Doubt is Torture
(an excerpt from Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg)
A friend of mine was planning to move to Los Angeles with the hope of connection with the music industry. He was a musician and songwriter, and it was time for him to follow his aspirations. Katagiri Roshi said to him, “Well, if you’ve really decided to go, let’s see what your attitude is.”
“Well, I’ll try my best. I figure I have to give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I’ll just accept it.”
Roshi responded, “That’s the wrong attitude. If they knock you down, you get up. If they knock you down again, get up. No matter how many times they knock you down, get up again. That is how you should go.”
The same is true in writing. For every book that makes it, there are probably thousands that don’t even get published. We must continue anyway. If you want to write, write. If one book doesn’t get published, write another one. Each one will get better because you have all the more practice behind you.
Every other month I am ready to quit writing. The inner dialogue goes something like this: “This is stupid. I am making no money, there’s no career in poetry, no one cares about it, it’s lonely, I hate it, it’s dumb. I want a regular life.” These thoughts are torture. Doubt is torture. If we give ourselves fully to something, it will be clearer when it might be appropriate to quit. It is a constant test of perseverance. Sometimes I listen to the doubting voice and get sidetracked for a while. “I think I’ll go into sales, open up a cafe so other writers can go there, sip cappuccino and write, or get married, have babies, be a homemaker and make wonderful chicken dinners.”
Don’t listen to doubt. It leads no place but to pain and negativity. It is the same with your critic who picks at you while you are trying to write: “That’s stupid. Don’t say that. What do you think you are anyway, trying to be a writer?” Don’t pay attention to those voices. There is nothing helpful there. Instead, have a tenderness and determination toward your writing, a sense of humor and a deep patience that you are doing the right thing. Avoid getting caught by that small gnawing mouse of doubt. See beyond it to the vastness of life and the belief in time and practice.