First the bad news: All writers deal with doubt.
I repeat: If you’re an artist committed to your craft, you will experience doubt.
The “what if” doubts: What if my writing isn’t any good? What if no one wants to read it? What if nobody wants to publish it?
The comparison doubts: They’re all better than me! What am I even doing here? I’m an imposter. I’m a hack.
And the deep, dark night of the soul doubts: Maybe I’m not supposed to be a writer after all. Maybe I should quit.
And all these doubts boil down to the big one: I’m not good enough.
Doubt also comes for the musicians, the painters, the filmmakers, the actors, the dancers, the comedians, the photographers:
All of them–ALL of them--experien doubt.
Making art, especially if we are embarking on something big like writing a book, keeps us endlessly humble. Was Margaret Atwood pinching herself as she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale? I doubt it. Was Toni Morrison feeling like TheBomb.com while she was writing Beloved? Was Pollock patting himself on the back as he poured paint? Or were these three, and every artist before and after, seized with doubts and insecurity as they wondered what kind of monster am I creating?
I’m guessing the latter.
So if you are wracked with doubts, especially if you are out in the deep waters and taking real artistic risks–remember: doubt comes with the territory.
Or does it?
A movie I love that puts doubt in brilliant perspective is Florence Foster Jenkins,which is based on the true story of the woman by the same name. Florence (played brilliantly by Meryl Streep) fancies herself an aspiring opera singer. But she is terrible. Awful. But she’s also rich, and a patron of the arts, so she forges ahead—doubt free. A sort of “ignorance is bliss” situation. And, in the course of her “career”, she records albums and even fills Carnegie Hall in New York City—without ever knowing she can’t sing.
Here she is singing the “Queen of the Night” aria: hilarious.
I would argue that while her operatic performance was not good, the standing ovation she receives is genuine–the people of Carnegie Hall were not applauding her beautiful voice (as she mistakenly thinks) but they ARE enthusiastically applauding her brazen courage. Her absolute shining, all-in heart. Despite her lack of talent, we can all find something to love in the pure audacity of her art—the child singing at the top of their lungs before they have ever begun to doubt themselves.
And, if lack of doubt made a woman like Florence bold enough to sell out Carnegie Hall, imagine what too many doubts might do to a person instead?? Most of us don’t have a team of advisors shielding us from bad reviews or paying audiences not to laugh.
Doubt keeps us from being all in. We hang out around the edges, circling the pool but never getting all the way in.
Which begs the question: What would you do if you had no doubts?
What might you write if you could be as bold and fearless in the creative arena as the child who has never learned to judge her work? Who just boldly grabs a marker and claims a piece of blank paper: I am here. I exist.
What might you create if you could had the courage to risk boldly and fail beautifully? What would happen if you went out into the deep waters of your own artistic possibility, far enough out that you could no longer see the shore? What could you create from there? And what if feeling doubt means you’re close; maybe the stronger the doubt…the more important it IS to proceed?
Now I don’t mean to suggest we should be oblivious to the quality of our own work or make no effort to improve. But most of us are not in danger of overindulging our creativity–most of us exist on the other end of that continuum, strangling possibility because we don’t know how it will be received, drowning the seeds of potentiality with doubt because we don’t know what might grow. Most of us are battling the Monkey of Doubt on our backs, not the other way around.
So again I ask: What would you write if you had no doubts?
And…what if you could begin today?
Wishing you radical inspiration and creative audacity in everything you do.