The Power of Self Doubt

Anyone who is seriously perusing a career as a writer is familiar with the ups and downs that is the writer’s life. Some days you’re riding the top of that emotional wave as the words just flow from your fingers. Hanging ten from that proverbial surfboard of creation as the ocean of ideas washing through your mind batters itself against white beach of the blank page leaving in its wake the basis of what will become a powerful story.

For every peak in the creative process, where it seems nothing can stand in your way, behind or beyond lies a shadowy valley of self doubt. When that creative wave dashes you against the unyielding stone of cold reality, you tumble from that peak to land in the valley of the shadow of death for the creative process. 

Suddenly the words that had flowed so freely dry up and one is left staring at the blank page as blood begins to form upon their forehead. Who wants to read anything I write? Why do I waste my time doing this? Who really cares anymore?

Self doubt has silenced the muse. It has thrown a monkey wrench into the machinery of creation, clogging the gears, and stopping them dead in their tracks. Everyone who dares to believe they can create something another person wants to read faces these moments from time to time.

The greats have carried on their own personal battles with self doubt. Struggling in the years of anonymity before they became an overnight success. Stephen King threw away the original manuscript for Carrie believing no one would want to read it. His wife rescued it from the trash and convinced him to carry on. Great writers from the past were known to agonize over the placement of every word, never really believing themselves that what they were doing would ever be widely accepted. 

How many unknown greats have given up entirely, trashing their greatest works, and turning their backs on their dreams to accept second best? How many Lovecraft’s, Shelly’s, or Stokers have given up even before they started?

Here are a few inspiring quotes from some greats in the business to help inspire you.

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
- E. L. Doctorow

If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.
- Somerset Maugham

Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.
- Ray Bradbury

Creating a character.

I'd like to take a moment to briefly outline how I go about creating my characters in my work. Sort of a behind the scenes look at a work in progress. In fact I'll take an example from my current work in progress, a novella titled White Walker, that I expect to release February 15, 2014.

There, I've locked myself down to a date with this one. No more kidding around, time to finish this sucker.

Anyways back to my original post. For me my characters are an extension of the story itself. Like all of us they have their faults. Those little secrets that some of them keep even from themselves, that go into the bubbling stew that is their personality.

I do not physically describe my characters for the reader. Instead I paint a picture of that person's personality with the hope that the reader knows someone with similar traits.  This allows the reader to create a mental image of the person they know that meshes with the character I have created bringing more intimacy into the story. Emotionally investing the reader in the story.

If the reader knows someone with say Allan's personality they will see that person's face when they read those sections Allan appears in. If I described the character, using any one of the old standbys such, as checking their appearance in a mirror,  this takes the creation of the character from the readers hands, leaving in its wake a cardboard cutout  no one would really care about.

In White Walker a group of ten people are isolated in a call center by a blizzard that has shut down the entire east coast. Things are further complicated by the arrival of the White Walker, an old legend brought to these shores by Russian immigrants who emigrated to the U.S in the early parts of the nineteenth century. The White Walker feeds on the souls of all who become lost in winter storms.  He first appears to those in the call center in the guise of a man walking through the storm. Only as the snow swirls around him he fades in and out of view as if he's passing behind unseen curtains.

The character I want to focus on is Cody. He's young, in his mid-twenties, no schooling beyond high school, in fact he's lucky he even graduated. He's a hard worker but he has a problem with organization and punctuality. He also has a bit of a drinking problem. A little hand me down from his father who would lay around the house getting drunk while Cody's mother worked three jobs to keep a roof over her family's head and food on the table. For the purposes of the story he will serve as the voice of reason believe it or not because he also does not hesitate to let anyone know what he's thinking.

He's a hardworking kid struggling to do the right thing yet hindered by his upbringing and a lack of maturity. He has yet to learn that hard drinking the night before work tends to leave one in the throes of a hangover. Of course he blames this on his friends who always seem to show up at the wrong moment. But in the end he will learn what true responsibility entails.

Have you formed a mental image of Cody?

Does he sound familiar?

He does to me because he is a near match of someone I know personally. While my creation of this character may sound like stereotyping, everything about him was drawn from real life. If you know someone like him I'm sure right about now you see that person's face with your mind's eye and you've associated the character of Cody with that image.

You've become emotionally attached to a fictional character.

Caveat emptor

Many of us are familiar with the meaning of the title of this post. Let the buyer beware. Those two simple words couched in an ancient language have always been a part of our lexicon. For today’s writer who has already, or is considering following the self publishing route, they are words of wisdom.

Let the buyer beware.

What was once the final option for those unable to secure the interest of an editor, or agent, has now become a first choice. Every day the stigma associated with self publishing diminishes as more of the mainstream learns to accept the existence of self published material as a viable route.

Of course any industry that experiences the growth self publishing has seen over the past few years is bound to attract its share of those unscrupulous enough to prey on the dreams of others.

Their ads are everywhere.

If you have ever performed a search for self publishing you may have noticed that practically anywhere you go online there are an increasing number of ads calling for you to self publish today. While writing this post I checked and counted 11 sponsored ads all directed at those thinking about self publishing.

Most of the ads you see will take you to a form to fill out so the company can get more information to you. Personally I've always felt that if they can't be upfront about their pricing structure, they're hiding something.

Some companies will charge the aspiring author thousands of dollars for an end product that has little chance of selling. These companies are in business for one reason, and one reason only, to sell a dream. You too can be a bestselling author, they shout out while presenting examples of bestselling authors you have probably never even heard of.

Other companies are small start ups that were born with the dream of creating opportunity for writers, usually opened on a shoe string budget that leave little room for mistakes. While most end up failing, there are some that make it through their first trials to emerge with a better grasp of the business.

These are the companies you want to search out. Sadly I don't have a list as I'm a do it yourselfer, the only outsourcing I do is editing to an English teacher I've known for over twenty years who is herself a well regarded writer of speculative fiction. She understands my particular style of writing and works to help me improve those areas that need the most help.

If you know of any of these companies let me know in the comments and I'd be glad to feature their services in a future post.

Buyer beware. If you're new to self publishing take your time and research each company you approach. Find their recently published titles on Amazon and Barnes & Nobles websites.

Ask yourself the following questions.

1. Do the covers look professional?
1A. Do they look like the end result of cookie cutter templates?

2. Is the pricing in line with similar books of the same page count?

3. Open several samples and read a portion of the book.

Are there editorial problems such as misspelled words, clunky grammar, bad punctuation?

Any mistakes should be minimal. I'm a perfectionist but even I understand no one is absolutely perfect

Are they any layout problems such as indents changing from paragraph to paragraph?

And remember. Take your time. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Get it done right the first time so you can move on to other projects without the last one hanging over your head.

Don't be afraid the cut your losses and run.

And when you do find that perfect match. Take care of them and they will take care of you in return.

And the winner is....

A. F. Stewart has been selected by random drawing to be the recipient of this years 2013 Halloween Horror Author Countdown Horror Library.She will receive a copy of the Coffin Hop Anthology Death by Drive In.

As well as the following nineteen titles.