A Few Days of Crippling Self-Doubt

Writers (and other creative people) have this thing where we usually doubt ourselves. A lot. I can’t even quite explain to someone who doesn’t fight with this just how much we doubt.

This is me. Except, you know, without the book deal to soften the feelings.

I love Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s work. SO MUCH. Everyone should be reading her stuff. (Click on the comic and it will take you over to her site.)

My confidence in being a writer and in trying to become a well-published writer has its hills and valleys. There’s pretty much always a quiet voice in the back of my mind that asks me what I think I’m doing. Couldn’t my time be spent on something with a more guaranteed outcome? Like theoretical physics?

About a week ago that voice got really, really loud. I’m putting myself, my work out there more than I ever have, and I’m feeling really beat up. Normally rejections don’t bother me too much. I know that even the most successful poets out there get their share of them. I didn’t even get a rejection today. But a part of me wonders if there is any place for me and my work out there. I get just enough feedback to know that I’m definitely not a terrible writer, but not enough to encourage me that I’m good enough or could be good enough to really make it. That I’ll be stuck splashing in the kiddie pool of poetry forever and never be allowed in the real water. And, well, lately I’ve been letting myself wallow in the hurt of that feeling. Maybe letting it take over for a bit will help me kick these deep down, sick-to-my-stomach blues.

Getting Out of the Funk

Cookies help. A local grocery store has had these green sprinkled sugar cookies in their bakery for St. Patrick’s Day and I admit to a slight obsession with them. I have gone through two dozen of them (with minimal help from others) and am already mourning the empty spot on the counter where they sat now that I have no more.

There was pie on pi day, but alas, that is gone as well. (Anyone else have a raging sweet tooth when feeling down?)

I’ve slept a lot. That’s largely due to autoimmune issues wiping out my energy, but not pushing yourself too hard when already out of sorts is a good thing too.

There has been comfort food. Everything from simple ‘minimal cooking effort’ like the pulled pork sandwiches we made the other night to ‘childhood throwbacks’ like macaroni and sliced up hot dogs which I fixed for myself on an evening when the hubby was out of the house.

The dog and I have taken little neighborhood walks every day that it hasn’t been totally frigid. (Temperatures here keep swinging anywhere between 30 and 80°F.) It helps her with pent up energy and it gets me moving which is, I am told, a good thing.

Pretty much I did my best to keep from pushing myself too hard. I let myself exist for awhile.

Finally the urge to see things on paper again took over and even though it’s never as easy as I’d like it to be, I started writing.

Moving On

Last night I showed my husband my writing journal after spending a large chunk of the evening with pen in hand. I showed him the page where I began writing a particular poem. The page was full, but it was just line after line, looking more like prose than poetry. This is only one step above a blank page for me. I’m just throwing words on paper. A semi-train-of-thought monologue of mostly useless work.

Then I showed him the page I’d been working on the most that night. Same poem, carried over, and the page was a MESS. Lines were starting to appear. Still lots of prose-looking stuff. So many things crossed out. Arrows drawn all over the page to notate where words should be going. Sometimes crossing those out and drawing arrows back to where they started from. A good portion of my handwriting gone from ‘slightly careless but easily legible letters’ to ‘what exactly is that squiggle and how do you say there are seven letters in there?’

This stage is the next best thing to ‘complete’ for me. It means things are taking shape and starting to tell me where I’m going with it all. It’s like looking at the ultrasound and going, “So THAT’S what a baby looks like!” after spending a long time going “Well there’s technically a ball of cells inside doing… something.”

I’m still feeling low. I’m still feeling beat up. I’m still feeling a bit like ‘why bother’. But I still have some submissions out in the vast ocean of journals and I’m slowly working on having new ones ready by the end of the month. I hope this year to receive a single email saying “Ah, yes, this. We like this. We’re publishing this.”

But while I wait (and dare to hope), I am writing. I am writing because I need to spill over onto the page. Because everything gets too loud in my head if I don’t. And because even if no one wants to read it or publish it, I have stories to tell. Isn’t that why we all write?



4 thoughts on “A Few Days of Crippling Self-Doubt

  1. Lissa, I get this. I feel this. I know you now.

    Same symptoms, different place. For me, the long winter has me eating, sleeping, doubting. It’s not quite depression but it is a bone-weary numb. Exercise helps. Resting, reading and allowing helps. And then, finally, returning to the page. But you know this.

    The thing that has made the biggest difference for me is re-thinking my measure of success. At one time getting published in literary journals was my goal. But then when I did get published, I’d move the goal. Not just any journal would do, I needed “that’ journal (much like your comic strip) . . . and I would sabotage my joy. I had to find what really moved me, what kept me writing, what made me feel good.

    For me, it was “bringing poetry to the people” — out of the journal or academic setting and into real life — working with children, community centers, workshops, fairs. I feel most alive when poetry is part of the everyday, and when others catch the enthusiasm for the power of words and expression.

    So, that’s my long story. I know you’ll find your place in the poetry world; just be sure to look outside the usual circles.

    Be well. Write on.

    • Ahh… the bone-weary numb. *winces* It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it and it’s extra sticky to try to chase away.

      Thank you so much for your comment. Your words uplifted me and I am happy to see that you are finding what makes you feel good, what your place is (for now) in the poetry world. You’re right. Sometimes the real end goal, the meaningful one, isn’t what it appears to be when we first set out.

      May the springtime help warm your spirits!

  2. Rejections are so hard, but then again so is writing. My biggest battles come from within – my inner critic is brutal and it’s tough to move past that. But somehow I do and I keep writing. 🙂

    • You’re absolutely right, it isn’t just the rejections that can be hard. I wish you the best in battling your inner critic. I love the work you’ve shared with us on your blog and I look forward to seeing your first publication released! I know you’ve been working on it.

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