Casting (Out) Doubt, Pt 2

casting out doubt 2

Last week, I started a series inspired by Writer’s DoubtBryan Hutchinson‘s wonderful book about overcoming the mental blocks that keep us from writing well. Today we continue that series with . . .

Doubt Breeds Doubt

Writer’s Doubt is big business.

If you doubt this, google “writing help” and peruse the results.

Writers’ workshops. Critique groups. Retreats. Conferences. Books. Software: a cacophony of voices (and products) claim to help writers take their scribal pursuits to “the next level.”

The truth is, most of them won’t.

Over the years, as a member of various writing communities, I’ve become more and more convinced that the “best practices” we teach are often not the things that help us grow. This is not so much about smoke and mirrors from industry charlatans as it is about the pervading community attitude. Because . . .

Doubt breeds doubt.

Take writers’ groups, for example. I’ve said for years that critique circles—where gaggles of writers, often with similar levels of (in)experience, revise each others’ work—can be far more deadly than they’re worth.

For one thing, inexperienced writers often get hung up on surface issues (grammar, punctuation, etc.) that ought to be fixed last, while missing deeper issues of structure, characterization, emotional journeys, etc. Even if they can identify these other issues, they often cannot provide on-point recommendations for addressing them.

But quality of feedback is only one reason I tend to avoid seeking critiques from peer-to-peer “writing groups.” The other (and possibly the more important) reason is what I said before:

Doubt breeds doubt.

Many if not most writers sitting in these critique groups doubt themselves. That doubt festers over days and years as they toil away, unable to find the success they were once convinced they’d achieve. And that doubt begins to surface in how they handle other people’s words. 

Doubt, it turns out, can make us terribly cruel.

“Harsh criticism doesn’t come from people concerned about being helpful.”
– Bryan Hutchinson

I’m not sure what it is about writers, in particular, but we seem to be born with a mean streak. Or should I say, a severe insecurity that if, left unchecked, leads us to cut others down in order to quiet our own self-fears?

For years I was unable to articulate this observation. Writer’s Doubt helped me do that.

Suddenly, I could answer the lingering question I’d had, about why I avoid (most) writing “groups” like the plague. And I applaud Bryan Hutchinson for being one of the few willing to call out doubt as our communal disease. 

Not that people shouldn’t be willing to give (or receive) honest feedback. But the grace that makes feedback truly efficacious is often missing . . . and Writer’s Doubt reminded me of why:

“When we’re overly critical of other writers, we’re often projecting our own doubts.”
– Bryan Hutchinson

Doubt breeds doubt.

By all means, I’m not saying we shouldn’t seek feedback on our work, get a good editor, make our work the best it can be, etc. But if you are looking for the writing community to eliminate your self-doubt or bolster your confidence in your words . . . you’re looking in the wrong place.

In fact, you’re more likely to be cut down and discouraged than you are encouraged to continue and improve.

“I’ve never once met an author who said, ‘Well, my writing wasn’t resonating, but then I read all the 1-star reviews on Amazon, took their criticism to heart and now I’m doing great’ . . .”
– Bryan Hutchinson

Ultimately, belief and confidence in your work must come from within. If you’re struggling to nurture those qualities, could it be that you’re seeking your approval from other writers? And that these writers are operating from secret cess-pools of self-loathing and perfectionism?

Doubt breeds doubt.

Instead, run from doubt at every opportunity. Seek out readers who encourage your work and want to hear what you have to say. Seek out a mentor who is secure in their own work and can give wise feedback that builds up your skill, not their ego. Ultimately, seek to know yourself as a writer and stay true to what the inner voice drives you to write—regardless of what others say.

Write courageously, my friend. Because there just might be someone else in your sphere who needs a dose of the strength only you can share when you . . .

Cast (out) doubt.

4 thoughts on “Casting (Out) Doubt, Pt 2

  1. An interesting perspective, and one that has a lot of truth in it, I think. As I wade into this thing called Writing, I’ve noticed that writers in particular seem to have this self-doubt and wonder why. Artists don’t seem to have “artist groups” who critique works in progress. Scientists don’t agonize with colleagues over advancements in their labs. It seems to be unique to writers for some reason. And you’re correct that an entire industry has developed that feeds upon writers’ insecurity that they’re doing something wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s funny you should mention the notion that artists, scientists, etc don’t have critique groups to worry about every stage of the process. I had a similar thought after I published the post … and after wracking my brains, I can’t think of a similar example either. Great observation!

      Like

    • Great question, Christina. I’ve found that taking account of myself before giving feedback is a healthy check. How’s my writing life been? Am I personally discouraged about my work? Am I frustrated? Can I honestly find something worthy to praise in the writer’s work, as well as point out areas for reconsideration and improvement?

      Answering these questions helps me take one fundamental step: being aware of my own mental state and how this may impact my words. Or put another way, checking the abundance of my heart before the mouth speaks. 🙂

      Anyone else have other thoughts?

      Like

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