Part the Fourth: The Doubt
We had it easy as kids. The monsters lived in closets and under beds, and they were easy to thwart. Your blankets were impenetrable shields, and you could always use a chair or a triangle of wood to make the closet door do your bidding. Boo-yah!
Who cares if there are monsters if they can’t get you? I personally lay there under my covers taunting them. Describing in detail all the parts of me they’d never get to taste. Hearing the muffled groans and stomach rumblings that told me I’d not only thwarted them, I sent them running home hungry and humiliated. Besting monsters is quite satisfying.
Eventually they got tired of being losers, picked on by the other monsters at school (or work or wherever monsters go in the daytime to lick their wounds and tell lies to each other about what they wish they did). And they left me.
Or so I thought.
Until I answered the calling of writer. That’s when I realized that the monsters didn’t run away at all. They just went for reinforcements. Big brother high school dropouts with a real mean streak. The kind of uncles who hide in the bushes and turn the hose on you … in the dead of winter. And no matter how many of them there are, they all go by a single name: The Doubt.
I only wished it was the hose.
The first real doubt I remember was something like a hundred pages into my first book. A good idea that never saw the light of day—always figured I’d go back and revisit it sometime.
It was a brief, fleeting thought. But is stung like a barbed fishing hook, snagged and went in deeper when I tried to pull it free. “You just wasted weeks of your life,” it whispered. “Who do you think you’re fooling? You’re no writer.”
The Doubt is cruel. It lies, but the lies are so personal, so debilitating, and so easy to believe. The publishing industry is a hard place, full of careless rejection. Talented people get rejected just as callously and frequently as people who couldn’t string three words together into a cry for help. It’s hard. It’s unfair. And it allows every doubt to say the worst to you. About you. So that when that rejection comes, The Doubt says, “See? Told you so.”
Any writer who doesn’t struggle with The Doubt is either a) not a writer at all, or b) drunk or insane. There is no c).
I know I’ve told this story before, but Stephen King said that when he started writing, he hung his rejection letters on a nail. And when there were too many for the nail to hold, he pulled it out and drove a spike into the wall.
And kept hanging ’em.
Until he didn’t have to anymore.
We’ll talk more about this next time.