Sisyphus at the summit …

While lunching last week with a fellow writer, I was explaining how starting any project fills me with unspeakable fear. When asked to take on a writing assignment, I generally say “yes.” Based on my 30-plus years of experience, I should be able to handle just about any writing assignment. Operative word: should.

But as soon as I start I’m hit with waves of doubt. No matter how overwhelming they are, however, I’m obligated. I’ve said, “yes,” and I never shirk my responsibilities. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever backed out of a job. It’s the first born in me. Responsibility sits on my shoulders like a granite yoke and nothing but completion of a job can lift it.

So I struggle. I educate myself on the topic. I dig in to research. I set up and complete interviews. All those things begin to built a little confidence — but that voice of doubt still niggles.

When I finally get to the point where my thoughts gel, I get ideas down on paper and I start to see the story taking shape, I begin to feel better — not confident — but better.

Then there comes the point, a tipping point, when I realize, “I’ve got this. I can do this.” It photo by Brad Beamanis a glorious feeling and erases all my fears. I feel like Sisyphus who has finally reached the summit and can now slide happily down the other side.

Writers — to be successful — must have the confidence to write but at the same time, we must balance a kind of emotional vulnerability that gives us perspective and allows us to listen carefully and understand nuances as well as facts. It’s what make us effective writers.

Such vulnerability also lets doubts crawl into our heads. I don’t see someone like Hemingway ever lacking confidence, but who knows? He did drink a lot. On the other hand, Flannery O’Connor was notoriously doubtful of her abilities. How do writers reconcile these two necessary sides of our personalities? Or do we just suffer with this peculiar conflict as part and parcel of our craft?

As I’m describing this, my lunch companion is looking at me amazed. “I can’t believe this! I’m so this way,” he says. I wonder: Is this a universal experience for writers? Or are he and I the only ones?

photo by Brad Beaman via Flickr.



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