That Devil Called Doubt

By Donnell Ann Bell

Because Donnell’s hand is in a cast, we agreed for this guest post to be an oldie but goodie.

Focusing on a human emotion that rarely goes away, Donnell and I hope That Devil Called Doubt proves useful. I’m sure you also join me in hoping Donnell’s hand heals quickly.

Ever since Adam took the apple from Eve, man has been doomed to experience doubt.  To bite… or not to bite… Hmmm.  The answer’s not always so simple.

I’m not claiming that writing is like eating from the Tree of Good and Evil.  However, doubt can be akin to a serpent that slithers around a trunk.   In my case, the serpent transforms into a little guy with horns in a red suit.  The fiend sits on my shoulder and debunks everything I write.  “Your descriptions are lacking, conflict is weak.  You’ll never be as good as…

Sound familiar?  It should.  I haven’t met a writer yet who thinks as Muhamad Ali does, that . . . “I’m the greatest.”

Rumors abound that Stephen King threw Carrie in the trash. And I don’t think doubt is exclusive to men named Stephen.  I ask you.  How many of us have manuscripts still in a drawer?  No need to raise your hand.  I’ve got your names and numbers.

There is nothing more personal to a writer than writing.  The words that flow into sentences, evolve into chapters then culminate into books are part of us.  The characters we create are real—maybe more so—than the stranger standing beside us.  We’re truly odd creatures in that respect.  We have a rare ability.  To produce three-dimensional characters we know as intimately as we know ourselves.  Imagination is a gift.  Believe it or not, so is doubt.

Cicero wrote, “By doubting we come to the truth.”  Profound words if you ask me.  When I wrote my first book, I experienced no doubt.  I truly believed from the depths of my being that it was bestseller material. Sandra Brown had nothing on me.  Then I joined my first critique group.

These ladies kicked me in my proverbial backside, something I’m still smarting over, but for which I’ll always be grateful.  I had no knowledge of POV, no understanding of goal, motivation and conflict, adverbs were my friend, and I pitied anyone who didn’t have my amazing talent.

Ahem… Thank the stars I found them. These people and numerous writing groups instilled in me some marvelous tools.  But along with this eye-opening knowledge came—you guessed it—the doubt.

Does it ever get any easier.  Honestly?  I don’t know.  But I have learned some things that can help disparage doubt, and I’d like to share these tips with you.  Remember, this is what has worked for me.  Every writer must find his own way.

  • Become Educated:  Many writing organizations offer on-line workshops. Read!  Read everything you can!  Whatever you’re writing, understand the genre.  Learn the differences, what the public likes and what sells.  But use caution.  Write what you love, write the story that’s in you.
  • Spare Up Your Free Time:  I have learned firsthand that free time isn’t free.  It’s the venue in which I daydream and plot, something crucial to a writer.  I’m not saying don’t get involved.  I am saying know your limits.
  • Develop Your Muse and Get Unstuck:  Ever heard of the sagging middle?  The point where you wonder which direction you should take?  Besides daydreaming there are several ways to pull out of a writer’s bog.
  • Write the scene in multiple POVs:  This allows you to tell the story in the strongest way possible.
  • Outline:  In-the-mist writers often utter expletives when it comes to this chore.  I’m an in-the-mist writer.  I don’t always stick to the outline.   Still, it leads me in a general direction and my muse takes it from there.
  • Play word choice games:  If you’re still adrift on that life raft of uncertainty, try something I learned during Open Critique. Take a word and put it on a piece of paper.  For purposes of this article, let’s use a word that surrounds doubt.  Let’s take the word dubiously.  Forgive the adverb.

Okay, the word has nothing to do with my current work in progress, but I’m stuck.  I want the muse to flow.  So here goes.  Dubiously.  Dubiously, I allowed my gaze to wander the darkened street.  It had been hours since I’d lost the tail.  But a voice inside snaked out its warning.  I wasn’t alone.

I’m sure if the word or words you select surround your WIP, you can do much better.  Still, I’ve found these tools work.  Heck, I may even have the start of a new story!

Does doubt ever disappear?  My guess is probably not.  Unless you’re as naïve as I was.  Still, think of it this way.  Only by developing tools, giving into your muse and transferring those words onto the written page, can you advance your writing career.  Using this knowledge and inspiration, each scene will blossom to life, and so too your confidence.  Yes, the above is merely my opinion.  But here’s one truism I do know.  Only by writing can we banish that devil called doubt.

Donnell Ann Bell tried to write a conventional romance. When the body showed up, she gave up the ruse. She preferred mystery and police procedure. As the co-owner of Crimescenewriter, a forum started by a veteran police officer, Donnell has learned from some of the finest LEO professionals in existence. Her first suspense, Black Pearl, A Cold Case Suspense (2019) was a 2020 Colorado Book Award finalist. The second book in the series Until Dead was released in May 2022. The author of four award-winning romantic suspense novels, she’s glad that body showed up.

24 thoughts on “That Devil Called Doubt”

  1. Thank you for having me, Debra. I have graduated from a cast into a splint. I’m typing with two hands. 🙂 Thank you for your generosity. BTW, I’m no longer an in the mist writer; I outline. Processes change. Has yours?

  2. Nice post! And so true about critique groups. I will be forever grateful for my critique partners. If it wasn’t for them I’d still be writing mush. And thanks for the word choice game idea. Maybe one way to choose a word is to close your eyes and open a book or a dictionary and place your finger on the page. Open your eyes and there is your word. 🙂
    P.S. I love your book covers!

  3. This topic always gets my attention. Doubt seems to worm its way in when I’m not even aware of it. Give it an inch, and it takes over. Great post, Donnell!

  4. Michael A. Black

    Excellent advice, Donnell on overcoming your own doubts. My father used to always caution me about the effects of negative thinking. Thanks for sharing your remedy.

  5. Great post, Donnell.
    I loved what you said about your critique partners. One caveat. I made a mistake and suffered the desire to give up writing with my first critique group. I write dark crime, and I was with a group of cozy and fantasy writers. They were all excellent writers, but we had little in common. When I reached out to another writer’s group, I was placed with three other crime writers. My whole perspective changed, and I began to write what I loved. Thank you and Debrah for sharing this old but goody post.

    1. George, that’s why I suggested reading everything in your genre. I should add understanding other genres as well. I never tell another writer no. I qualify the genre I write. The first thing that devil that sits on my shoulder shouts at me is No!

      Luckily I have a muse on the opposite one that says, keep going!!!

    1. Thank you, Marie. No matter how many books, doubt manages to furrow its way into our gray matter. This article is one I wrote as a brand new author! I still feel the same way as when I wrote it years ago. Doubt is a basic human instinct. Thank you for dropping by!

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