Seattle has some excellent regional theatres. A few years ago, I saw a production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, a story about a nun convinced a priest is sexually abusing a young boy. Over the course of the play, the two butt heads numerous times, until their final showdown ends with the priest being transferred elsewhere and the nun confessing she invented a key piece of information.
The last line of the play likes to taunt me every once in a while: “I have doubt.”
I have a story that I’m head over heels in love with. I adore this story; I’ve worked my ass off on it, and I think the hero and the heroine I’ve created are the most compelling ones I’ve written to date. I have this almost desperate need to share it with readers.
But then that line popped up. And now I have doubt.
I wonder if by being so attached to this story I’m blind to its faults. What if the hero needs a deeper motivation than what I’ve given him? What if the heroine’s emotions aren’t real enough? Is there enough tension? Are there plot holes? Is it completely unrealistic? Is it just flat out not going to make sense?
I had a plan. I was going to finish revisions and send it in to one of the digital-first publishers I’ve got on my short list, and in particular, to an editor there that I’d love to work with. I’ve read several books she’s edited recently, and she always seems super supportive of the authors she works with. Some of the stories she’s edited recently deal with uber-smexy times and some pretty heavy emotions and serious situations, and that’s why I think she’d be good for this project.
What if she doesn’t like it?
What if she acquires it, and it gets terrible reviews?
What if it doesn’t sell?
Doubts are like vultures. They circle and wait for the most opportune time to dive in and pick away. And the more writers listen to them, the less we get done. We don’t follow up on that request for a full. Our queries languish in our draft folders, never to be sent. First drafts never become second drafts, and worst of all, first drafts never get written.
Doubt, unfortunately, is pretty much a given for a writer. It’s the shitty, shitty nature of an industry that includes rejections by the truckload.
Putting aside my doubt for this project is hard. I pride myself on my fearlessness when it comes to querying. I send one out. It comes back as a rejection. I shrug and move on to the next one. Whether it’s another query for the same project or a different project all together, it doesn’t matter. I keep going.
The last time I felt this level of confidence, this yes yes this is IT, this is absolutely going to be accepted feeling…I ended up with a rejection. It fucking hurt. It hurt to the point where I considered pulling it from the other places I’d submitted it to because I was convinced it wouldn’t get picked up. I haven’t looked at that project since. I don’t know where I’d start to make it better than it is. I opened it up the other day and skimmed a few chapters, hoping maybe something would jog loose. Nothing has. I’m working on accepting it might end up being one of those manuscripts you box up and shove under the bed, never to be heard from again.
Right now, doubt’s not just one or two vultures, but a veritable cloud of them, waiting. With each chapter I revise, each line of that fucking synopsis I write (I hate synopses with a passion), I’m closer to the point of submission. I’ve got a vague deadline in mind for when this will go out, and, barring anything extreme, I’m on track to do it ahead of schedule. Like, possibly next week, instead of after the first of the year. I’m scrounging for the courage to actually do it and not let the vultures win.
I wish I had some sort of magic formula for vanquishing those vultures to share. I don’t. You have to have a thick skin in this industry, but I’d also say that when a project gets under your skin and sets up camp (like this one has) I wonder if the best thing to do is put it aside for a while, to try to divorce yourself from it. That way, if that rejection does happen, maybe, just maybe, it won’t sting as much.