Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Living With Doubt

I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian family. Doubt was not welcome. God answered all questions. And if He seemed busy or distracted on a certain day or subject, there was always a platitude to serve in His absence, “Wait on God,” “Be patient with God,” or my favorite, the ambiguous and very spooky, “Maybe He’s given His answer.”

If I doubted, and I did doubt, I did it silently…and always with the sick feeling in my stomach that I was doing something very wrong. Questioning one thing just led to questioning another, and another, and I quickly became sure of nothing. Doubt gave me anxiety depression, nightmares, insomnia, and strangely, my life as a writer.

Not knowing stuff is uncomfortable and admitting you don’t know it most often leads to thought. Constant thought is like warm, wet dirt for a writer’s ideas. My brain is overflowing with wet dirt! As one of our Luckies, Emma Pass said, “I never feel as if what I've done is good enough; instead, I feel as if I could do better and that there's always something more to learn." Another Lucky, Rachele Alpine pointed out the very real dangers of existing solely in a state of doubt, “But I also think that there needs to come a time when I let go of that doubt and instead hold onto trust. I need to trust and believe in myself and my writing. If I didn't turn my doubt to trust, I don't think I'd have ever taken the steps I did (sending my manuscript to agents, revising for submissions, giving my revisions to my editors...). If I let doubt stay with me all the time, then I'd never be able to take leaps!”

“Trusting yourself, believing in yourself,” as Rachele wrote, are awesome skills I haven’t fully developed. That warm, wet dirt of constant thought that on one hand helps grow ideas, on the other hand, keeps me quite stuck. So how do you leap out of mud? It is possible. I’ve done it.

Sometimes you can’t wait until you've overcome the issues in your life - you need to find a way around them. A trick I’ve learned in knowing when to submit work when I am unsure if it’s ready is how fast I can read it. If I can read quickly through my writing, I know that I’ve gotten to a certain point, possibly a point where an editor might be interested. And of course, now, my fantastic agent, Kerry Sparks, helps me with this part. I have built help aids into my life to make up for the trust and self-possession that I don’t feel.

Doubt helped to create a writer out of me, however it isn’t likely that it will be much of a help creating the great salesperson that I’ll need to become in the next year as my book, “Sunny Sweet is Going to be So Sorry,” heads toward print. It’s a huge concern of mine. So far in my life I’ve found ways around my doubt, or in the least, ways to work under its crushing-ness. It’s interesting that many of the things in life that made us writers are also the things that stop us from becoming successful at it. Will my constant uncertainty be the thing that robs me of one of the only things that I have been certain of most of my life, wanting to be a writer?

I doubt it.

Jennifer Mann's debut novel, SUNNY SWEET IS GOING TO BE SO SORRY, will be published by Bloomsbury in Spring of 2013. Jennifer is represented by Kerry Sparks of Levine Greenberg. Find Jennifer on Twitter and at her website.


  1. Doubting is healthy and natural. Without doubt, we'd be like sheep, following whatever crossed our path. It's when someone doubts but doesn't follow up to confirm the reason for that doubt, is when there's a problem.

    Doubt strengthens us to become better people and it makes us think of what we can become in the future.

    Hey, you're a living testament to this principle. You're now a writer! :)

  2. Doubt is a huge part of the growing up process too--the day you realize your parents aren't the gods you thought they might be.

    I like to think of doubt as also a big means to push oneself forward, towards success, if all goes well. :)

  3. Great post, Jennifer. Doubt comes with the territory, I think. We work alone so much, reading and rereading our stuff until our eyes glaze over, that doubt is bound to creep in. But it's the sign of a questioning, curious mind--essential to writers. Like constant thought, doubt can be part of the warm, wet dirt that feeds us, as you say.

  4. This is a lovely, honest post, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing.


  5. Love this post, Jennifer. Thank you!