The Demons of Doubt
I have multiple demons on mental speed-dial. Their names are variations on Doubt. One is called Misgiving, another Mistrust. (Oddly, I think both are male.) Anxiety, Paranoia, Qualm, and Concern visit regularly. The weirdest of the bunch likes to call himself Dubitation-the others keep trying to get him to call himself Dubious, but he likes the old-fashioned version better.
Demons are, of course, not a laughing matter at all. Neither is self-doubt. But I’ve found that a bit of humor is a powerful weapon in nearly any scary situation; I’m as likely to crack jokes when attending a wedding as when standing beside a hospital bed. And at 2 AM, which is when the bastards seem to like ganging up on me, swinging a bedside lamp is only likely to brain my poor, peacefully sleeping husband, who lives untroubled by such visitations (as far as I can tell) and who, in spite of that irritating serenity, really doesn’t deserve to be clocked upside the head in the dark while dreaming of something no doubt saner than I would be. If I were sleeping. Which I’m generally not, because Paranoia is giggling at something Qualm just said, and Anxiety is reciting everything I did wrong over the course of the last twenty four hours, and Concern is wondering when the next reviews will be out, and Dubitation (who I try to avoid calling Dubya, ’cause he really gets mad about that) is telling me it’s not good odds anyone will want to read Book Two….
It makes me want to reach for the damn lamp, it really does.
During the day, things aren’t so bad; I have stuff to occupy me, and I can play music really loud to drown their stinky little voices out when I drive somewhere, and I can call people up to distract myself, and if all else fails I can go for a walk or drive out to get a quick chocofix. At night…when the stores are all closed, and I can’t blast any music because aforementioned husband is sleeping, and I’ve written all I care to write for the day…and so on…it gets a leetle trickier. I suspect that’s largely why I tend to work until the wee hours of the morning: it moves the task list to fill up those dangerous times of night when the demons are most active.
Oh, what? I have a book published and a contract for three more, so I’m not supposed to be so terrified anymore? Balls to that. I’m just as freaked out as I was a year ago, two years ago, three, ten, twenty. The difference is that I’ve learned how to distract, divert, and on occasion beat the demons into a bloody pulp to shut them up.
Here’s the truth: all that fear is just a head game you play with yourself, in the end; it’s all a bunch of lies you tell yourself so you don’t actually have to risk doing anything scary. Here’s the trick: stop believing it. Think of the fear as a whiny five year old tugging at your hand and telling you outrageous stories of how hungry they are so they can get more cookies out of you. It’s all a lie. It’s a lie that puts a cavern in your stomach and a feeling like you’re about to fall over a mile-high cliff, throwing up the whole time; it’s a lie that freezes your brain like you just chugged a giant Slurpee in two point five seconds. It’s a lie that makes you head to the bathroom when you challenge it, like you just went through a whole pot of coffee in less time than the Slurpee. It’s a lie that makes you read through writer’s guidelines with a sinking sense of despair, because nothing you write will ever qualify for that, no way, no how, you can’t even spell, for heaven’s sake.
It’s still a lie.
Even if your mother, your husband, your best friend, your college teacher, your psychologist, your massage therapist, or your favorite talking dildo agrees with your fears, it’s a lie. (Except if you really have that last item. Then you need to go see that psychologist Right Now.)
It’s important to see fear as a lie, not a survival mechanism. Mind you, this applies only when we’re talking about creativity. Fear in the face of reality, by contrast, such as a guy pointing a gun at you, is a very GOOD survival mechanism. Remember the difference. It’s important. Because the question you have to ask, anytime you’re afraid of doing something creative, is: will this literally kill me or someone else? will someone end up in the hospital because I try this?
If the answer is no, then do it. That is the only thing-not quality, not whether anyone else will like it, not whether it’s “done right” by some abstract standard or another, and certainly not whether it will sell-that matters at the end of the day. You don’t have to show the result to anyone else. In fact, you can put in place a safety-net rule that you won’t show the result to anyone else for at least six months and two revisions. Or you can shred it and burn it, if you like. It doesn’t matter. It’s yours.
What’s important is that you bodyslammed the demons out of the way and created something.
What’s important is that now the demons respect you, just a little. Next time they’ll flinch aside a little when you charge them. Eventually they’ll get the hell out of your way, and only attack when you’re trying to get some sleep. And that, my friends, is why so many writers become alcoholics: to bridge that final gap and get some rest at the end of the day.
That final gap is where a career is made or destroyed. If you figure out the crazy dance of fending off the demons without braining your peacefully sleeping spouse with the lamp or becoming dependent on various numbing substances, you’re over the worst part and the rest is relatively easy sailing.
Problem being, there aren’t many dance instructors awake at 2 AM. The steps get handled on the fly, like a modern interpretive dance production from Hell, and each performance is different. Which is where the humor I mentioned in the beginning of this post comes in: laughter is a weapon you can bring to bear even when half-asleep. (This may require some practice, however.)
When you’re going through a bad spell and the demons are winning, go read or watch something funny until you forget you’re scared. Demons run from laughter. It’s a better defense than Messrs Daniel, Bailey, Adam, or Morgan can offer, and as a bonus skips the hangover entirely.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, Qualm is trying to tell me this post is the worst thing I’ve ever written-so I need to go find a sturdy lamp before my husband goes to bed.
Leona Wisoker is author of Secrets of the Sands “…a colourful tapestry of desert tribes, honour, revenge, and an ancient, supernatural race.” Her short stories have appeared in Futures: Fire to Fly Magazine, Anotherealm.com, Alienskin.com, and more. She is a regular reviewer for Green Man Review and its spinoff, The Sleeping Hedgehog. She is also an infinitely spiffy and fun person and I am grateful to her for this guest blog post.