Criticism or Doubt?

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sylvia-plathWelcome back to Firsts in Fiction, loyal listeners! This week, Steve and Aaron take a look at the difference between self-doubt and self-criticism–two very different things. One is destructive, the other productive. Learning to tell the difference is an essential skill for writers. This week, we did a live cast on Google Hangouts, and the video is available on YouTube here. If you prefer, you can watch below the show notes. As always, you can listen above or download the episode here. Find Steve and Heather and Aaron on FacebookTwitteriTunes, and Stitcher. Remember, tell your friends using the #firstsinfiction and/or @firstsinfiction to help us get a good social media buzz. Appreciate your listenership!

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~Sylvia Plath

When talking with writers, I’ve come to notice several commonalities—one of which is that we’re our own greatest enemies. Our self-doubt rules over our creative process with an iron scepter (forgive the cliché). I’m starting to think we need to have a creative revolution if we ever want to succeed. Our creativity needs to rally against the oppressive reign of self-doubt. But how?

Of the several strategies for overcoming self-doubt, I’ve found one the most empowering: give yourself the right to write garbage. If you enter into a novel thinking you’re going to craft the perfect book right off, you’re sorely mistaken. Most novels and stories undergo multiple drafts before they end up on the shelves of your Barnes and Nobles. And the first drafts are seldom good.

If you listen to the voice in the back of your head that tells you that what you’ve written is worthless, you’ll never finish a project. You need the imagination to improvise. Rather than giving up, harness the self-doubt and turn it into motivation. Yes, your first draft may be terrible. All of ours are. But it doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a writer. It simply means you’re a writer.

Take your doubt, wrestle it into submission, and assert your right to write, your right to revise something that you feel has little worth and turn it into a masterpiece. Imagine sculptors throwing away entire slabs of marble after a few taps with hammer and chisel. We’d call them crazy. But how many of us do the same thing with our first few pages?

Give your art the time it needs to be shaped and crafted into art.

Conversely, when the voice in your head is telling you that a scene you’ve written is weak, you may want to listen to it. Our inner editor is not bad, when it’s specific. When it can say definitively what is working and what isn’t, what’s good and what needs work, we need to heed that call. The vague, “you’ll never be a good writer,” is the voice that needs to be silenced. When you hear these voices, ask them questions. If they give specific answers, you may want to pay attention to them. If not, tune them out.

If you can’t tell, ask an alpha reader. They’ll be sure to tell you. Bottom line–never give up. Perseverance is the key to success.

6 thoughts on “Criticism or Doubt?”

  • Very interesting comparison of sculptors to writers. I’ll tend to trash something just because it didn’t turn out how I wanted it to.

  • I like the idea of being able to write garbage, I often feel I have to write my perfection

  • I usually self-doubt myself when I write but if I come at it with this direction, it should help me a lot more.

  • A lot of times I will tend to trash some or most of my writing because the vision I had was different vision of how the story would turn out, but it doesn’t turn out that way and I’ll decide to trash it

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