Giving Up Self-Doubt

Once upon a time I wrote a doctoral dissertation. It took me twelve years to do it. Of those twelve years I estimate that six months were spent in the actual research and writing of the thing. The other eleven-and-a-half years were spent in despair over whether I could actually do it. 

I'd start, stop, complain to everybody about how impossible it all was, plus pointless, plus something I didn't really want to do anyway. I'd mope, sulk, whine, worry - anything except for quietly and patiently, hour by hour, day by day, plodding toward the finish line. For a while I even had weekly therapy sessions with a life coach who specialized in clients who couldn't seem to finish their dissertations.

Then finally, sick unto death of hearing myself talk about how I was never going to finish the dissertation, I just made myself sit down and write it. Whew! Hooray for me!  But I sort of wish I had those eleven-and-a-half years back again, wasted on self-doubt.

Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Kay Ryan has a terrific short poem on self-doubt. You can scroll down to find the full poem here. She writes that a chick has only "so much time to chip its way out." It can't squander its limited supply of "egg energy."

It can't afford doubt. Who can?
Doubt uses albumen
at twice the rate of work.

Ah, you may say, that is all well and good. But - um - how exactly do you get rid of self-doubt? 

Here all I can say is that it's helped me just to recognize that what is going on when I procrastinate  - say, for eleven-and-a-half years - is self-doubt: to name it, blame it, and bid it begone. A daily practice of patient plodding - what Jane Yolen famously calls BIC (Butt-in-Chair) - makes a huge difference here, too. 

I also think of what a wise friend told me when I asked her how she can be so amazingly productive in all she writes and publishes. She said, "I figure that God wouldn't give me the work if He didn't think I could do it." Kay Ryan's chick was given an egg to hatch out of. I've been given books to write. You have, too.

Let's trust that the universe knows what it's doing. Let's stop doubting ourseves and write our books.


  1. Thanks Claudia...this pep talk is just what I needed.

  2. Darlene, this is the pep talk I had to give to myself.


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