paper has the five elements of a blockbuster novel according to Al Zuckerman (which I think are good things to keep in mind while writing anything).  On another wall, I have a super cool poster a friend made me of Lester Dent’s Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot. I have yet to write a story directly from his formula, but I often glance at it and ask myself some of the questions he poses about whatever I’m working on.   I also have a bunch of smaller pieces of paper with things like “what is the bad guy up to?” and “parade the tag!” and lists of plotting tools (timebombs, crucibles, reversals, revelations etc).  All these things are here to surround me with tools to shove past the writing doubts and get the work done.

In the last couple months, these tools have been failing me. I’ve been failing me.  I got most of the way through a novel through sheer determination and a lot of self-talk. But it wasn’t fun. So I told myself that hey, I have no deadlines. No one is waiting for this book. No one is going to hold me to the writing plan I set out for myself. I can write whatever I want.  Which sounds very freeing.  It should have been.

So I moped sat around and thought about which of my ideas for things would be the most kick-ass fun to write.  And I settled on a series of novellas I’d been turning over in my head for the last year or so.  They are adventure fantasy in the vein of RA Salvatore or Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion books, basically following one group of adventurers as they go around and kick some monster ass, help people, and spit in the face of evil.  With fireballs. And a small pink unicorn.

Sounds fun to me. I decided on my course of action, roughly outlined 15 of these novellas, and on Tuesday got to work.

On Wednesday, I hit a huge mental block. A million negative thoughts and voices flooded my brain. Wasn’t I just writing derivative crap? Shouldn’t I be spending this time working on further books in series I already have started? No one is going to want to read books from the PoV of a mute elf with a bit of a god-complex (to be fair, she did used to be basically a god).  Don’t I know that this sort of fiction would never sell to a publisher? Will never win any awards? This is too fun to write, it must be terrible.

Voices like that.  Wow. Ouch.  As soon as I realized I was avoiding working on the project because of these voices, I paused the Starcraft 2 game I was watching and had a serious conversation with myself.  (Hey, I’m not crazy. We writers do this all the time. Right?)  Where was all this coming from?

Apparently some myths are still stuck in my head and I’m not the freewheeling, commercially-minded mercenary writing machine I like to wish I was.  Some of the senarios in the back of my mind were tied so deeply to things I never consciously think about that once I examined them I laughed.

Like the little scene in my head of being at a con and having someone ask me why I write that DnD knockoff crap. Or why I’m not writing serious novels.

The funny part is, when I stop to think about it, it is always a fellow writer in my fake scene who asks this stuff. I don’t think a reader would or a person who had no idea who I am anyway (ie most random people anywhere).  I was stuck and had stopped working on a project that was the first thing to really thrill me in months because I was worried about hypothetical writer guy in my head.  Yep. Stupid.

I know where a little of that worry comes from. I was privately slammed recently by a fellow writer and the negativity definitely didn’t help my already pretty low esteem. I don’t even know this person well and I have had one IRL conversation with them ever, yet they apparently wormed their way into my subconscious and fed doubts I had thought my mercenary, hack’n’slash-loving intellect had long since defeated.

Thankfully, these doubts are lessened by working through them. I had a serious conversation with myself, identified some of the issues I was having, and talked myself through them.  It’s amazing what looks stupid and trivial once you bring it out into the conscious light.  Especially things like “if it isn’t hard, it isn’t good” which is a dumb myth that gets reinforced a lot with idiot phrases like “no pain, no gain” and that mentality. Pain is bad. Ask anyone who suffers from chronic pain (would you like to trade shoulders with me? Or knees?) how they feel about it? Or people who suffer from emotional pain.  Not a plus. Not a gain.

So I’m adding a couple new pieces of paper to my collection here.  One says “writing should be fun”.  Another says “My path is mine”.  I know that more hidden fears and doubts will show their faces eventually, but now I have a few more little weapons against them.

Follow your writing joy. And kick out anyone who says you should do something else.