In the Shadow of Doubt

I don’t know anyone who isn’t touched by the political and social turmoil going on in the country right now. For me, the disappointment and anger at the election, the subsequent awful things happening within our government, and the continual worry that marginalized people are not going to be protected have weighed heavy in my mind for months.

I’ve tried to be proactive about my worry: protesting, making calls and writing letters to my representatives, joining organizations that help marginalized people, donating when I can, being present at events to show support to people who need it.

The work of pushing back at all the bad I see is not that exhausting because being with other people who are also working to those ends is encouraging and invigorating (being an ambivert does have its advantages). But the worry, the mental strain, and the necessary constant vigilance is like air drying out clay, making me brittle and crumbly all around (shout out to Mad Eye Moody – no wonder he was a little cracked). All of this is in addition to my personal life, which has seen its fair share of extra stress lately. I already deal with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, and the combined strain of everything near and far is making it difficult to keep it (me) together.

So how in the world am I supposed to write? This is a question I’ve seen many writers struggling with. And like many, I am in a valley, not on a mountaintop, when it comes to my relationship with writing. Which leads me to a scarier question:

Am I cut out to be a writer at all?

This valley that I mentioned, I feel like I’ve been in it for a while. If you name a method of writing, of ways to get words on the page, I’ve tried it. Nothing, literally not one of them, has stuck. Even in days of less stress and worry, I’m terrible about actually doing the work. Maybe it’s just that my life and my brain are too scattered and messy for anything resembling discipline, plans, and good habits.

Or maybe…maybe I just can’t hack it.

Maybe I’m not supposed to be a writer.

And that, my friends, is a terrible thought. If I’m not supposed to be a writer, why do I have stories and characters and scenes filling my brain when they get a chance? I may not have a great process that helps me fill blank pages, but planning what I’m going to write and creating characters and settings and plot lines is something I do all the time.

So I don’t think I could ever stop being a writer, even if I tried to quit. Knowing that is nice, but it doesn’t help me with my main problem: the physical act of writing, specifically, finishing a novel. It is quite possible that I’m not cut out to write novels. It is a lot, a lot, a lot of work, and as I said before, my life and brain are not wired to do anything that requires good habits and personal discipline. But I still love doing it, even if I’m not great at getting it done.

When I dug deeper, I realized I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to conform to this idea that I have of what being a writer is, and that by not living up to that imagined standard, I’ve opened up this floodgate of guilt and doubt. I’ve structured my life in such a way that the things that I believe need doing, for both the wider world and the people in my life, should take the top priority, not writing.

But if writing isn’t my most important thing, does that mean it is just my hobby? Does that mean I don’t take it seriously enough? Does that mean that because I don’t treat writing like a job, I won’t ever “make it” (whatever that means to me)?

These questions bothered me until I removed the self-imposed pressure. And once removed, the answer I discovered was: Who cares! So what if my writing looks like just a hobby on the outside; I know I take it seriously, even if I can’t devote as much time to it as I wish I could. I also know that I’d rather my novel take me way longer to complete than to give it up all together.

So I’ve decided to stop pressuring myself to be the kind of writer that I am not and to stop feeling guilty when things aren’t happening as quickly as I would like them to. I know what kind of outcome I would like to see when I finish my novel, and I’ve set goals for myself, but I have also made peace with the fact that this valley may be all I experience for a while.

I’ve decided to enjoy the journey instead of fretting about when it will end. I will do what I set out to accomplish, even if it takes longer than my doubt tells me it should.

Doubting myself is okay, but I won’t allow my doubts to tell me who or what I am.

I am a writer, one thought, one word, at a time.

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