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.
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.