Let’s dive in. As I get closer to finishing my recent revision of So Speaks the Gallows, the creeping whispers of self-doubt interrupt the process. These are not words of castigation but instead subtle pricks of critique that make my hands pull away from the keyboard and seriously consider the words on the page.
Revising is difficult. You think just writing a full novel is hard, try going back over what you’ve spent years shaping and being excited about and then questioning why entire sections come across as borderline tissue paper in strength. You wish it was more than single ply but instead, you get this thin sheet that could disintegrate at the first sneeze.
No, I have not given up and I have not put my toes over the ledge to look down into writer’s oblivion. (It would take a lot for me to reach that point of disappointment.) I think I’ve simply come to a section of the book where I’m not impressed with the writing (granted it’s my writing). I know I am more than capable of girding up the paragraphs and dialogue where it suffers most but I find myself wondering about the strength of the writing as a whole.
What if the beginning is strong but it begins to wane and lose its clout the further we go to the right towards that back cover? It’s an honest question and, I think, a natural one to explore. Maybe it’s strong enough in the beginning to hold up any weaker sections. Maybe an agent will get to these weaker sections and say, “Well, this needs to be reworked but I think you’re more than capable of doing it.” These are the questions that like to poke at my confidence each time I return to revise.
As I’ve said, I’m okay with rewriting entire chapters (I actually did rewrite the first five chapters and feel they are extremely strong now) but I wonder if I should do it now or simply try to fix the weaker prose as is. Either way works to be honest.
All this is to say doubt is a very natural and, I think, healthy emotion to go through as an artist. For me, it keeps me in check and forces me to look back at certain sections of my book and ask questions like, “Can this be better?” Most of the time the answer is a big fat “Yes!” and so I need to be willing to strip down the prose and rework.
So to any of my fellow artists who lay awake or stare blankly at the page or canvas, do not become bitter or agitated. Embrace the pain of being mediocre (only at times, not always) and let creativity fizzle and reset. I have no idea if this is sound or good advice but I know it works for me.
Call to Action: Here’s a fun exercise to consider when in doubt, ask some simple questions and answer as truthfully as possible.
1) Why do I have this sense of doubt in my work or abilities?
2) Is there truth to this? If not, what is the lie behind it?
3) What can I do to strengthen confidence in myself again?
Try these out and see where it gets you.