Which is why I so appreciated Ellen Shriner’s perspective on doubt and how to respond to it. I think you will appreciate it too, so I invited Ellen to share her insights with you in this guest post.
Ellen Shriner and Elizabeth di Grazia cofounded WordSisters, a shared blog, in 2012. Our tagline, “In it together from inspiration to publication” speaks to one of our central purposes in launching the blog: mutual support for our writing. In addition to blogging about the writing life, we also write about family relationships, issues affecting women, and contemporary culture.
A Fool’s Errand or a Worthy Risk? By Ellen Shriner
I just submitted my memoir manuscript to a publisher. I sweated over every word of the query. I drafted the synopsis and revised it and revised it again so the narrator’s growth was woven into the plot. I fussed over the manuscript sample to make sure it was tight and engaging.
I believe in my book. If I didn’t think it was worthy, I wouldn’t have spent more than 10 years on it.
But as I read and reread my handiwork, doubt crept in. I thought, “Am I wasting my time? Will this book even appeal to the publisher?” I sent it off anyhow.
Next, I polished and fussed with my entry for a writing contest.
Once again, I was assailed by the same suspicion that this is a fool’s errand. I’ve entered that contest half a dozen times and haven’t won yet. Will this year be any different?
Some stubborn, optimistic part of me persists.
While working on these submissions, I countered my doubts with platitudes like, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t try.”
Then I questioned the platitudes. It’s ingrained in the American psyche to believe that you’ll succeed if you try hard enough. That isn’t always true. Sometimes you fail anyhow. Then you have to live with the failure and wonder if it’s your fault because you didn’t try hard enough. Huh?!? What maddening logic.
Americans also love noble failure and tell ourselves, “At least you tried.” That is comforting. Like many Americans, I do believe that it’s better to risk failure than to attempt nothing. Risk is scary, but safety is stifling.
Finally, I come back to Margaret Atwood’s sensible advice: “Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.”
I’m going to stop whining. As for the entries? Stay tuned.
Question from Rosanne: Where do you need to push doubt aside and take worthy risks?
Besides blogging for WordSisters, Ellen Shriner writes memoir and personal essays. Her work has been published in anthologies and literary magazines. She is seeking a publisher for BRAVADO AND A SKETCHY VISION LED ME HERE, a workplace coming-of-age memoir that takes place in 1979-1980. The book centers on her quest to understand the meaning of feminism in her life after she experienced a bout of discrimination during her first year of college teaching. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @EllenShriner.