Books for Occasions: When in Doubt

Dorothy! Look alive, darling! You made it! You really did!

Dorothy! Look alive, darling! You made it! You really did!

Lately I have done nothing but doubt and disdain my work. It might be because I'm four weeks into my winter break, which means four weeks away from my wonderful writer friends. It might be because I haven't met any of my revision goals for those four weeks. Or it might because I stupidly said to J. the other day about the story I've been working on for the past two weeks, "I think this might be the best thing I've ever written." 

Way to totally jinx yourself, Emily. Because when the story starts to go flat, when it starts to feel more like a YA novel than the mystical thing you envisioned in your head, when you reach that point you reach with every story where the great character you had in your mind has to actually DO SOMETHING in order to move the story forward, you start to hate everything you have ever written in your entire life, especially this story, which is not only NOT the best thing you have ever written in your life, but the worst. The absolute worst. 

When you are capable of doing nothing other than doubting yourself, when you are capable of feeling nothing else but like a fraud, a wannabe, a total narcissist for even thinking you could be a writer in the first place, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Paris Review Interviews. After reading through interviews with the greatest of the greats you'll realize you all have one thing in common: everyone who ever wrote anything great thought of themselves at one time or another as a total fraud. Even Dorothy Parker, ballsy broad that she was, considered herself a sham: "I want so much to write well, though I know I don't, and that I didn't make it."

What you'll realize after reading one or two or twelve of these essays in one sitting is that doubting your work and feeling like a fraud is exactly what you need to be doing. The ones who think they are something, the ones who sit around thinking they are great, they are the frauds. They are the ones who don't take notes during workshop, who refuse to be humbled by feedback, who refuse to write anything other than the opaque and ostentatious drivel that nobody wants to read because they think writing is some trick you play on the reader, and they are the ones who will open themselves up to learning. 

It is when we doubt ourselves, when we convince ourselves that this is the worst thing that we've ever written, that we are driven to make our work better. And it is only in wanting it to be better--not thinking it's already great--that we are able to make it better.