Self Doubt and the First Draft

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.  ~Sylvia Plath

I love this quote. I think it applies to every aspect of the work: the first time I get an idea, while I’m writing, while I’m trying to sell what I write. Self-doubt is one of the roads that can lead me away from the work I do. At worse, it is a distraction that makes me hesitate to take the next step with any project, and at worst it can plague a project with paralysis.

During a first draft is one of the most dangerous times to harbor self-doubt. As I write my latest novel, I am vigilant to keep self-doubt at bay. If I let it in, I might become distracted to the point of questioning every word I put down on paper, every scene, each character’s motivations. All of these questions are extremely valid, and all need to be addressed in drafts two, three, four and so on. Each question, if answered well, will lead to a better book. But if I become consumed with doubting myself and my work during a first draft, I might freeze up and the flow of creativity that I depend on, my connection to the Muse, might dry up.  If I let it, self-doubt could freeze this project until it never thawed.

So the trick is to turn my back on my doubts. Easier said than done, right? I think all artists have been there. I know all writers have. I find that the best and only solution to my doubts is to work through them. I acknowledge them as fellow travelers in the work of the book, I nod to them, and then I turn back to the work itself. I find that as long as I stay in the chair, I become engrossed step by step in the world my characters and I are creating together. And the more I work, the fewer doubts I have, until I am moving forward on schedule, watching as my characters and their world come to life.

For though self-doubt is paralyzing, joy in the work is energizing. During a first draft, I have to remind myself that this time of the work is only for me, that no one else gets to read it yet. The first draft is the only time my characters and I create alone together, with no need for editing or criticism or fear. The editing comes later, as well as constructive criticism. Fear is part of the journey, as is self-doubt. But so is joy. I find as I dive deeper and deeper into the novel my characters and I are creating, that joy is there, waiting for me.

6 Responses to “Self Doubt and the First Draft

  • I spent hours yesterday talking about this with my writing partner. How is it that we have to keep reminding ourselves to squash the self-doubt monster and just get the words on paper? I read a recent book by a religious writer and she said self-doubt is actually the devil. I don’t know if that is true, but it certainly helps when I think of doubt as something outside of myself, trying to undermine a good thing. It reminds me that what I’m doing is a good thing.

    I can’t wait to read whatever it is you write next, for whatever that’s worth. Happy Writing!

  • I hear you. It’s one of the reasons that I try not to edit while I’m working on the first draft. If I just keeping typing and hope the words come out, I’m okay. It’s when I read what I’ve written that the self-doubt creeps in.

  • What a fabulous post, Christy!

    As writers, we ALL struggle with this and it can snuff the very flame of our creativity, yet we carry on with hope until the moment of our greatest vulnerability arrives, when we seek validation and finally reveal the product created by our innermost being. This is where a trusted critique partner becomes a veritable lifeline for our muse.

    It’s so important to have a relationship with someone we can trust and who believes in our vision. But trusting the wrong person can be devastating.

    I have two partial manuscripts that I wrote off months ago because my former agent hated them. I have since changed agents and sold the first and now look forward to dusting off and polishing the second one. The moral of this story is that we all just need to keep believing in ourselves.

  • Christy
    9 years ago

    Ladies, you are wonderful friends. I am happy to hear we’ve all been in the same place, with the same road out. The work itself. Erika, what we’re doing really is a good thing. And Emery, you remind me that we need to keep faith with ourselves as we work. Congratulations on the new sale and the new agent!

  • Charlotte
    9 years ago

    I am in the midst of writing the first draft of my first book. And yes, the doubt tried to grab me, but I also believe the answer is to just get back into the work. Interesting to hear your comment on not sharing what you have written until you have completed the first draft. I wasn’t sure at what poin I wanted to get some feedback. I can certainly see the vaslue in a respected mentor or writing partner.

  • Christy
    9 years ago

    Charlotte, if you’ve got a very supportive early reader who is willing to tell you where the work is good, I think sharing part of a first draft is fine. But if they want to give you ideas at that point on how to improve it, it could interfere with your own flow and with the work as you need to do it the first time.

    Different people have different opinions on this subject, but mine is that it is good to treat your first draft like a pearl beyond price, a pearl to be handled by few in order to keep it gleaming. Once you hit draft two or three, feedback can be and often is a real blessing.

    Congratulations on your own work Please let us know when you’ve finished…I’ll open a bottle of virtual champagne in celebration with you. 🙂

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