My family members are ever-present observers of my creative process. Often, when I complain about feeling blocked on a project or feeling doubt about whether I can complete a project, they nod knowingly.
“Oh, that stage,” they say. “You’ve been here before.”
At that point, I typically rant, explaining how this time is different. How they don’t know what they’re talking about – until I think it through.
Each time I face doubt, it feels like a fresh, impossible challenge. So I spent the last few weeks pondering the role of doubt in my creative process. Upon reflection, I’ve noticed two main stages where doubt can creep in.
First, there’s the restless stage. I may have writer’s block. I may say that I have nothing to write about. I may worry that I’ll never have another “good” idea.
If I do have a writing idea, I may procrastinate. I want to write, but all I seem to do is complain about writing and how hard it is. I may compare myself to other writers and idealize their creative processes.
The good news is that this stage usually precedes a time of focus, when I dive into a new project, commit to it, and write madly.
At some point in a project, maybe mid-way, I may lose focus and doubt myself. How will I end this book? What if I can’t actually write it? What if I fail?
The good news is that this stage usually precedes a leap of courage, where I dive back into the project, taking risks, exploring ideas, and immersing myself in it once again. (See my post Stuck in the Messy Middle? My Tips for Completing a First Draft for suggestions on how to handle this stage.)
I must admit that my family is right. I’ve hit similar stages of doubt on many of my projects.
Identifying these stages is a good first step to understanding them. Doubt seems to have some role in my creative process, and perhaps this is true for other writers too. I suppose that a healthy dose of skepticism helps me to evaluate a work-in-progress. It helps me to think harder and search deeper than I would otherwise have done. I ask questions that I don’t know the answers to. I expose the vulnerable side of my creative self. I explore the uncomfortable.
That’s when writing feels hard. When I can become blocked. Yet doubt seems to have value in the creative growth of a project.
Maybe I need to embrace doubt with an open mind. Maybe I’m lucky to have my family around to remind me of that, over and over again.