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Writers Doubt This

by Elly Brosius, M.S.

If a writing project has carried you into a place of confusion and doubt, congratulations and keep going. That dark place might be crushing you, and it might just be crucial for creating an unusually fine product. Try showing it some hospitality.

The piece in question might have to get where it’s going in it’s own time. It might have to be something a bit or quite different. If you keep going, you may not even recognize where you end up until you get there and it feels like home. Keep the faith in the finish; release some ideas you had at the start.

In his book The Fifth Agreement, don Miguel Ruiz depicts doubt as a tool to discern the truth. “Doubt takes us behind the words we hear to the underlying real message or intent.” He continues, doubt “makes you responsible for every message you deliver and receive,” and that’s where the stress lies. Projects get stuck. Some thing or some direction of the piece or your self talk about it isn’t ringing true to you or the final product. The upside is the upset brings the energy needed to keep moving through to create the words and feelings of “The End.”

Writer’s doubt is a common experience, a common, awful experience. Every time it happens, it is so uncomfortable one can’t fathom it might well be the next and normal step to evolving themselves and/or their project. It scares, frustrates, and confuses. Encouraging blogs and writing classes have great tips, but, even with such help, writing paralysis or destruction can prevail.

Writers doubt that doubt has purpose, or, at least, that it can be channeled to advantage. Doubt is not, however, some simple lever-like tool you can use to pry out your next sentence. Doubt is heavy machinery from the intuition power tool workshop. Sometimes power tools are intimidating or impossible to wield. Sometimes they hurt the user or people nearest. Often they are fundamental to building amazing works of art and function.

Bloggers with tips for the dilemmas of doubt are sharing them in a “Writers Crushing Doubt” contest by Positive Writer. This is my contest entry. Read all entries at

Writer’s doubt descends upon me usually after I’ve written to abundance and culled enough to start sensing satisfaction, when I can see being done if only I could connect the loose ends. When they are not fit to be tied, I get angry and lose my flow trying to force my original ideas into fruition.

The harder I try the cloudier it all gets. Doubts reign. I question until I question everything. I wonder if the work could have any use to anyone. The clouds only clear when I realize my confusion is a reflection of something off in the writing that demands clarity now for my future audience even if I don’t know what that is yet.

The writing assignment I first cared enough to confuse myself to the core for was in twelfth grade English class taught by Dr. Brown, a petite woman with a pixie haircut who made small earrings look big. She commanded our attention and respect for her title.

It was an uncomfortable class demanding personal growth with a teacher reaching in to know us, reading into the stories of our lives. I found myself frustrated, frightened, and infuriated with the grades she gave. I struggled to understand what the doctor needed from me for things to be well. I couldn’t see how weak my self expression was. I used school to grow and learn, but also to avoid thinking about home and health problems, emotional and spiritual issues that would take 20 years to begin to sort.

A book report assignment became my self-imposed proving ground for figuring out how to write in her class. I don’t recall the book. I recall the intensity, the shaking, cold sweating, soreness, the driving effort, and collapsing into confusion.

I read, and when I thought I understood, I wrote. Writing led to knowing I didn’t yet understand so I read and researched more. The more I researched, the more clear things seemed. The more I wrote, the more I had to rewrite and remove what didn’t matter anymore.

Desperate for a grade above average, a zero for giving up not being an option, I summoned additional adrenaline to keep going. Finally, I wondered if writing about the confusing and conflicted ideas I now held were the point, the crux to write about. I couldn’t stand firm on just one thing the author said. The story was messy, complicated, rich, and all aspects needed their due.

I detached, wrote more free of judgment, included more observation and less concrete conclusion. I found an end. It was different than anything I’d ever written or expected I’d write. I was out of time and out of ideas for simplifying. I couldn’t go back to floating on the surface or circling a singularity of a subject. I had put enough hours and life force in for ten assignments and a new truth about things being less black or white for me had emerged from the deep. While the specifics of that paper remain out of focus in my mind, I can still see in crisp clear lines the tiny red 95 returned in its upper left margin.

photo of woman inviting one into her front door
Doubt brings great gifts. Let it enter to win.©Piotr Marcinski via Adobe Stock

Confusion and doubt tooled me. They began my writing evolution, prepared me to eventually use them as tools. Doubt impressed upon me then and numerous times since its value as a guidance system. It does seem counterproductive to be a welcoming and grateful host to such a dreadful feeling meaning
there is more work to be done. But after bouts with doubt show no progress, be inviting. Let doubt tool you for certain change.

©Elly Brosius, 2016. All rights reserved. Excerpting is allowed with credit and direction to original content. For reprint permission, Featured photo ©krung99 via Adobe Stock.

One thought on “Writers Doubt This”

  1. Excellent article showing doubt as a tool in writing to become more creative, a problem solver. An easy read with great ideas.

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