Thursday, November 18, 2010


Writerly doubts? Sure. All the time.

A few days ago I came across this Cynthia Ozick quote in The New York Times:

"I think early recognition is everything. It was everything for Updike and for Roth. It gives you a kind of confidence for life. I write now with the raven of doubt sitting on my shoulder all the time."

And today I saw this passage from a W.S. Merwin poem:

I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't

you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write

The poem is called "Berryman," and you can read the rest of it here.

I found the Merwin passage in a Faster Times article: "Writing Advice from Emily Gould."

Gould had this to say about writers who don't have doubts:

"People who are totally convinced of their own awesomeness are nearly always totally crappy writers, or if not, they’re still totally crappy people to get stuck sitting next to at a party."

And this too:

"One of the weird things the Internet has done has made it seem possible to just kind of be a writer — ie, you can be published, a lot of people might read your work, and yet you haven’t had to give up your secure nine to five and alienate and scare most of your friends and family in order to anonymously post your amusing comments on a blog. That little bit of attention and acclaim convinces some people that they are writers. They are not. Writing is not about acclaim. It is also not about being “successful,” in the sense of making your living as a writer. You know who are very successful writers right now, in the sense of being on the bestseller list? Both Karl Rove AND Laura Bush. Being a writer, ultimately, is about writing — writing honestly, writing something only you can write. Every time you do this, you succeed."

So yes. Doubts. All the time.


Ethel Rohan said...

Thanks for this post, Andy. I struggle all the time with doubt, with what is 'success.' This will help keep the raven off my shoulder for another bit ...


Lydia Ship said...

What a wonderful post, and so true! Doubt is crippling. As Rilke wrote about becoming an artist, "Patience is everything."

Andrew Roe said...

Ethel and Lydia: So glad you both enjoyed the post.

The positive side of doubt is that it pushes you to become a better writer.

I also find it comforting that even writers of Ozick's caliber still deal with these kinds of issues.