Creation and Doubt Are Conjoined Twins

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All writers have to find a way to deal with the internal negative voice that tells them their work is crap and not worth pursuing. Or, as I often like to say, the game of conventional publishing success is far more psychological than you might think.

Some of the most famous writing advice in the world is about managing inner conflict. Anne Lamott, for example, is well known for the “Shitty First Drafts” concept (from Bird by Bird): She gives you permission to write poorly as a way of getting around that negative voice—or to just accept that your stuff isn’t that good. But no worries, you’ll make it better.

Or Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art, discusses his concept of resistance. He argues that the negative voice you hear is the result of fear, and that “the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

In the latest Glimmer Train bulletin, Devin Murphy finds inspiration to continue his creative struggle in the journals of John Steinbeck, who was extremely critical of himself. Murphy writes:

I kept reading the journals until I found a line that seemed most apt for summing up all these criticisms he launches. “The gray birds of loneliness hopping about.” This it seems encapsulates his inner hydra of self-hate, a genius poet of vile perched on his shoulders.

Read Murphy’s full essay, The Gray Birds of Loneliness.

More from Glimmer Train this month:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Writing Links 9/11/17 – Where Genres CollideKourtney HeintzMirka BreenTheresa CraterHarpies & Gray Birds of Loneliness | Heidi M. Thomas Recent comment authors

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Daniella Levy

Yup. This is a topic I write about a lot on my blog, The Rejection Survival Guide. I like to personify my self-doubt as “self-doubt demons,” and my dialogue with them produces amusing and cathartic posts like this one:


[…] Friedman recently wrote a blog titled “Creation and Doubt are Enjoined Twins.” She also references an article by Devin Murphy in Glimmer Train, “The Gray Birds of Loneliness,” […]

Theresa Crater

Thanks. I needed that.

Mirka Breen

Nancy Lamb (Crafting Stories for Children) called this inner voice of doubt (or worse) “The Spoiler.” It is often a parent or a parental figure’s voice. She suggests talking back to it, and getting sassi. I do, Buster!

Kourtney Heintz

The more I talk to people, the more I realize the inner critic is so strong in everyone. Writing is just more solitary and the periods between getting feedback and encouragement can be so long. It makes it harder to fight and quiet that voice. I do think that fearing something is a great reason to plunge into it. Facing a fear is the best way to reduce its power.


[…] Do you suffer from doubt? I know I do. I worry that my writing isn’t good enough. I hope to conquer this fear in the days ahead. […]