Over at the Kill Zone the other day, James Scott Bell posted a very articulate blog about self-doubt among writers. According to Jim, virtually all writers are gripped with fear for most of their lives, 100% certain that they will be exposed as frauds or worse. Even the likes of Stephen King, Jim says, live in fear because they’ve set the bar so high with their previous successes, topping it often appears impossible.
Jim is himself an excellent writer with quite a few novels under his belt, along with the how-to book, Plot And Structure, which should be (IMO) required reading for all writers. So he’s not coming at this from left field. I’m sure he’s been plagued with doubt himself. And, like most of us, he gets over it after he writes each book, only to have it rear its head again as he sits down to write another one.
But when Stephen King or Dean Koontz start whining about self-doubt and how they’re just positive their lack of talent will be exposed, it’s real hard for me to gin up any sympathy, you know what I mean? And I certainly don’t get the touchy-feely “we’re all in this together" message that I’m supposed to be getting. Those guys, and others like them, sell millions and millions of books, they get huge advances, they sign movie deals worth a king’s ransom, and they crank out best-selling novels like Burger King cranks out Whoppers.
Now, I know, they’re all worried about whether their next book will be any good, but who cares? They know deep down–and the rest of us know, too–that their next book is going to light up the charts just like all the rest of them did. All they have to do is click “send" and watch their latest novel shoot off to their eager publishers.
Real self-doubt, on the other hand, resides in those of us who have never been able to get the attention of even a single can’t-be-bothered literary agent or a mainstream publisher, those of us who wander unguided into the darkness of the self-publishing netherworld, those of us whose books can never seem to get off the ground, never take flight.
Real self-doubt resides in those of us who labor away at the computer, sweating out plot developments and dialogue just like Stephen King does, without being propped up by seven-figure advances, wondering if this will be the book that finally gets a little attention, gets a few readers.
Real self-doubt resides in those of us who are denied real membership in the elitist Mystery Writers of America and other such organizations who sneer at self-published authors, who claim our work is merely part of a giant “slush pile", who arrogantly claim we’re contributing to a mountain of “crap" that has been made possible by the recent ease of self-publishing.
Real self-doubt resides in those of us who really do wonder, given all the above roadblocks thrown in our path, if we can write after all. And the question plagues us, is it all worth it if our only destiny is to be crushed under someone else’s train that has already left the station?
Put a bestselling author in those circumstances and let’s see what happens to his/her self-doubt. Want to bet it would feel a lot more real?
Mike Dennis is a crime/noir fiction author living in Key West. His latest novel, Setup On Front Street, is now available in ebook form on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It's also available in paperback from Amazon and CreateSpace.