It’s a widely-held aphorism amongst creative types that we tend to be our own worst critics. This is doubly true.
In the first sense, we are our own worst critics in that I am certainly not aware of anybody out there who judges my own work more harshly than I do myself. I’ll grant, my audience is virtually nonexistent at this point, but I am constantly naggled at by a vicious little voice in the back of my mind: “That thing you just wrote is stupid!” “You should have used more commas there!” “You should use less commas there!” That OTHER thing you just wrote there is stupid!” “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” I’d say that one of the greatest barriers to my progress on the Project has been getting that little howler monkey to shut the fargo up. Problem is, he never shuts up. Much like the Id-Writer, who is always screeching from the damp cellar he gets locked in, “WRITE ABOUT THIS AND ADD MORE METAPHORS AND MAYBE MAKE A COMPARISON TO JESUS OR AN INFINITELY-LEGGED OCTOPUS OR I DUNNO WRITE ABOUT COOKIES,” the best I can do to overcome the ever-present, ever-negative voice of writer’s doubt is to tune it out for a while. That doesn’t mean it shuts up. That means that, like the muzak in an elevator, or like the phantasmal infinitely-legged octopus floating just out of my line of sight, I tune it out and attempt to live my life.
In the second sense, we are our own worst critics in that we are TERRIBLE JUDGES OF OUR OWN WORK. Perhaps I shouldn’t speak for other creative types; I imagine it’s easy for a Stephen King, for example, to discern whether the pages he’s written today are utter tripe or not. Personally, I have no idea. I wrote 1300 words today, and haberdashery, I think they’re pretty good. There are parts in there that suck, but I enjoyed them while I was writing them. Some of the metaphors in there are pretty darn clever, I think, but who knows, maybe you’d read them and find them inane. I really have no idea. I just vomit up my word-slurry (slurry has been my word of the week) and hope that when I finish writing it, I can edit it up into something that will eventually pass as entertaining and not awful to the masses. (Let’s be optimistic, right?)
It’s a weird place, being a writer. I sit here, banging my fingers against this poor defenseless keyboard which has never done me any wrong (the tablet keyboard is another story, I want to murder the built-in tablet keyboard in the face), pouring the better part of an hour most days into telling a story (which I’m not sure is any good) to an audience (which I’m not sure I will even have) in a way that will hopefully be funny and poignant (which I’m not even sure I’m capable of). It’s a quagmire of uncertainty, a web of doubt, a forest of what-ifs. And it’s daunting as haberdashery. On the daily, I am daunted. Always, always, always, the howler monkey of self-doubt chitters away at me. It flings its tiny little balls of doubt-poop at the wall, it leaves the peels of its doubt-bananas on the floor for me to slip on (doubt bananas? Really? YES.) Whatever form it takes, the message is the same.
You’re not good enough. Quit. Writing is hard. It would be so easy to quit. Just quit. QUIT.
No thank you, howler monkey of doubt. Not today.
4 thoughts on “The Howler Monkey of Doubt”
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