On Writing: Doubt

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.