Whenever I think of doubt in the context of writing, I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes: “Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.” E. B. White, a celebrated author, certainly knew what he was talking about. Any writer who has ever been brave enough to construct a work of art out of words understands that it takes courage to believe in something unseen – to attempt to convey those thoughts to another human soul.
The most important time of my writing life was during college when I was bravely undertaking a degree in Creative Writing. College is already a time for soul-searching. Add to that a high degree of personal criticism and a need for the validation of praise from others, and you get a fair picture of my early days as an undergraduate writer.
I think the main issue with writing in such a volatile environment was just that I saw no way out of the cycle. I’d write something that I believed in with all my heart (no matter how trite or illiterate it sounds when I read the same piece today). Then I’d bare my soul in front of the audience I’d chosen only to find out that they didn’t even connect with my name on the author line, much less the witty title and open-ended final line.
It wasn’t until I started formulating ideas for my senior thesis that I had the epiphany that it wasn’t the readers that were the issue; it was me!
Somewhere along the road of writing form poems and short stories with first person protagonists I’d lost faith in the act. I still defined myself as “writer,” took notes at every craft lecture on prose writing, and dreamed about the day I’d finally get back to writing my fantasy epic (which I’d been writing since age 15). But I’d begun to see myself through other peoples’ eyes.
I really thought I had no sense of language and that the only characters I could write were sappy Hallmark-movie types with one dimensional conflicts. Worst of all, I began to see all writing as a trick, and I was never going to be good at it. I thought, might as well leave it to the geniuses – the Tolkiens and the Austens of our generation.
My thesis was different.
I was writing about a young woman very much like me, who grew up in my hometown of Alpharetta, GA. Even though I started out fearing the reactions of my mentors and peers, I ended up turning the story into a way to deal with my own fear: not having support from people I love to do the things I love most. The result was overwhelming support.
After that point, the writing was and still is for me, just as much as it is for my readers. If I don’t savor every sentence right down to the punctuation, how can I expect readers to respond?
I don’t have to be a prodigy or a clever wordsmith as long as I took the next step of faith into the unknown.
The path is narrow for those who truly want to be great writers. I still struggle with how I allow my readers’ opinions to taint my own view of my work. But I have made significant strides toward separating me from my text.
Every sentence I write now is a declaration of hope, and every word is a new beginning.
I’m participating in a writing contest called ‘Overcoming Writer’s Doubt’ held by Positive Writer. The whole idea behind it struck me as important: to remind writers that they are not alone and to encourage writers to work past doubt. Follow the link to read the other entries!