On Writing: Doubt

Saturday, 28 May 2011

An American Rhapsody (2001)

I've been feeling rather down the past week or so, and seriously contemplated removing this blog. I was going to keep these thoughts to myself as they seem silly. Yes, I know. But then the same self-doubt that led me to these thoughts crept up this morning over a breakfast conversation I had with another writer friend of mine, in which he expressed the same doubts. And it got me thinking: what are we so afraid of? Why must these doubts linger unspoken, as if there's something to be ashamed of?

So let me confess something to you that I'm actually quite scared to: I don't think I'm a particularly great writer. At this stage, I think I'm an adequate writer. I can string sentences together, I can get the job done, I read a lot, I write a lot, I study a lot, I'm dedicated and I have a genuine curiosity about the written word. But whether this makes me 'good' is an altogether different matter.

This is perhaps the most exposing and frightening thing my fellow writing friends and I can think of uttering out loud - are we any 'good'? And yet, most people who write and who love it have felt this way at one stage or another. In Zadie Smith's 'Rules for Writers', she says that 'you can either write good sentences or you can't'. Ah, but that's the tricky part. What is 'good', and who gets to decide? I'm often baffled by what some people consider to be 'good', while a writer I deeply admire is left in the cold. And how do we know whether we are 'good'? By tangible 'proof' such as awards, publications and recognition? Or is it an altogether different 'good'; is it a sense of satisfaction that comes with simply doing something you enjoy, regardless of what people think of it? Or is this all just self-delusion?

I have so many questions, it feels overwhelming. Which is why as much as I love Zadie Smith, I'd have to slightly disagree with this statement: 'avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won't make your writing any better than it is'. Well, of course it won't make your writing better, and yes, I don't like cliques or gangs. But what I do like is support, the kind of dialogue and sense of relief that comes from talking to a bunch of people who undertake the same tasks as I do and can empathise. I don't see anything wrong with that. And I don't think we should keep these doubts within a self-enclosed, festering silence.

Perhaps Zadie Smith is right on one final point though: 'resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied'. There is personal truth for me in that, perhaps that's where my self-doubt comes from. But I do know that despite this continual doubt about my abilities, the thing that keeps me returning to the writing desk is a self-reflexive knowledge that I really don't want to do anything else. Maybe doubt is just part of the deal.

Image credit: image from here.

EDIT: I'm definitely not leaving the blogsphere or deleting this blog (thanks for the concerned comments/emails though). I was just expressing some thoughts and doubts I've been having over the past few days. I really didn't mean for this to sound like an attention-seeking post, I'm sorry if it comes across like that! Really, I just wanted to express some doubts that I feel need to be shared, since so many people I know have them too.

41 comments:

Wishcandy said...

I understand. I signed up for being dissatisfied with my art, for life. But part of never being satisfied fuels the drive for improvement.

So it's not totally a bad thing.

Being an intelligent and creative person is a rollercoaster. Please hang in there, i'd miss your eloquently written and thoughtful prose.

etre-soi said...

Oh no Hila, don't go way, I would miss you too much :-(
What is good, what is beautiful ? These are questions that have no answers really has each person has its own values and referencees.
The rule is that there are no rules, only a way to communicate with others. If that's what happens then I think your good at what you do.

Tana said...

Rho, dissatisfaction, doubts... no one knows what is good except you,intuitively or not, you choose that path, you do what brings you satisfaction, joy, what makes you to be curious, it`s important to have a dialogue with yourself. And of course it`s important to get in touch with people who give you support, appreciate your work and you, give constructive criticism. You are naturally talented, i love your style, your work is the thing that admires me (i`m sure i can use these words about your personality), i enjoy every line you`ve written (that`s about your ability to string sentences together:), guess i told you many times,but i`m your true reader tout simplement ♥. don`t stop.

Amelia said...

I think what you're feeling is actually universal (I'm a Law student and I have the same self-doubt that gnaws at my spirit everyday), but that doesn't mean we should succumb to it.

I think, literature, like wine, is an acquired taste. I had a classmate in high school who swore that the best books ever written were the Gossip Girl ones (I don't know if you picked up one of them, but they're probably the most vapid and vacuous piece of writing I have ever read).

What you need to know is that it's OK to be dissatisfied with where you are, but instead of focusing on the negative, you should find ways to improve it.

I'll be very sad if you leave the blogosphere, but if it's the necessary step for you, I will support you no matter what.

katie f said...

sine my day job is blogging and managing the social media accounts for a successful company i've just kind of assumed i must be doing something right.

but personal blogs are a whole lot different. you're exposed. and that's freaking scary. the only question i would ask myself, am i happy with my writing? is it satisfying to write?

if yes, keep doing it! in the end, who do you write for? no one but yourself, so why stop if it keeps your fingers nimble, your mind fresh and something to look forward to in the morning. i fell in love with writing, i think you did to. so don't break up with it, you'll certainly miss it.

Molly said...

Your words reminded me of a quote I often find myself relating to:

"As long as our orientation is toward perfection or success, we will never learn about unconditional friendship with ourselves, nor will we find compassion." –Pema Chödrön

I admire your bravery for sharing your thoughts in such a public space. Blogs are so scary. I'm still struggling with many aspects in mine, such as uploading my graphic design pieces. I'm proud of my work but am holding back due to some irrational fear of exposing to others what I think looks good. It's silly.

Either way, I hope your thoughts settle and the writing table becomes a haven once again :) Your writing is genuine and lovely, and certainly something to be proud of.

Daria said...

The most heartening advice I've heard in regard to creating art, here.

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit."

Gwyneth said...

I feel ya. Assessments of quality are so subjective. Eg: I read a terrible book last night. truly heinous. Full of nasty characters, a boring plot, and the worse writing I've read in ages. Yet it was the first in a series and subsequently turned into a TV show. Clearly someone thought it was good...

You can only aim to please yourself, I reckon. For what it's worth, I would describe your writing as 'gooder than most.' ;)

alice said...

My first instinct was to leave that quote by Ira Glass, that Daria did before! I think it goes straight to the point.

I hope you keep having a blog, not just because I love reading it, but because it helps people like me that like your writing to find you.

Alyce said...

hey hila, I really admire your honesty in this post. I think that we are brought up through grade school to seek out a "grade" or a certain validation. After graduation, those milestones of validation stop and a lot of us feel lost. I have to believe ,though, that it's better not to be satisfied with your work otherwise you wouldn't have any encouragement to trascend to even better work.

Caitlin Rose said...

Oh Hila you would never sound like you were seeking attention.

I think we all have doubts, no matter what it is we decide we love and want to do. Maybe it is more pronounced in people that try to be creative, but no matter what it is someone does they want to be useful in some way. I would say most of the time I don't think I'm capable, unless someone is telling me I am at that very moment.
But for you, I just know that I love reading whatever it is your talking about, so you are a good writer to me.

Fen said...

your writing is wonderful and I adore your blog, please stay!

Fen
subjectofstyle.blogspot.com

Rebeccak said...

Thank you so much for sharing your doubts - it is a really gutsy thing to do. I really appriciate it - at the moment I am struggeling with my writing. I love reading and making notes - I have tonnes of ideas and map them in scrappy writing maps and dot points, but when it comes to the actual writing I avoid it. I'm always leaving it to the 11th hour, so when the quality isn't great, I can blame it on the time I had.

Do you have any advice for ways to get myself out of this anti-writing frame of mind? I know a lot of it is fear that my work won't be up to scratch, and maybe sharing it with others might propell me along?

skeletaldreams said...

I think you're an amazing writer, and I look up to you. I don't know if that means anything, but I hope you never stop writing. x

Danielle P. said...

To me, a good writer is someone who not only writes well, but can also move readers' minds and hearts. Good writing sparks something within those who read it. It provokes a shock of recognition, or helps to shape thoughts and emotions that had hitherto remained ill-defined. I can sincerely say that you, Hila, are a very good writer indeed!

mir said...

I think i understand...I feel this always on my blog... DonT' stop, i love you're "reality"...

Rambling Tart said...

Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable. Just tonight my friend and I talked with tears of our own fear and self-doubt and how it can cripple us so easily. I agree with you that we NEED support and are so much better for it. Talking with my friend left me comforted, understood, and with renewed courage to soldier on no matter what. As writers I think that our work is generally "good" it's just good for different people at different times. Sometimes it's just good for one soul who needed the words we wrote. Other times our words resonate with dozens or hundreds. Either way they are important because they enriched a life, encouraged a hurting heart, empowered someone in need of strength. Sometimes the only one they matter to is us, and that is enough.

I hope you will continue writing and sharing your thoughts and heart. You ARE a good writer.

vintageveggie said...

just discovered your lovely blog... glad you'll be hanging around because i can't wait to see what you do next!

andrea said...

you'd better not fucking leave! People who do something creative are doomed to be forever unsatisfied with the results, it's life.

Chrissy said...

Sorry you are feeling down about your writing. Everyone goes through times like that, but in the end you face your flaws and you get better. No one can feel on top of their game 100% of the time.

I think going through times where you analyze your skill can be a good thing in the end (as long as you don't go too far into letting it drive you insane) because you see where you need to improve and what you do well. While it sucks, in the end you come out ahead of anyone who always thinks what they do is perfect because no one is perfect.

Dichotomous Darling said...

I can completely relate to your words, your feelings, your doubt. As a writer, I suffer from chronic self-doubt. I am never satisfied with my writing but there comes a point where I have to force myself to realize that there must be something there. Even if it is just a deep passion for written language, it is something I cannot deny.

Doubt is a constant in a creative world. If one was so terribly self-assured they would never progress and their work would grow stagnant. Your doubt is healthy and as long as you hold on to the knowledge of your determination (that you don't want to do anything else) you'll always have room to grow and improve-to get to your ideal 'good.'

You are your own worst critic, as I'm often told. Another thing to keep in mind.

SJ said...

I think it's very natural to have this sort of doubt and I think in the long term it only makes you better at what you do. We tend to be our most harsh critics (I know I certainly am about myself!) and it's more than healthy to step back and wonder if it's 'good' or not. Of course, you don't want to be consumed by the doubt, it's only healthy when you can agree to let go.

Your blog is wonderful, it always forces me to look at things in a new and unique way so I definitely think what you do is 'good' :)

Felix Curds said...

hila, i think that all the support you've gotten on your blog alone is every bit deserved and reason enough to continue writing because goshdarnit, you're great!

p.s. i was a bit frightened when i thought you were leaving the blogosphere. thank god!

Miss Moss said...

rest assured that everyone has moments of self doubt - no matter what profession you're in or what your creative field might be.

all that matters is that you do not stop writing and, above all, do not stop blogging. please.

gracia said...

I am late in reading this post of yours, Hila dear, partly because I have been in own "self-enclosed, festering silence" and avoiding the computer. The lows seem to take a little longer to dispel with each year (in regards to my own art practice). Last week I wondered what the point was in making anything at all. This week, in true pendulum swing, I am making new collages and feeling inspired.

g xo

(Delighted you will keep up this blog for as long as it proves enjoyable.)

Emily Vanessa said...

Hi Hila,

Sorry for not commenting earlier but I've been so busy. I can identify so much with this post, of never feeling good enough, of wondering how we know someone's good. All my life, I've felt my efforts were inadequate and even with photography where I recognise I have a good eye, I feel so depressed sometimes when I see what others can do and have to resign myself to that dissatisfaction you mention. Just to say that I love this blog so much and am glad you're going to continue and I think you're incredibly talented. Doubts can be awful but then I'm also suspicious of those who say they know how brilliant they are.

Zung said...

Been a regular reader of yours, and just want to paste this for your thought on writing :)


- Murakami believes that “most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day.” Specifically, he believes that writing requires, in order of priority, talent, focus and endurance — all of which find their complements in the habit of running. Writing, he thinks, is “an unhealthy type of work” because it brings the author face to face with the “toxin that lies deep down in all humanity” and without which “no creative activity in the real sense can take place.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/books/review/Dyer-t.html

sarah said...

i'm not usually one for commenting on blogs... which is awful since i have a blog myself and i know i love getting comments! but after this brutally honest post, i just wanted to let you know, for what it's worth, that your blog is my #1 favorite at the moment. your eye for beauty is remarkable and your personality shines through in everything you write and that's what keeps me coming back. i think "good" writing is being true to yourself and your voice and you should feel proud that you're accomplishing that.

Olga said...

Obviously, I am not an expert on the talent of writers. However, it would be devastating if you closed down your blog. I really enjoy your writing. What attracted me to it was your unique style - isn't that what most writers try to develop throughout their lives?

hila said...

Gosh, everyone, thanks so much. Reading these comments is a bit overwhelming, I don't think I can respond to each comment individually, as I may end up rambling on forever. Rest assured, however, I have read every single one of these comments and I'm deeply grateful for each of them.

heleen said...

hello Hila! Ever since you posted this particular article it's been on the back of my mind. I even printed it, along with some of the insightful comments your intelligent readers have left you. Constant doubt and self-scrutiny is something I am confronted with everyday; and your article made me think about the why's of writing linked to my personal experience; "What prompts me to write?" I have not yet reached any conclusions (or solutions, for that matter) but in the process, I realised what it is that makes your writing so valuable to me - the fact it makes me THINK. It's intellectually stimulating.
So, for that, I thank you :)

aldrin said...

You need music, Hila. That drowns out any doubts you have while you're writing.

Christina said...

your words are beautiful. i love it so much here, my new friend. ; )
xoxo

CloudyKim said...

I'm so glad you're keeping the blog!

I think that, as a fellow writer, I can totally relate to what you're going through. And I think all writers go through this - some days we feel like kings and other days we think our writing should be swept under the rug. Call it a writer's PMSing. Hahaha. So don't get worried about it when you feel this way. I'm lead to believe that it's natural.

Tracey said...

Oh Hila, I hope you don't mind me thinking that this post of yours is rather wonderful ... even if this is for rather selfish reasons. I've been stuck within a cycle of self-doubt of late, a cycle which has caught me up for far too long I feel. So in reading your words, well I selfishly took some comfort ... because I'm there too.

That concept of 'good' writing is fascinating to me ... sometimes I think I almost fear the potential of being considered good, which honestly sounds completely mad when I think about it for too long. It's like I've been distracting myself from doing what I should be doing (ie. write), by letting fear keep me away from something as simple as filling a blank page with words.

I shall be reflecting on the words you've shared from Zadie Smith, 'resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied' ... perhaps this sense of dissatisfaction is what I've been battling?? ...

Hmmm, thanks for the food for thought Hila. You already know I think you're a wondrously talented writer, but it never hurts to hear it said again.

xx

hila said...

oh thanks so much guys - really, thank you. I don't know what to say, I'm taken aback by everyone's kindness.

xo

andrea despot said...

thanks for sharing this post; you most certainly are not alone! and it actually makes me feel a little better that someone with your talent has the same doubts as me (and just so you know, i for one think you are a very VERY good writer and i mean that from the bottom of my heart. it's the reason i found your blog and stayed with it).

i probably told you before in my comments that i used to write a lot and still consider myself a writer, though i don't write anymore. most of that is due to discouragement. i read through so many wonderful books and articles and blogs that i think "why bother? why try when someone can describe exactly what i wish to describe, but so much better?" i feel that i'm constantly fumbling through my writing, trying to convey what i feel but ultimately failing because, even though i read a lot, i have such a limited vocabulary and i tend to just repeat myself.

but then i go and write something like i did about my trip to san francisco and i'm so PROUD of it. and that propels me forward, reminds me that i haven't lost it, that i can still write. and just reading back over it makes it all worth it. so, i AM a writer! and maybe you're right when you say that it's "a sense of satisfaction that comes with simply doing something you enjoy."

thanks for starting this discussion! none of us are alone in thoughts like this and we should talk about that more instead of feeling the pressure to live seemingly pretty, perfect, confident lives through our blogs.

hila said...

andrea: I'm not sure writing a lot is actually talent, but I'll take your compliment, thanks :) and I totally agree, there is this pressure we put on ourselves to appear 'perfect' (whatever that means) and suggest that our lives are a smooth course. That's just not very realistic, we should be more open to talking about such issues.

layersandswathes said...

This is going to be a long winded comment so bear with me!

I've just discovered your blog via your interview about Kobi on Lola Is Beauty. The way you describe your relationship with your cat is captivating! To then read that you named him 'Kobi' because of your Israeli grandfather, well, I needed to know more about you and almost an hour later, I am still sat reading your blog. My cat was called 'Mamush' just like my Isreali grandmother's!

I've been questioning deleting my blog for the same reasons you have been thinking about yours. Particularly the low you are experiencing toward your writing skills. I am also going through a similar journey with my career as a fashion stylist. As a highly conscious person who is aware of all the greatness that has come before, I am forever battling whether I have something unique to offer and simply if I am good enough.

The honesty you have just shared in this post has been refreshing. I have been feeling extremely disconnected from all the ego-led blogs out there so am truly excited to have discovered yours.

Really one of the best things I have discovered on the internet in some time!

Keep up the good work and keep questioning yourself along the way. I'd like to think if we didn't ponder over our skills, we wouldn't strive to be better at what we do. Its the only way to grow...

hila said...

layersandswathes: thanks so much for this comment, I do know how you feel. I think ego-led blogs dominate so much as well, that it just feeds into the silent insecurity. I'm glad this post helped you, in some small way :)

Chuck said...

Just read this and found it comforting. x