Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Self-Doubt

By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 2, 2009

True confessions: I’m 95% through a project I’ve been working on for two years, and I find myself suddenly wracked with self-doubt. All the negative thoughts that we’re all so familiar with are surfacing. Have I screwed the pooch? Have I lost my mojo? Do I really have anything worth saying?

I know the tune. The question is: What do I do about it?

I want to share my internal process, because we all go through these dark hours. Here’s how I’m handling the current raft of B.S. inside my head.

Hello, Resistance!

First, I recognize these thoughts as Resistance. True, they may contain legitimate elements. But that’s for other people to judge, not me. My role as writer/artist/entrepreneur is to keep going at full capacity, no matter what.

Second, I recognize that the appearance of self-doubt is totally predictable at this stage of the process–i.e., when the finish line is in sight. I was just reading a book last night about “story points” in screenplays. One of the formula moments that the writer was talking about was the “All Is Lost” beat. This comes somewhere around the start of Act Three. The protagonist endures a dark night of the soul, a “Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?” moment. This, I recognize, holds true for any mortal endeavor, whether it’s climbing Mt. Everest, having a baby, or opening your own hot dog stand across the street from Pink’s. That moment is going to come. It’s inevitable.

Third, I recognize the difference between thoughts and “thoughts.” Real thoughts are stuff we actually think. Resistance produces “thoughts.” These are fake. We ourselves are not thinking them; they are coming from our darkest abodes of self-sabotage.

I will dismiss those “thoughts.” How? By doing it. By refusing to grant them credence. I will banish them. I will blow them off.

Yeah, Steve, but what about reality?

All that having been said, self-doubt can be legitimate. It’s plain crazy to dismiss everything. This is when the discriminatory intelligence comes in. This is the tough part.

What do I do? I must reassess what I’ve written with the coldest, most objective eye I can bring to it. Go through this sucker. Is it working? If not, what’s wrong? Is something missing? Do I have the caboose where the locomotive should be?

One thing I won’t do now: I won’t look for feedback from friends. That will only confuse me. What counts is what I myself think. Let me reevaluate this material as best I can, till I can’t take it any more. Then I’ll ask for fresh eyes.

What if it sucks?

What if my self-doubt is justified? What if the book really does stink? What if I’ve just put in two killer years for nothing?

Then I’ll take the long view. I’m not in this for the weekend. This is a lifetime calling.

I’ll take my lumps and learn my lessons. I’ll look to the next book and the one after that. Even Bob Dylan puts out a crappy album once in a while. Derek Jeter himself sometimes goes down swinging. I will too if I have to. But nothing will stop me from giving this book my all. It is my baby, just like the other kids in the family. I’ll get it into Harvard if I can; I’ll bail it out of jail; I’ll pick it up at three AM at the Greyhound bus station. I will take a bullet for it.

Fuck self-doubt. I despise it. I hold it in contempt, along with the hell-spawned ooze-pit of Resistance from which it crawled.

I will NEVER back off. I will NEVER give the work anything less than 100%.

If I go down in flames, so be it. I’ll be back.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

28 Responses to “Self-Doubt”

  1. December 2, 2009 at 8:00 am

    Steve, the timing of this is eery. I had a rough last few days on a rewrite. Self-doubt kicked in hard, and I found myself staring at the page for two days with no results. It finally broke when I said, Fuck it. Nobody knows this particular subject better than me. Nobody. Cranked through 70 pages of a healthy polish yesterday.

    I’ll be overhead at 36,000 feet if you need me. Semper Fi.

  2. December 2, 2009 at 8:39 am

    I SO needed to hear this today. I’ve been fighting self-doubt on a rewrite as well. Thanks for sharing your struggle!

  3. December 2, 2009 at 8:51 am

    I love you. Your words are like jet fuel injected straight into my veins. mwah!

  4. December 2, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Wow, what an incredibly insightful post. Thank you so much for your candor and your assessment. As an army officer on my way back from Iraq, I’ve had many experiences this year that have made me sit back and reassess where I stand as a leader. I’ve had multiple significant emotional events and some were significant enough to make me consider leaving the military if I truly thought I was ineffective. I have dealt with what I consider failure. At the darkest point of my ‘failure’ I stopped and took a hard look at the choices I’d made. I could have made other decisions but when I honestly looked at probably and possible outcomes, I feel I made the appropriate decision.
    It’s a hard lesson, learning to push through, despite all the self doubt. As a writer who just parted ways with her agent, I also feel the tease of self doubt. What if my book is garbage? What if I’m really still not ready for prime time?
    I’ve seriously considered giving up trying to work toward my goal of being published. I’ve come up with ways to salvage the time I have with my family and my own goals. But at the end of it, the self doubt remains. The question, as you so aptly pointed out, is what am I going to do with it.
    Thank you so much for your incredible post!

  5. December 2, 2009 at 8:55 am

    Thank you for sharing the doubting stage you go through, and also your intellectual reasoning behind it. It is reassuring to read–especially in highly successful people. No matter the level of success, the steps still seem to be in the same location on the staircase.

    What particularly interests me is how you have fingered this as a ‘beat’, as simply a part of the process. You’re right, it resonates throughout stories today as it has for thousands of years.

  6. December 2, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Yeah, that doubt is a killer. I’m smack dab on the final draft revisions. But it’s been much longer that 2 years. Try six, total from start to finish. And yes, I agree with you about feedback. I’ve seen way too many writers try to write their novel/nonfiction/memoir by consensus. You’ll get plenty of it later! Thomas Farber also never lets anyone read his works until it is all “done.” And I think Anne Rice has a stipulation in her contract that done is done. The final MS is the end product.

  7. December 2, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Thank you Colleen for sending this link. I needed to read this today. I have THE WAR OF ART and often give it to friends who are struggling with Resistance. I’ve read it multiple times, yet sometimes I don’t see Resistance in my own life. Fear takes the lead, and self-doubt settles in. Thanks for the wake-up call.

  8. December 2, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Steven,

    Don’t write for the audience. Write the book for yourself. Call it finished when it pleases you. You are the only audience that matters. Your personal taste is all that matters. You, alone, create and evolve the Pressfield Formula.

    Some audiences are eternal, some are fair-weather fans. Ignore them all. Writing is too goddamn hard. Critics and customer reviews won’t make writing the next book easier. Gates of Fire sold better than Tides of War–doesn’t mean you love it more. Whatever you’re working on, craft that fucker until it sings. You are an author. Craftmanship makes you hard. Structure, Language, Pace. Pleasure yourself.

    I read your novels because I find your personal taste unique. Don’t become Dan Brown. Don’t become Randall Wallace. Learn from others you respect, but write each book to delight yourself. Resistance is a genuine evil. Doubt is part of life’s dramatic structure. But no one else on earth can write a Pressfield book. Not your friends. Not your agent. Not your publisher. Not your fans. You are a God-King. You work alone.

    Write the book for yourself, offer it to the world, let the reviews and moneybags fall where they may.

  9. December 2, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    I’m going to print this off and post it near the desk.
    Thank you for putting it into perspective.

  10. December 2, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Great post. My best to you in your writings.

    –Terrace Crawford
    http://www.terracecrawford.com
    http://www.twitter.com/terracecrawford

  11. December 2, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Wow, what a great post. Thank you so much. I’m printing it out and sticking it near my desk as well.

  12. December 2, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Wow! I needed this today. It’s a keeper.

  13. December 2, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    It just goes to show you that no matter how competent one might be, resistance can still grab you by the balls and squeeze!

  14. December 2, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Yeah, Steve what about rejection? Rejection keeps stoking the fires of resistance.

    So one has a solid manuscript, a good agent, a web presence and is building a platform, is there more? It seems that one has to be a philandering politician engaged in an extra marital affair, a has-been actress involved in a 17 year incestuous relationship with one’s father, or an elected official who quit her job to get a major trade publisher to print a new author’s work.

    As always, thank you for Writing Wednesdays. I anticipate each one.

  15. December 2, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Just what I needed to hear as I dive in headfirst to a second draft.

    Thank you so much!

  16. December 2, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Fabulous post. What you’ve written here can’t be said too often.

    I adored Legend of Bagger Vance, and now will be looking for your War of Art.

  17. December 2, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Great post. Found you via Anne Jackson (flowerdust.net).

  18. December 2, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    Yep, I definitely needed this yesterday and today. Thank you, Mr. Pressfield!

  19. December 3, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Wow! Love it. It’s something we all need to hear over and over.

    CC

  20. December 3, 2009 at 9:37 am

    I’m at that point right now with the novel I’m rewriting. Three chapters left, and there’s a voice in the back of my mind that is utterly relentless every time I open the file: “This sucks. What makes you think this is any good? You don’t know what you’re doing!”

    The best thing I can do is to keep plugging along. I know that, but it’s still hard. So, thank you for this. Bookmarked!

    /On a side note, I love “The War of Art.” Those of you who haven’t read it yet need to pick it up.

  21. December 3, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Geez, I guess that feeling doesn’t go away, even after you’ve done a shelf-full of solid work.

    I wonder how it would feel to actually LIKE what you’re producing. To go gaily along enjoying the tale that’s spinning out from the keyboard. Might be good for productivity. Not so sure about quality. At least all the time. But it’s probably less taxing than wondering if you’re merely spending your days extruding an endess turd.

    From hearing Stephen King in “On Writing”, I get the feeling he loves sitting down to work each day, and fairly likes what he’s turned out most of the time. Not to say he doesn’t work hard, but it sounds like he has fun doing it. It’s not a daily root canal.

    Hmm.

  22. Ken
    December 3, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    You better finish that last 5% so I can read another Pressfield masterpiece!

  23. RP9
    December 4, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Without resistance there is no conflict.
    Without conflict there is no evolution.
    Without evolution there is no life.
    Without life, the infinite is hollow.

    – Bob Newhart’s Left Nut

  24. December 8, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    It’s Tues. 8 Dec. and I’m reading The War of Art for the first time; page 75. Made me want to look at your website and there you are mired in the muck. (It’s almost a week later, and you may be de-mucked at this time but……..THANK YOU. Making the Truth of Resistance so real and opening your personal world to us is a boon. Your rousing challenge to Resistance is tonic to my soul. I’m rooting for you and looking forward to reading your fiction, although this non-fiction is damned transporting and I plan on re-reading it more than once.

    Judianna

  25. December 9, 2009 at 9:22 am

    I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of your books. I love the images you create, not all of them are pleasant, but it feels like I am exploring a new world.

    I greatly appreciate that you have doubts and were willing to share them. It makes me feel better when I stare at a blank page, or worse when I’m staring at my words and I don’t like them.

    As a side note I actually found your site searching for “One Tribe at a Time”. I am excited that your helping get this information out there and that I found two things I’m thrilled with by searching for one.

  26. December 15, 2009 at 6:29 am

    For the most part, I’m wracked with self-doubt, so it’s good to know that even established writers go through the same process. And I agree that sometimes there is something behind the self-doubt, so it’s good to try to look at one’s work objectively. There are days when I’m happy with my writing, but there are other days when I don’t know why I bother and want to give up.
    Without writing, I wouldn’t be me, so I’ll keep reaching for that coveted contract.

  27. December 15, 2009 at 10:45 am

    I read this on a day that I could feel the flames all around me and feel the ground rushing up at me and needed the reminder that sometimes Resistance loves those nightmares during the day. Thanks for the reminder(s!) Steve.

  28. December 27, 2009 at 12:08 am

    Arrghhh. Fucking resistence. I know the taste of this, right now it is taking every ample opportunity to point out why the endeavor upon I’m about to embark is way over my head, and I have nothing like the chops it will take to accomplish it.

    I know the truth is that the endeavor is about developing those chops, and at the moment all that is required are the balls to START, and then be willing to endure all those sticking points that will show up to help me make the work authentic and real.

    Yeah, I will learn a thing or two. That is the whole idea!