Banishing Your Wolf of Self-Doubt

This article first appeared in the March 2004 Update, newsletter of the Washington Romance Writers.

My wolf of self-doubt is back. I can feel him prowling around the edges of my mind. Every now and again he darts out and gnaws on my confidence. His sharp teeth make quick work of the thin skin covering my vulnerabilities.
He howls gleefully when those SASEs in my handwriting come in the return mail. Like a silvery shadow, he ebbs in and out of my consciousness, striking when I am weak.

My wolf of self-doubt is at his most bold when I am between projects. His snickering voice tells me that there couldn’t possibly be a marketable story in this disorganized chaos I call a brain. He sniffs disdainfully at the lists I make, the things I want to write about.

He bounds across the snowy white computer screen, the one that is barren except for the mocking slash of the blinking cursor. In my midnight hour, I take a stand against my self-doubt. I reach deep inside and believe that the next story will come.

Just as characters have arcs, so do writers. It isn’t easy to change and grow; it takes a giant leap of faith to abandon the safe world of your last story and people another universe with new characters. Here’s how I face this challenge.

I cast out my wolf of self-doubt with determination. I scan headlines and watch movies and listen to conversations everywhere I go, absorbing, assimilating, what-iffing. With each new idea, creativity sparkles and story possibilities glimmer. I boost my imagination by exploring other artistic pursuits: music, arts and crafts, sewing, gardening. I recharge until I reach a critical juncture, one in which ideas saturate my thoughts.

This primordial stew is flavored with my past experiences, my unconscious themes, and my level of expertise at crafting stories. In the steamy mist of prewriting, I envision a spunky heroine, a capable but flawed alpha hero, and an emotional conflict that puts this man and this woman on a collision course. From this simmering broth comes a series of character-driven events that propel these people towards a problem they can’t overcome without character growth.

The words come in dribbles, then in torrents. Paragraphs become pages, pages become scenes, scenes connect to form chapters. Turning points, obstacles, choices, crises, commitments, black moments, and triumphant happy endings – these necessary ingredients lend form and substance to this new world.

When the story flows, I don’t sense my wolf at all. He can’t tolerate the bright campfire of a fresh plot and three dimensional characters. There is no room in my head for failure when words blaze across my computer screen.
Why can’t I banish my wolf of self-doubt forever? Because doubting is as much a part of my writing process as the flash and burn. Without extending myself past my comfort zone, I wouldn’t continue to grow as a writer.

Maybe your wolf goes by another name, but he’s there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for your personal dark moment. You want to beat your wolf of self-doubt? Stare him dead in the eye and banish him with the most powerful affirmation in your vocabulary: I am a writer. Now, get to work!

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