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As writers, we don’t always go sanely toward our solutions. Instead, too often, we suffer toward them. Reasoned arguments are lost to us. Our little mental slot cars that get us from Chapter One to The End have flown off their tracks.

And, suddenly, everything we know is wrong.

There may be no worse feeling for a writer than suspecting that the thing we’ve done, the thing we’ve committed to, sweated over, felt such complete confidence for, is crap. And maybe not just the passage or the page, but the whole thing.


Each of us has a critical little gremlin on our heads that speaks to us as we write, and waits to have its say when we’re not. Is its voice right or wrong? Is this our surreptitious, lurking, ever-present self defeat getting the boot in? Or is truth and awareness speaking to us as frankly as it can?

If you’ve ever twisted the water out of a washcloth—if you were the washcloth, not the twister—you can imagine how writers feel at times like this. If you’ve ever walked a maze, lost, too far in to turn around, too anxious to continue, you know that there’s no easy way back.

We want to believe that a hard-won ability that lives under the surface of us. If we sink into black water, get in over our heads, we want to believe that that a foundation of craft or talent or instinct will give us a solid place to stand; a place to catch our breaths and recover. But sometimes our feet never touch down.

Better sense tells us that, with a little distance, a little more hard work, we can recover. We can see the story’s honest faults and fix them. But unlike the place of pain that yields answers—eventually—panic makes everything impossible. We flail. We get sucked under. We lose our direction and the will to find the surface. And we drown. We get eaten, as the Radiohead lyrics say, by weird fishes.

For writers, so completely defined by the act that drives us, this is a paralyzing, terrifying place. Without the writing, there is no us. The brilliant, three-dimensional world is still and grey. We float like ghosts in the airless space, not wholly dead and nowhere near alive.

So, in the midst of such a moment, I’m turning to this confessional. And here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to shut down the page and set the work aside. I’m going to eat something. Take deep breaths. Clean the apartment. And find the faith in myself that will let me see the work’s flaws with a cool, unhateful eye and find the whatever to address them.

Those weird fishes? They’re all around. The trick is to swim with them. And not be eaten alive.

UnknownThe truth of the writer is a phoenix-truth: every day we rise from the ashes of the previous day’s shortcomings. In each new day at the page, we have the chance to get it right. To do it better. To find the small, exquisite alchemies that bring us closer to the ideal that keeps us alive.

Tough task, that.

Doubt is built into who we are. We are our own mythical serpents, swallowing our better selves whole, from the tail up. Grace is tough to come by when we have a mouthful of our own refusal. And it’s nearly impossible to find self-forgiveness when we’re choking on our shortcomings.

I’d rather write, I tell myself, than spend time crafting a letter to the agents who will take this burden out of my hands. In the limited time (and with the more limited energy) I have to fight for a chapter or a paragraph or a sentence after the workday is done, I’d rather craft a half-assed few words than the other, hated task. I’ll tackle the submission letter when I’m done with this book. Or the next one.


I know that’s a procrastination, even though there is truth in it. And the procrastination is a knowledge as shaming as it is genuine. But how does one un-swallow one’s self? What happens to the writer if she succeeds, sadly, in consuming herself?

We do not vomit ourselves back into the world. We do not decide to untangle our lives as we seek to untangle the locked-in secrets of the story. We wish that someone were there to take the burden away. We are chewing on our own tails. And the bite sinks deep.

I am beset by a minor, lingering illness this morning. The voice that says “You’ll never.”

You’ll never be published. You’ll never be good enough. You can barely even succeed in getting friends to read you—how do you expect that anyone else will? It’s a small voice, that mean friend in the head. Willful and nasty. But, fortunately for today, it is a voice faint enough to be pushed aside.

I disdain “poor me”; I hate it worst in myself. It is, to be coarse about it, the boil on the butt of emotional well-being, sprouted there through a combination of relentless brain activity and suppressed doubt and…okay this is key…the point where the new book is not sufficiently untangled and I haven’t gathered the strength to start marketing out the old one.

What’s it like, being one of those who are so convinced of their ability that they never stall and always move forward?

You’ve got me.

I am not a member of that tribe. I was not born with that unshakable-confidence-bone in my head. At least, mine is a very malleable one. As I’ve said ad nauseum here, the outside world and I are not altogether on the best of terms.

And so, dear me, let it go. That’s the message of the day. You’ll never is a self-fulfilling prophecy, you know that. You’ll never is always the threshold to some great idea, the pain before the birth. You’ll never is stupid and self-undermining. You know that. You do.

Let it go. Let it go. Let it go. You’ll feel better once you do.

Had the first moment of self-doubt in the new book last evening.

It happens.

With all the demands and mental gymnastics about the move, I have not had the leisure for self-questioning. Each day and each week had something new and challenging in it; something unexpected. That is changing now.

The foundation-tremor came from the reading I’m doing. I am filling my head with thoughts of a world that is not exactly the world about which I’ll be writing…close but no cigar. I’m not sure that I like that world. If I don’t, why would anyone else?

As is my way when faced with a negativity, my head goes on overdrive…the writer’s way of trying to exercise control over a situation over which she may have none. The questions I ask myself give rise to others, and those to others still.

I stirred up the universe. And what came back surprised me. What came back taught me a huge lesson about the nature of what I value as a writer.

I wrote one question in my notebook:

Where is the wonder?

There it was, the lesson waiting to be discovered. In the genre-bending fiction that is mine, wonder is a necessary element. The flight of the questing self. The revealing of the greater us of our natures.

The doubt came not from the story (and the heights not yet discovered in it), but in the reading I’d been doing. I’ve been reading about a world that has a grounding in a social phenomenon, but not in the higher thing I’m seeking. The world I’ve been immersing myself in this very big book is not the world I’ll be writing about—a cousin who lives in the same mental neighborhood as the story’s deeper meaning, perhaps, but not in the same apartment. The first book I read, yes. The second, somewhat. This one less so. What led me down the doubt-path was the pages and pages of notes that the reading yielded…a gift that resembled the higher deeper thing that propels the desire to tell a story, but was not that thing.

First remedy (and it feels like the right one) was not to give up the reading, but to make sure I had the books that would give me my mid-course correction. I’d been trying to cook a soufflé using the recipe for stew. Why should I have been surprised that the damned thing wouldn’t rise?

Sometimes, all it takes is one. The one who believes in you when you do not. The one who believes in you more, sometimes, than you believe in yourself. The one who loves you when you do not.

Not crazy, blind belief, this. This is the faith in the whole of you that you—being so busy beating yourself up—have not allowed yourself to accept. The one who seems to know what good you are capable of, even when you don’t.

This is the friend with whom you are willing to trust your weaknesses. The one before whom you are willing to lay down the illusion of strength that you carry masklike before you; the one before whom you are willing to lower your guard and let the tears come.

The one you hope will never disappear from your life as, daily, they never leave your heart.

The friend whose virtues you wish you had…the one whose wholeness you hope you can always deliver back with equal richness and generosity and faith, offering all the gifts they have given you.

If you are very, very lucky, you have a friend like that. If you are luckier still, you have several.

This was the friend that Kristina was last night. The friend she has always been.

In a world filled with doubt, thank you, Glorious, for being the country in my heart on which no doubt can live.

Woke to the sound of thunder. Went out and stood in the rain, like someone who had never seen the stuff (sadly true.) The grey of the sky is beautiful in its rarity; a sky that is, for a while at least, not a dare.

The day is a metaphor for what I face on the page, that desire to look at a bigger sky; the realization that I can. My own writer-advice has been tough to follow. Look at the bigger theme of the chapter, I tell this blogspace. Use the overall import/impact of the chapter to drive you. Write to the idea, not the individual word.

Follow your own advice, Lynn.

When the ground upon which one walks is uneven, one tends to fix on the space that will receive the next footstep—to stay steady, to keep one’s balance. The page is like life, that way. Losing the greater meaning, the direction, is too sadly easy when one stands on uneven life-ground. And stepping back for a better perspective: impossible.

The character…it’s me. The plot, my life. The perspective, mine to find. For now, there is a small, welcome joy in this grey day. A day different than the one before, different than the one that will come after. The sky as a metaphor for my life.

Don’t know about you. Don’t know whether this is the Condition of All Writers, or just the Condition of Me…but moments of doubt have been leaving messages, lately, on my mental answering machine.

These are the moments of whaaaa’? Moments of what-am-I-doing? Moments of uncertainty. And they are not my friends.

These moments are useful, sometimes. Educational. And wretched. They co-exist with moments of wide-eyed delight and cool-eyed assessment. They make us better writers. And they make us miserable.

“Have confidence in your talent,” came the advice from a cherished mentor, “and keep moving.”

Easy to say. Less easy to do, sometimes.

One wants to be confident. One wants to recognize that what one feels today, is not what one will feel tomorrow. Or even in ten minutes. One wonders how it is that other folks manage that strength that lets them proceed with unquestioned confidence; how others recover from the daily setbacks that are the built-ins of a writer’s life. How does one deal with the “might be” when the “is” is not enough?

Whence comes the strength to cope?

So here are the questions of the day: How do you deal with the writerly downs of yourself? How do you recover?

Let me hear from you.

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