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Writing Through Doubt

Photobucket [1]Therese here. I’m excited to present today’s guest, author Carleen Brice [2], who’s here to talk about self-doubt and how to combat it. Her debut novel, Orange Mint and Honey [3], was made into a Lifetime Movie Network movie under the title Sins of the Mother [4], and pulled in the highest rating of any movie produced by that network. Sins of the Mother won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding TV Movie, and Jill Scott, who played the mother in that book, won for Outstanding Actress in a TV Movie. (If you missed Sins of the Moter and would like to catch it, it just so happens to be playing again tomorrow (10/14) and Sunday (10/16) on LMN.)

Carleen’s sophomore novel, Children of the Waters [5], was another gem and the focus of my interview with her [6] here in 2009. She’s currently working on edits for her third novel, Every Good Wish. I’m glad she pulled away from them long enough to write this post for us, and you will be too because it’s fantastic.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to announce that Carleen will be starting as a regular WU contributor in January. We’re thrilled to have her aboard. Enjoy the post!

Writing Through Doubt

I’m working on a rewrite of my third novel, which sometimes fills me with so much anxiety I want to crawl not just under the covers, but under the bed. In the past, I’d be able to stay out from under the bed by doing some healthy things [7], but also hitting the cookies. I recently joined Weight Watchers, so the cookie solution isn’t viable, and, frankly, at times feels like another goal I just might fail to achieve. So when Therese asked me to write a guest blog post, I decided to interview some life coaches and talk to my writer friends to see if I could learn more (better) ways to deal with self-doubt.

Start small

Steven Barnes [8], life coach, screenwriter, speculative fiction writer and co-author of the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series (along with his wife Tananarive Due and actor Blair Underwood) says starting small is a great way to conquer doubt.

“Work on shorter projects. Short stories or articles,” he said. “Do not write books until you have published (and been paid for) shorter work. This is like running a marathon when you’ve never run around the block!”

But what if, like me, you’re already working on a novel? Barnes says the same advice to think small holds true.

“Divide your goals into tiny bite-sized chunks that can be accomplished in one day,” he said. “A fine goal is: write 1,000 words. If you are ‘blocked,’ then simply take a story written by a classic writer, and type that out.  Do the work, no matter what.”

Create a new belief

Achieving a daily goal will help build confidence that you can achieve a more long-term goal. Robin Johnson [9], life coach and author of Awakening a Chocolate Mystic, calls this process “collecting evidence.”

“People often can carry an old unconsciousness belief that stems from some past event, such as a teacher giving a failing grade on an essay or getting some criticism about their work,” she said. “Now as an adult, this old belief is running underneath the new desire to be a writer.

“In order to change the old behavior, you must first install a new belief system about being a ‘wonderful writer,’” she said. “You collect evidence from new situations that show this new belief to be true. As feedback comes, new evidence is collected. This allows the new belief and new behavior to be anchored so that writing a book is now possible.”

Focus on your goal

Delving into why you haven’t succeeded in the past isn’t as important as focusing on what you want to accomplish now, says Diane Sieg [10], author of the CD and soon-to-be- published book, 30 Days to Grace.  “What we focus on expands,” she said. “Once we decide what it is we really want, focus on it every day for 30 days and transformative change takes place. I have seen it in weight loss, increased sales and completion of writing projects.”

Keep the channel open

Start small, collect evidence, focus on what you want and the self-doubt goes away? Alas, no. My experience is that each new book brings its own form of doubt. All the writers I talked to agreed that doubt is part of the process.

“I won’t say I’ve ever successfully subdued the doubt, at least not completely,” said Elizabeth Eslami [11], author of Bone Worship. “The best you can do is to recognize it, think of it as an unwelcome relative who shows up at your door with troubling regularity. Have some compassion for your fearful self. Then give your relative a hug, thank her for coming, and shove her the hell out of your way.”

Rosalyn Story [12], author of Wading Home, looks to the past for strength. “As a writer and musician I’ve learned and accepted that doubt comes with the territory,” she said. “I think it must be required for the creative process. But sometimes the doubt is so stunning that I need a little jolt just to get me back to the page or the practice room. When I have those moments of hopeless incompetence, I pull out my little note: a wonderful letter from Martha Graham to Agnes DeMile [13].

“In it Martha tells Agnes, who’s obviously stuck in doubt, that we don’t even have to believe in ourselves or our work. We simply have to ‘keep the channel open’ – to stay open and aware of that urge that motivates us. Whenever I read this, I understand that if I can accept my talent, my creative urge, then I have to accept the doubt that comes with it,” Story said.

Accept it and use it, says Glorious author Bernice McFadden [14]. “I use it as stepping stone to overcome my insecurities. I acknowledge it for a time – even entertain it – and then I crumple it into a ball, sprinkle it with sea salt and swallow it whole.”

For more inspirational quotes and advice on conquering doubt from award-winning and best-selling writers, check out my blog post on Girlfriends Book Club [15].

Readers, how do you push through your doubts? We’d love to hear your strategies in comments.

You can learn more about Carleen and her novels on her website [16] and blogs (The Pajama Gardener [17] and White Readers Meet Black Authors [18]), and by following her on Twitter [19]. Write on!

Photo courtesy Flickr’s Hans Dekker [20]

About Carleen Brice [21]

Carleen Brice [22] writes nonfiction and fiction. Her most recent books are the novels Orange Mint and Honey [23], which was made into a Lifetime television movie called “Sins of the Mother [24],” and Children of the Waters [25]. She’s currently at work on a novel called Every Good Wish.