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  • Michael Quintana

"Am I A Writer?": How To Handle Writerly Questions of Self-Doubt



No matter who you are or what you have written, there's nothing like the feeling of starting a new project. It's daunting, yet exhilarating. It's rewarding, yet tasking. If we're lucky, the paradox of writing leaves us encouraged. However, more often than not, it fills us with self-doubt, creating a gulf between us and the blank pages that lie ahead.


We mustn't forget that, at its core, writing is an act of bravery. Writing is vulnerability at its finest. With every keystroke, we open ourselves up to criticism and failure. And no matter how many times we've engaged in the writing process, something mysterious happens: We forget the million-and-one microscopic steps it took to complete our last project, and the million-and-one microscopic steps it will take to complete this one.


In the famous words of Dorothy Parker, "I hate writing. I love having writing." Seeing writing presentable and polished is vastly different than working with it in its purest, rawest form. Yet, we're still hard on ourselves when the things we're capable of get down on paper don't feel "good enough." We seem to forget we can rewrite the clunky things we've written; that those things can be changed. Yet still, knowing that, self-doubt creeps in: What if nobody likes what I've written? What if I don't finish this project? What if... well, "what if," what?


Here are the 5 things I want you to remember the next time you sit down to write.


1. You Are A Writer


Don't get caught up in romanticizing the act of writing. Often, we think of writing as some "great act." If we're not careful, writing can become mystically and paralyzing. Just remember, writing is an act of communication and tries to do something very simple: establish a connection between two human beings, a writer and his or her reader. Though our work might one day be translated into various languages, we're talking about the same thing: the human experience — only, as seen through our eyes. If you are alive, your voice, experience, and imagined worlds are valid; you deserve the chance to be seen and hear by another.


Simply stated, writing helps us connect to each other. That's it.


2. Plan On A Moment-To-Moment Basis


One of the most paralyzing parts of writing is not knowing what to write. Though you may have outlined, writing is a moving, breathing thing. It's always great to plan ahead on a moment-to-moment — "session-by-session" — basis. Before you sit down to write, make sure you spend some time with your characters and have a sense of what comes next. Before leaving a writing session, jot down some ideas of where you want to take the story. You want to be organized in your approach to writing, as well as remain flexible. It's always good to provide yourself with a sense of structure, but you don't want to be too rigid with it.


Give yourself the opportunity to be surprised by where your writing and characters take you.


3. Dive In


Don't get caught up in writing the perfect line. Don't lean on the thesaurus for the perfect adjective or adverb every time you decide to use one. Instead, sit down and start working. You'll have time to figure all that stuff out later. Right now, just wade through the water. You need to be able to tell yourself the story first before you can tell it to another person.


Remember, writing is placing one foot in front of the other. So, please, stop looking around and get those steps in.


4. Be Vulnerable


You're already writing, so you might as well take your story to places that leave you feeling like an exposed vein. Don't be afraid of being honest with yourself. Don't try to reign your characters in, because you fear your readers might disapprove of them. Guess what? As of right now, you don't have readers. So, write for yourself. You are your reader. As the late, great Toni Morrison once said, "If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it." You know the genre you're writing in. You know what's already been done. So, why not step "out of the box" or "toe the line" a little?


Worst case scenario, you make good use of the "delete" button on your keyboard.


5. Be Patient With Yourself


We forget writing takes time. It's a process and susceptible to human error, because — guess what? — you are human. Yes, we will be interrupted. Yes, on occasion, we will lose focus. But, if writing is something that's important to you, trust: You'll find a way to make time for it. So, don't wait around for the perfect moment. Don't wait for your tea to be the perfect temperature, for inspiration to strike, or for the house to go dead quiet. Instead, move forward with the intention to write and tap into your imagination knowing one thing: Everything written can be rewritten.


So, be patient with yourself. Tell your story to the best of your current abilities. As you write, learn more about craft, and distance yourself from your work, be confident in your ability to come back to it later and tell it better.


-M.Q.

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