Thursday, March 12, 2015

Why Some Doubt Is a Good Thing

That's right, I said it.

Because it's true.

But let me clarify something: while some doubt is good, too much doubt is bad. Confidence is also key, but over-confidence is dangerous.

Here's the thing: doubt allows you to question your novel on a personal level, which seems really counter-intuitive even to me (given that my biggest piece of advice when writers are writing or editing is that you typically need to distance yourself from it and look at what you've written critically).

That's important, too, don't get me wrong; like I said, distancing yourself from your novel is good when you're in the nitty-gritty editing phase, because it allows you to make difficult decisions about your manuscript.

Looking at your writing on a personal level, however, presents you with the opportunity to trust your gut. If you're in the middle of a scene and get the feeling that this just doesn't feel right, that's the healthy dose of doubt I'm talking about: the ability to recognize when your writing takes a wrong turn, whether in terms of plot, character, pacing, or any other story element. Writing is something that ultimately comes from a less logical place than editing: when you're editing, you look at the logistics of your novel; when you're writing, you're trying to capture the right tone and feel while you try to make all of the pieces fit the right way.

So if you look back at your writing and have some doubts on a character's choice, a scene's setting, the direction your plot goes, it's completely healthy. Send it to a critique partner that you trust, and ask them what they think. Tell them about those doubts. They're healthy, and they ultimately mean that something's not translating the right way between your head and the page, which is something you should pay attention to as the author.

That being said, doubt becomes unhealthy when you go from questioning the craft, to insulting it. Don't put yourself down, and don't put your writing down.

So have some confidence in yourself, and have some confidence in your writing. Doubt it in all the right places, because it'll help you learn and grow. It's that simple.

Care to weigh in? When does doubt start to weigh you down too much, and how do you pull yourself out?

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Why is some doubt a good thing when writing? It allows you to question your novel on a personal level (Click to Tweet)

Have confidence in your writing, but remember to listen to your gut. Why @Rae_Slater says some doubt is a good thing (Click to Tweet)


  1. When I imagine the reader reading, I imagine them doing one of three things: reading with keen interest, reading with growing revulsion, or reading with the growing desire to skip ahead.

    I'm terrified of them skipping ahead!

    So I pull up my brain and we make the writing awesome for the reader. Gruesome, perhaps, but awesome.

    When I sense that I am just writing in order to fill up the paragraph because there should be a paragraph, I put the pen down and try to imagine the reader coming to that paragraph. Will they skip ahead? Already I know the answer, and the paragraph goes to the trash, promptly erased.

    1. I am in complete agreeance: you don't want the reader to desire to skip ahead! Unless, of course, it's because of the suspense...but not because the current scene or writing isn't "good."

      Really, everything you said is a great process: if you eel like you're writing a scene just to fill space, then the scene doesn't belong there. See? That's when you're doubting yourself: always trust your writer's gut :)