Some things scare the crap out of me. Dogs, massive insects, seeing a fleece being teamed with heels. Republicans. They just make me freeze with fright. But there’s another thing that scares the bejesus out of me. Something that, if I let it, would take over me and, like a fossil frozen in time,would immobilise me to the spot, never moving on, always preserving me at the exact moment I left off. That thing is self-doubt.
Doubting myself is my running-naked-dream, one of those where you look down and realise you have nothing on. Like a shadow creeping across a field, it dawns on you that you’re unclothed. Naked, wearing nothing but your birthday suit. In a room full of people. The agony that comes with this is that you are mortified, utterly, devastatingly mortified.
Self-doubt as a writer is a double edged sword. In my line of work, I have to approach people. I always have. I am, outwardly, what they call a ‘people person’. I am smiley. I have that annoying habit of engaging everyone in the room so they feel involved. I network, listen, understand, mingle. I nod at bad jokes. Think of it as a swan, gliding, confident, chin slightly beaked, whilst underwater, the feet are kicking, frantic, mad.
Self-doubt, you see, is my swan feet. I am awash with the stuff. It cripples me, sometimes so much that I will start a project often only to stop it half way through declaring it to be ‘rubbish’, then start again from scratch.
Flip side is, I know I have a good radar, a kind of instinct I suppose, for what works and what doesn’t. This is the other side of that sword. It comes into play a lot in writing, thank God. It’s an instinct that tells me when to revise a chapter, when to really cut a joke out of a column and when not to write a blog on self-doubt… Trouble is, when you mix this handy instinct malarkey with this self-doubt cess pit, you end up with something that resembles an oil slick, something that renders you unmoveable, sticking you together until you are blinking through dripping oil and wondering how in the hell you are going to make it out.
This week I’ve had to approach people – and I’m drenched in doubt. I am freelance, my promo person is me. I am the one who has to shout about me, even if, inside, it’s absolutely the very last thing I ever want to do. The approaches this week I’ve had to make are to do with festivals, things like that, speaking, if you will, at big literature events. I have done this on a a few occasions before. Heck, in my marketing life guise, I’ve presented to rooms of over 300 delegates. I’ve been on the radio – live. I do actually like it. So, clearly, being there isn’t the problem.
It’s getting there in the first place that’s the issue. I just assume, you see, that I’m pants. It’s my default button. But I know it shouldn’t be, though. And so, mercifully, just when I feel as low as a river in a drought, I get a life line, a little splash of rain. Writing is that line. Writing. I love writing. My dream. It flies in just in time, swoops me up and saves me. The thought of writing is the thing in me that says, ‘just keep going, just do it, do it. Stuff it. What’s the worst that could happen?’
And that’s it, really, isn’t it, in all this writing lark, in this profession where you are critiqued by everyone, up against thousands of others, shooting your arrow to hit a target 100 miles away. Before you throw in the towel on it all, you have to stop, you have to, and ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’
‘Cos the answer is nothing. Nothing could really happen if you approach people, if you try, if you give it a shot. So why not just do it? Just sod it, and do it. The worst they can say is no, at which point you smile and move on to the next.
Because – and here’s the really scary thing -if you don’t do it, if you end up jacking it all in and packing your dream – whatever it is – into a box, if you find yourself about to do that, then ask yourself, in that scenario, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ and I’ll guarantee you, that answer will scare you the most.
So me, I’m off to scare the living daylights out of myself and approach people. Sod it. Take that, self-doubt! I mean, what’s the worst that could happen..?
What scares the pants off you? What stops you from moving on and what do you do to get going again?
Out tomorrow “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest Gazette newspaper column to my blog. This week I’m talking about the Severn Barrage in Gloucestershire…**