Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 20, 2010

My Sort-of-friend Doubt

I like a sentence that looks sturdy, bold, impossible to imagine in any other words. But most don’t come to mind that way. Each good phrase or sentence I write comes from having written lots of crummy ones. Every sentence, paragraph, or stanza is a choice, and making a choice means there was damage, destruction, a slew of crossed out or deleted words along the way.

And doubt.

I’d love to often sit around with the confidence I try to project in my writing, but the truth is I’m a lot more familiar with doubt. She trips and snags with her smelly tattered dresses, claws with broken fingernails for my attention. But as I work on new poems, I remember what a friend she can be. Choice – terrible because we have to leave things behind – can also be an open door as I look for the right sounds and meanings. On these early drafts I get to write several varieties of lines and leave pages riddled with question marks.

Later I’m going to have to choose. And I hope, when I do, that I’ll remember how benign doubt felt by my elbow (her ragged fingernails curled out of sight) while I drafted. Uncertainty means some things get left behind, and it’s hard to know if they’re the right ones. But the doubt is about what’s on the page. It’s not about me – or you. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be writing.



  1. I try to stop up my ears, so that she can’t whisper in them.

  2. I have doubts of my own, boy howdy! But like you, I’ve (finally!) come to a place where I don’t allow them a stronghold over me or my writing.

  3. Oh Jeannine…this line made me lose my breath:
    And I hope, when I do, that I’ll remember how benign doubt felt by my elbow (her ragged fingernails curled out of sight) while I drafted.
    Have you read Ruth Gendler’s Book of Qualities? This made me think of that, but from a writers POV.
    I would love to think of doubt as a positive in my writing life.

  4. If my writing could JUST be sentences and phrases, I think I’d be happy with it–it’s putting those together into a story about a character–that’s where my doubt kicks in. But I guess it’s maybe what pushes us, too?

  5. I think I’ll go as Doubt for Halloween. Such a hobgoblin.

  6. Stopping the ears, another excellent technique.

  7. Yay, Melodye. Doubt come on in, but don’t stay for tea. That works.

  8. There are so many contradictions and pulls to being a writer. We need standards, but they can be killers if they get out of control. And we need those seeds of doubts to keep us open or flexible, but again, it’s ugly when they try to rule the show. Balance: easy to say, hard to manage.

  9. oh, just when I thought I was managing, you come in and bring up plot. And structure, and theme… okay, pushing them to the back of the room at the moment. But thanks for coming by, Becky, even if you did bring your pesky friends.

  10. Now there’s a character I would recognize, more than those from tv shows or movies I don’t see. And would be happy to pelt with candy corn.

  11. Wow, I can picture Doubt, I can put a face on her. Is that a good thing? She is very well characterized in your post, no doubt about that.
    Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.

  12. The downside to doubt is when it makes you feel like you can’t do anything right. The upside is when it whispers, “You can make this better than it is right now.”

  13. I am glad to hear that Doubt is keeping you company. Even if she’s not always helpful, at least you’re not alone.

  14. I hope your particular friend Doubt sticks to her wiser, kinder mood, just raising the bar and not being annoying.

  15. Um, yeah. But if you need some company, I’m happy enough to send her on.

  16. For some reason this reminded me of the Dalai Lama calling the Chinese who have occupied and basically destroyed his country as “my friend, the enemy.”
    Doubt: our friend, the enemy. 🙂

  17. Fortunately trying to write a book isn’t as hard as creating world peace, but yes, the two are so often one. Thanks, as always, for your wisdom, Lorraine.

  18. For years, Jeannine, my husband and I have read these thoughts, first in book form, now as our homepage –
    You provide such balm for my writer-self. Thank you once more… A.

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