No Room for Doubt

Do you ever spend hours, days, weeks pouring your heart and soul into your writing only to go back, read it and think, “Oh my God, what was I thinking? This is crap. I have no talent. No one will ever want to read this.”

Well, guess what? You’re not the only one!

I love to write. I love the creative process and making the story come alive on the page. For me it is not just the destination (the finished story), but also the journey getting there (developing characters, and hammering all of those twists and turns into place). But I often find, especially during my editing process that doubt creeps in. I start wondering what the heck I’m doing. Wondering why I ever thought that I could write a book.

Recently, while going through one of these moments, a friend introduced me to a new type of encouragement in the form of John Steinbeck.

John Steinbeck? Maybe, the Pulitzer Prize winning The Grapes of Wrath will ring a bell… or Of Mice and Men or East of Eden or The Winter of Our Discontent or Cannery Row

John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962, and even he harbored doubts concerning his ability to effectively bring the written word to the page. While working on The Grapes of Wrath, he composed letters and wrote in a journal. Some of this material was later published in Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath 1938-1941. Throughout this journal John Steinbeck writes about his struggles, worries and self-doubt.

The following are a few quotes from Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath 1938-1941:

June 14, 1938–“Yesterday was a bust. I could have forced the work out but I’d lost the flow of the book and it would have been a weak spot.”

June 18, 1938–“If only I could do this book properly it would be one of the really fine books and a truly American book. But I am assailed with my own ignorance and inability.”

August 1, 1938–“I didn’t work then [July 25] or all week. …Hope to lose some of the frantic quality in my mind now. It’s just like slipping behind at Stanford. Panic sets in. Can’t organize. … I’m jumpy. …Don’t know who will publish my book. Don’t know at all. No reason to let it slide though. Must keep at it. … Wish I could control the jumping jitters though.”

August 30, 1938–“I’m having a hell of a time concentrating with so many things going on. … I hope this book is some good, but I have less and less hope for it.”

September 26,1938–“This book has become a misery to me because of my inadequacy.”

So the next time you doubt yourself, remember, there are other incredibly accomplished authors out there who have also acknowledged uncertainty when it comes to submitting their work. When you start to question yourself just remember:

1. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Your voice is your own and it is unique. Why do we have so many different types of writers? So many different genres? Because there are so many different types of readers!

2. In the words of Nora Roberts, “Write the damn book!” Forget about everything else and just get your ideas down on the page because you can’t edit what doesn’t exist. You can always cast off what doesn’t work later.

3. Trust you instincts. Everyone worries about breaking the rules. Ignore the rules because they are intimidating, and that can lead to insecurity. Instead focus on telling a great story. Once the story is on the page you can obsess over comma usage and dangling participles.

4. Make time for yourself. I know it sounds difficult, and it is, because life gets in the way, but consistently setting time aside for yourself and scheduling around that time will help you to put words on the page.

5. You are not alone. Believe in yourself. Everyone has experienced moments of self-doubt or insecurity, even someone as accomplished as John Steinbeck. If he can do it, so can you… So keep writing!



11 thoughts on “No Room for Doubt

  1. God Bless our Mentors and those who’ve forged and struggled before us–leading the way. Nora is absolutely right . . . “Write the damn book!”

    Thanks for sharing, Dana!


  2. Great post, Dana! This week I have been a slave to number 3 – I haven’t been trusting my instincts and feeling stifled by “the rules.” Damn the rules! 😉

  3. Loni and Kerri, I know exactly what you are saying. Sometimes I get so bogged down by the rules I forget to just “write the damn book”. No one who has a fabulous, well told story gets rejected for their comma usage. So we should forge forward, even when we have doubts. Did you know Linda Howard wrote for 21 years before gaining the courage to submit something for publication? Just think of all those stories the rest of us would have missed out on if she hadn’t said the hell with it and written the damn book. 🙂

  4. This is a great blog Dana. It’s good to know that even celebrated writers have the same insecurities as new writers. That gives us all hope.

  5. I seem to be a slave to all five. 🙂
    This is a great post, and it’s very inspiring to hear that successful writers have gone through the same doubts and fears. Thanks for a great post and much needed reminders!
    It’s nice to be a part of a writing community where you can uplift and sometimes even challenge each other to be the best we can be.
    Thanks, Dana!

  6. Thanks Anita and Kimberly! I am not generally an insecure person, but sometimes I find I second guess myself, ignoring my instincts. It’s good to know that other, far more accomplished, writers have experienced something similar. But now that our little secret is out in the open, we can work through it, inspiring each other along the way to “write the damn book!”

  7. Thanks for this great post, Dana. Do you know when I most doubt myself? During the query process. While I’m writing and editing a story, I can kinda put a bubble around myself, and that’s where all my hopes flourish. But then, when it’s time to put the story out into the world, to be judged, and the rejections come pouring in, it is so so hard to keep a positive attitude, to think of that time spent slaving over the novel as anything but a waste. The only solution is to start writing a new story. Easier said than done, ha!

  8. Dana, thank you for posting Steinbeck’s thoughts and those five very excellent tips. I recently read Linda Lael Miller’s 1993 Forever and the Night and in the dedication pages she wrote something along the lines of “I wrote this book for me.” I think if you do that, then you will ultimately love the work and it will show through in the story.

  9. Pintip, the query process is hard. I think it is difficult for anyone to put themselves out there like that. I just try to remind myself that most successful authors have a stack of rejection letters to show for each one of their successes. And not every rejection means you aren’t talented. It may just mean that editor already has something else that is too similar right now, or that editor is looking for something dark and edgy not sweet and funny to round out that particular line right now. So never give up, always move forward. 🙂

    Carlene, ironically I don’t even care for Steinbeck’s writing style. 🙂 But it is very comforting for me to know that even someone who accomplished that level of achievement did so questioning himself each step of the way. As for Linda Lael Miller–God bless her. <3 My parents owned their own business and my father always said, "You'll never work harder for anyone than you will for yourself." I believe that to this day. You should always try to write the story that you would want to read and hopefully other people will think it's pretty darn good too!

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