Thursday, January 6, 2011

Making Doubt Useful

Ah, doubt, that evil monster that pulls us to the ground and makes us cower in a corner. We’ve all felt it. We all hate it.

But I believe every bad quality can be turned into a good quality and vice versa. (Except cruelty and goodness. They stay in their own categories.) Example: being stubborn and being confident and firm in your beliefs is mostly the same thing.

In the same vein, doubt can be helpful.

I never had any doubt that Sacred Fire would at least be a good story. I always believed the subject was strong and would resonate with people. If I doubted that, it would have kept me from writing. That would be bad.

I did, however, doubt the quality of my writing enough to get help from other writers. This doubt allowed people to critique my work and made me a stronger writer.

Being in the awkward query phase naturally involves a lot of doubt and second-guessing. I hear stories about writers getting requests for partials from half of the agents they send their work to (which isn't the norm, but it's more common than I thought it would be). After forty rejections and only two requests, which turned into rejections, I'm beginning to think I'm doing something wrong.

I could handle this doubt productively or destructively.

Bad: I could chew on my nails and worry over it. I could lose confidence. I could lose sleep. I could be less aggressive with my letters and sending them could become a miserable drag. I could annoy my friends and family by whining incessantly. I could lose interest in my next novel because my last one hasn’t paid off. I could give up entirely.

Good: I could question the quality of my query letter. I could re-read the first few chapters of my book and get more advice. I could do more research into agents and make sure I’m sending my work to the right people and I'm sending it the right way. I could do more research into submissions and what agents look for. I could learn more about the market. I could put more effort into my second book just in case my first never gets published. I could doubt the quality of my writing in general and take a writing class and read writing books to improve the quality of my second book.
Teralyn Rose Pilgrim Teralyn Pilgrim
Not only is doubt useful, it’s essential. Writers who have no doubts about themselves don’t improve, don’t learn, and don’t produce good work. Then they get frustrated that the world doesn’t believe in them as strongly as they believe in themselves. Writers who feel too much doubt don't write anything at all, and something is always better than nothing. If you feel crippling doubt, try to turn it into a resource and a motivator.


  1. I personally would like a copy. Print it out and send it to me. I read the first part and want to read the rest. Thanks for the teaser.

  2. Okay, so now I really want to read your book.

    Great point about every quality being able to be turned around, even essential.

    Have a great weekend!


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