Monday, February 7, 2011

Faith to Finish

Most of us have heard E.L. Doctorow's famous quote about the writing process: "It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” And that's true, I suppose. But am I the only one who feels as though in the gloom just in front of me lies a broken bridge and a sudden plunge into swift water?

Seriously, I don't think I've ever composed anything, even tiny 100-word shorts, without believing at some point that the whole thing was a bust from the get-go. Perhaps I have a whiz-bang ending but don't know where to begin or possess an intro without any hint how things ought to proceed from there. Despair threatens until those first few drafts get put to bed and somehow -- magically -- a coherent shape begins to emerge. No wonder so many writers turn to drink.

However, the nice thing about chronic self-doubt and existential dread is that one eventually begins to recognize them for what they are: symptoms of creativity rather than accurate judgments of one's life. Of course we're going to feel trepidation when we write. We don't create ex nihilo. We scrabble around for bits and bobs to stitch together, knowing that we sometimes fail and yet persevering all the same. What we need isn't some bedrock confidence, merely the faith to finish what we've begun.

(Picture: CC 2006 by


pattinase (abbott) said...

Absolutely. And I know my daughter feels the same way.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

Also, without self-doubt, from whence would come the pulse-pounding excitement and adrenaline rush when one feels, suddenly, that *this just might work*?

B. Nagel said...

I have seen serio-comical articles and pieces written in deadly earnest, both, that proclaim the necessity of self-loathing in a writer.

I suggest that what we're talking about isn't self-loathing, but a recognition of limitations. And when you know your boundaries, you can push against them and celebrate when you surpass them.

It's like watching the Olympic Games. I know that what is being done is amazing. I know that I lack the skills and training of the athletes. This doesn't mean I hate myself. It just means that I know my current boundaries and that I can celebrate Even More when I do accomplish something epic.

Loren Eaton said...


Actually, that's some encouragement to me. Thanks!

Loren Eaton said...


Perhaps, but without it my blood pressure would probably be within a more healthy range ...

Loren Eaton said...


I suggest that what we're talking about isn't self-loathing, but a recognition of limitations.

This strikes me as a healthy perspective on the subject. I wish my natural inclination tended more this way.