My next guest is a good online friend: PNR/UF writer Casey Wyatt. Casey is here to talk about our muse’s dark shadow — the Doubt Monster. Who of us hasn’t doubted our work, our characters, our premises, or our path from time to time? Sometimes it’s easier to silence the beast than others. Casey’s post reminds everyone that we’re not alone in feeling doubt — and she shares some ways to banish it. Welcome, Casey!
Many creative types proclaim that they have a Muse – a benevolent entity that encourages the artist and nourishes the soul, allowing magical prose to flow from his or her fingertips like golden honey down a river of . . . blah, blah, flowery words, blah, blah.
Me and a Muse? No such luck. Instead, I have a Doubt Monster. In fact, if I ever had a Muse, I’m pretty sure the Doubt Monster ate her a long time ago.
What is a Doubt Monster? Let me introduce you.
The Doubt Monster is that nagging feeling while writing that your prose is terrible, your plot is silly, your characters are insipid and no one in their right mind would read this drivel, let alone buy it. Definition courtesy of Jen Moncuse.
In my case, the greedy Doubt Monster messes with my confidence and rears his ugly head (yes, I believe it’s a male – no clue why, honest) at various times in the writing process. Sometimes, he nags me constantly like my brain has been Rick-rolled by an earworm (you know, an irritating song that repeats in your head over and over).
What? That never happens to you? Never mind, then.
Other times, he appears sporadically. If I’m lucky, he won’t show up until I’m almost done with the first draft.
So what attracts the Doubt Monster?
(Besides Rick Astley lyrics)
In my experience, lack of certainty creates openings for the sneaky cretin. Observe:
- If your self-confidence is shot. Hello, Doubt Monster.
- If you received a rejection letter. Hello, Doubt Monster.
- If you received a bad contest score or one star review. Hello, Doubt Monster.
- If you receive an awesome five star review. Hello, Doubt Monster. (Yes, success can also freak you out with an – “OMG, how will I ever top this story? I will never write anything good again” – moment).
- If your family doubts you. Say it with me – Hello, Doubt Monster!
- If you’re like me, and you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop or you just expect that what you’re working on will suck at some point – yeah, yeah, Hello, #@!# Doubt Monster!
And the Doubt Monster doesn’t prey exclusively on unpublished writers. Once you’re published, he has even more confidence busting fodder to torment you with! Even multi-published, NY Times, award-winning authors battle the beast.
So how do you combat this annoying creativity killer?
Don’t Feed the Monster!
As with any problem, identification is the key.
- Admit you have a problem. And take it seriously. Yup, it’s that simple. Consider the possibility that you’re staring at a blank page because you’re suffering from self-doubt. If you’re lazy, sorry. Can’t help you with that one. Maybe consider not being a writer, ‘cause, you know, writing requires self-discipline and actual work. Just throwing that out there!
- When you are in “the creative mind” – anything should be possible and telling yourself that your ideas are dumb or won’t work is not helpful. Really. Sit back and play out those ideas to their logical conclusion. Do they work? Do you like it? Does it move the plot along? Even if it doesn’t – write it down. You know the old adage – you can’t edit a blank page!
- Confront your Doubt Monster and root him out. What stage of writing are you in? Are you allowing your inner editor to stomp on your creative process? Do you fear imminent arrest by the Grammar Police? If yes, remember you’re not in English class anymore. You don’t have to have perfect sentences or perfect grammar while you’re drafting your story. First draft = word vomit! And that is fine!!
- Are you worried about what everyone else will think? At this stage in writing, do not think about your critique group, readers, the marketplace or much of anything else real world related. And, seriously, who cares what anyone else thinks?
- Tell old Doubty to shut it. Don’t feel guilty about it. You can’t hurt his feelings. See # 4.
- Do not stop writing. Ever. That is the worst thing you can do. If you are truly stuck, work on something else for a little bit. Take a walk, read, go the movies, clean your closet. Whatever floats your boat.
Who’s seen Men In Black 3? There is a great scene in the movie where J &K are stuck trying to figure out the enemy’s next move. Agent K says – “let’s have pie.” Meaning, they will eat a piece of pie and discuss anything but the case. Believe it or not, this really does work (well, you don’t have to have pie). Sometimes, in order to solve a problem, you have to let your subconscious work it out. Doing an alternate activity and letting your mind wander can help silence the Doubt Monster.
Which leads me to my next point . . . sometimes you need to listen to the Doubt Monster.
Wait! What?? But you just said –
– Yes, I know. There are times when you should heed the Doubt Monster’s warnings. He or she is not always wrong to make you question your work. One way to test the validity of the DM is to ask a non-writer to read your finished work. I find it helpful to use first readers whenever I complete a draft. They are not writers, but friends who will be honest and read extensively in the genre I write in.
During editing, let the Doubt Monster play all he wants. This is the time to question your plotline, pacing, word choices, and story flow. The DM can be the voice of reason. Think of it as the same instinct that prevents you from engaging in dangerous activities like jumping off a cliff or leaving your house in nothing but your underwear.
Over time, the more you write the more you’ll find a happy medium. And, I have discovered that some stories are more prone to attacks of the Doubt Monster. Many times, those books turn out to be better stories in the end and that’s a goal even the Doubt Monster can get behind!
Jill, thank you so much for having me as your guest today!
If anyone has questions or wants to share their experiences with the Doubt Monster, please share!
Casey Wyatt has no personal knowledge of the paranormal, but she hopes someday that may change. If there are ancient Gods, elves or satyrs living nearby, they’re more than welcome to visit. Bring pizza and chocolate please! Her paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels have won or placed in numerous RWA contests. When not writing, Casey enjoys time with her family, loves to read, and enjoys knitting and crocheting. She lives in a bustling Connecticut town with her husband, two sons and an assortment of pets (none of which are shape-shifters). Visit Casey on the web at:
When’s the last time the Doubt Monster stalked you? Were you able to banish him? If so, how’d you do it? For me, I feel the strongest and most confident creatively when I am totally caught up in my own story. When I’m so focused on building the world, weaving the plot, and living inside the heads of my characters, that I don’t worry about how the novel will be received after it’s written. Self-censorship can be a killer. In the first draft stage, jettison that beastly baggage and give your muse free rein. Thank you to Casey for guest blogging today!