Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Horror of Writer's Doubt

Posted by LD Keach on Thursday, April 22, 2010

(Or, is that an angry mob in your pocket, or...uh…)

Writers have a lot of afflictions to suffer from. We have the commonly known Writer’s Block, the lesser known Writer’s Apathy (when we need to write but kinda don’t want to at the moment), Writer’s Carpel Tunnel, Writer’s Desksores (like bedsores), Writer’s Syphilis…okay, maybe that last one is just me. But one of the most horrible writer’s afflictions one can suffer from—second only to the dreaded Writer’s Block, which has been known to wipe out whole villages—is the horrible Writer’s Doubt.

Writer’s Doubt often strikes just after that short period of euphoria that comes with getting something published. It’s that moment when the happy glow fades, and a doomful feeling creeps in to settle into the bottom of your stomach. It’s the “Oh, crap, somebody might actually read my stuff now” feeling. And the “Oh, crap, what if they hate it?”

Maria is one of many stricken by this horrible blight, and she had the courage to write in and tell us about it. She says:
April 15th saw the publication of my poem "Spectral Compromise" in the Absent Willow Review. I enjoy this magazine which is why I was eager to submit something worthwhile. I was thrilled when editor Rick De Cost emailed me back in February telling me the poem had been accepted for the April issue. Now…Day and night for the past few days my thoughts have been reeling over what the readers are thinking, what unkind things about the poem people from my former job might be emailing to the editors of the magazine, and basically just how unwelcome I feel in the world.

A lot of worry to lay on the shoulders of one little poem. Now, of course, I'm dreading to even go to the magazine's website for fear that the poem might be taken down due to unpopular demand. While I've never seen the magazine's editors do this, in a nightmare it seems entirely possible. In a nightmare every one is panning your work, everyone is spreading lies about you, and everyone has nothing better to do except try and ruin your life.

What Maria is experiencing is Horror Writer’s Doubt. For Horror writers, Writer’s Doubt comes with an additional symptom—the nail-biting fear that once people actually read the gory stuff we’ve written, they’ll suddenly think us deranged serial killers and seek to destroy us.

But, take heart! Dr. Baphomet is in the house, and he has a few suggested medical treatments:

  1. Don’t talk about your writing to your co-workers (or any other non-writer, non-Horror people you hang out with.) Oh, sure, tell them that you’re published, but don’t tell them where. This is a tactic I’ve employed to great effect. (I was a public school secretary for five years—one does not share their bowel-eating Lemur story with their kindly Republican principal.) Instead, choose to share your successes with those who will truly be able to appreciate them, like the friends who love how twisted you are or other horror buffs.

  2. Just remember; it’s more likely no one’s reading our stuff, anyway. Yeah, that’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s a realistic one. And there’s nothing like crushing disappointment to fill the twitching, panicky void within us.

But, another thing to keep in mind is, hey—you just got published! Holy crapballs! Somebody liked your stuff enough to put it in their publication, and the people in this industry are freakin’ crazy about their publications. It’s their blood, sweat, and bloody-sweat that goes into making these magazines and publishing houses, so they only want to put the most awesome of Awesomeness into them. So, the fact that you’re suffering from Writer’s Doubt in the first place is an excellent sign. It means you wrote something that cast a glimmer of light from the murky depths of the slush pile to shine on some poor, beleaguered editor’s face. This is where, as a writer, you get to be proud.

You get to be proud you wrote something awesome. Sit back and enjoy it!  And, just remember that pride when a rampaging horde of former coworkers come to your door waving pitchforks and torches, crying "Kill the monster!" They probably wouldn't understand if you explained it to them, anyway.

Maria’s super-cool poem can be found at, that is, until the angry mob manages to get a hold of her. Read it while you can!


  1. There may be no direct reference in this article, but I know you're talking about me here. I just know it.

    Despite how awful writer's doubt is, I actually feel better knowing I'm not the only one experiencing it. I used to think I was either a freak or just a godawful writer, but it appears this is incredibly common.

    We should probably all chill out, but it's easier to give advice than follow it. Otherwise I'd be basking in the glow of my own smugness by now, which I'm not. I should give that a try one of these days, just to see how it feels.

  2. I am feeling proud. I'm glad I talked it out, feel that mine is a voice worth hearing, and I'll be chilling with some music for part of today.

  3. Jessica--you of all people should NOT have writer's doubt! You just sold a book! People read your stuff! I command you to gloat, now! Gloat, dammit! *cracks whip* ;)

    Maria--I'm glad you're feeling better. You should gloat, too; your voice is awesome! ^_^

  4. I got my contributor's copy of Pandora's Nightmare a few weeks ago... I was so nervous about flipping to my story. I was like, "OH MY GOD, WHY IS IT SO SHORT. IT'S SO SHORT. EVERYONE ELSE WROTE NOVELLAS. I WROTE THREE PAGES OF CRAP." Everyone else's stories seemed so much more imaginative than mine, too. And I wrote in first person. "OH MY GOD, WHY DID I BREAK THE CARDINAL RULE. FIRST PERSON IS NOT ALLOWED. WHY AM I SUCH AN IDIOT."

    It was so nerve-wracking. I didn't want to let anyone read the book. xD

    But then I remind myself. "HEY. I'm 20. AND PUBLISHED. HAHA. BUILDING A CAREER OVER HERE."

    My writer's doubt is always in Caps Lock. lol.

  5. Lorna - That just makes it worse. I didn't think it would, but it does. Now I have to worry about final drafts, whether or not the story even makes sense, whether the author I asked to write my foreword will agree to it, whether I'll be drawn and quartered by reviewers in Amazon, whether typos will slip by both myself and the editor, etc. Whine, whine, whine. On the positive side, though, my first choice in cover artists appears to be on board.

    A. Lee - Who said first person is a bad choice? I just sold a novel in first person, and I have sold several shorts in first as well. Whoever said that needs to bite my butt. The only perspective I know off that's off limits is second, and even that can be used if the writer is really skilled and knows exactly what they're doing (Tom Robbins, Jay McInerney).