Saturday, July 6, 2013
by Tammy Kaehler
Author of the Kate Reilly racing mysteries
A really amazing racing blogger I follow—someone I'd read if he was writing about toilet-seat manufacturing, because I enjoy his writing that much—recently posted a general sigh of self-doubt about his writing ability to social media. I, like many of his friends and admirers, jumped in to reassure him. The whole time I wrote my "of course you’re amazing!" note, I thought, "Please, please, please, be ready to say this to me."
Because he was right when he said we all go through this. All of us creative types. All the time.
Now, this post isn't meant as a plea for assurances that my writing is amazing, my plots are epic, or my concept is ground-breaking. I want to talk seriously about self-doubt for a minute. Because I think (and this won't be ground-breaking either, but it can't be repeated enough) that how we handle our inevitable self-doubt is what separates the pros from the amateurs—the women from the girls, if you will.
If you let that nasty inner critic stay in your head, it’ll keep whispering "maybe you're not very good" and "that sentence really sucked." If you allow that critic to keep seducing you with thoughts of the new book on your TBR pile or that episode of Dance Moms on the DVR, you're not going to reach your creative finish line. If you give in to that voice, you're not going to get it done.
I'm not telling you if you ignore that voice, all will be unicorns and rainbows. Just getting it done isn't a guarantee it'll be GOOD. But you're never going to have a shot at your work being good (or great) if you don't have any work in the first place. As they say in auto racing, "To finish first, first you have to finish."
And let me assure you, EVERYONE feels self-doubt. Sue Grafton has said she's never sure she'll be able to write another book (and she's closing in on the last letter of the alphabet). Danny Elfman (composer of music soundtracks and the Simpson’s theme) doubts himself at every project. My racing blogger friend worries about his marketing writing and his racing analyses.
So when I’m in the throes of self-doubt, mired what I call the “hot mess middle-muddle”—as I am now—I start by consoling myself with the thought that even successful artists doubt themselves. This only helps a little bit on the day I end up curled on the bed, crying and telling my husband, “I’ll never be able to write another book.” (He loves that part of the process, by the way—insert heavy sarcasm.)
But when the “even famous people feel this way” pep talk doesn’t get me past the tears and paralysis, I try a mantra I’ve developed in my fledgling fiction-writing career: Butt In Chair.
You see, I’m not someone who’s stumped by the blank page. After nearly 20 years spent as a technical or marketing writer in my day job, I have no fear of the blank page. If I sit down at the computer and open the Word document, I’ll write something. It’s the sitting down that is the problem. I tell people I don’t have writer’s block, I have butt-in-chair block.
Yes, my mantra has become “Butt In Chair.” I’m thinking of having it printed up on a mug or a sign—maybe a dozen signs to post all over my house and get my behind over to my desk. Because I’ve learned if I simply spend enough time at my computer in a day, I’ll write something. Enough days of enough time at my computer, and I’ll write a book (at least that crappy first draft).
But it’s hard, right? I mean, we know carrots and broccoli are better for us than doughnuts and chocolate. I know that future-me will be happier with myself if I go for a walk now instead of sitting in a chair and reading a book. But it takes willpower to put off the tasty—indulgent?—item now for future gain or happiness.
Even though I know I’ll be happier in a month if I sit down and write—if I work past the self-doubt right now, rather than avoid it—it’s still hard to put my butt in the chair.
So ultimately, how do I do it? I slap my inner critic quiet, look my self-doubt in the face, and banish both of them. I put my head down, ignore the mountain range ahead, and focus on the next steps in front of me. It always works.
Now if I can only remember that for the next time….
But hey, I’m always looking for more tips and strategies. How do you all cope with bouts of self-doubt?
Tammy Kaehler’s career in marketing and technical writing landed her in the world of automobile racing, which inspired her with its blend of drama, competition, and welcoming people. Her debut, Dead Man’s Switch, was praised by mystery fans as well as racing insiders, and she takes readers back behind the wheel in Braking Points, the second Kate Reilly Racing Mystery. Tammy works as a technical writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars. Find out more at http://www.tammykaehler.com/.