Why, you may ask, have I not been writing posts for this blog as frequently as I once did?
When I started this blog in 2014, I wrote one post a week. Every Thursday; very disciplined. Then once every two weeks. Now it has slipped further. My friend Caroline asked me why I am writing less often.
Because I am now a fully accredited writer, I told her. A writer who is enrolled in a Master’s degree program in Writing at a highly regarded university. And the more I write, the more I doubt myself.
Which I think is something many women have long excelled at. Self-doubt.
I don’t think it I am alone in specializing in self-doubt.
I wrote once about visiting a law school professor during his (always “his” back then) office hours to question my grade on a final exam. I thought it was too high! Can you imagine, I suggested he’d made a mistake in giving me an “A” because I didn’t think I deserved it. The professor politely confirmed that his grade was correct and shooed me out of his office.
Some of us never learn. We think every good “grade” in whatever field we are in must be a mistake on the part of the grade-giver.
That close cousin of self-doubt, self-comparison, has also been visiting me lately. You may share the same unwelcome cousin, those thoughts that compel us to compare ourselves to others.
Though you haven’t asked, I will tell you that I have been getting (unexpectedly IMHO) excellent grades in the writing course I am taking this semester. In “Contemporary American Writers” we read both fiction and non-fiction written by a diverse group of American (duh) writers and then write Critical Response papers analyzing their work from the perspective of a writing craft technique such as character development, point of view or structure.
True Confession: I had to google the term “Critical Response.” It did not help when our young adult son told me that he learned how to write a Critical Response when he was in middle school. When I was in middle school, it was then called “junior high” which tells you (a) how long ago it was that I was in junior high and (b) that I never learned to write a Critical Response paper.
But I do now! I received a very good grade on the first one I wrote. And an even better one on the second.
Does this mean I am a good writer? Or simply a person who is good at following the professors’s directions? Both? Neither? Or someone perennially plagued with self-doubt.
The doubt factor has even crept into my reading for pleasure. I am a rabid reader. The kind of person known to read the back of Kleenex boxes when nothing else is available and is desperate for the printed word.
In the greatest of ironies, now that I am learning to read like a writer, I am enjoying it less! I read a few paragraphs in a much-anticipated novel or a favorite mystery and then start to think:
- wait, isn’t this too much back story?
- shouldn’t there be a scene here instead of summary?
- did the author just make a mistake in her point of view?
Sometimes I want to go back to my old self who was not consciously aware of the distinctions between “alliteration,” “anaphora” and “assonance.”
Perhaps I have also mislaid my writer’s “voice.”
At a meeting of my amazing DC women’s writers group earlier this week, my writer pals unanimously concluded that while my writing has improved (they credit the classes I’ve been taking), I seem to have lost some of my writer’s voice.
I’m not as snarky, not as sarcastic, not as candid, not as clever. Not as much me. Perhaps because every time I sit down to write I am too damn careful to use every bit of writerly craft I’ve been learning correctly.
Too much focus on craft = loss of authentic voice?
The supportive women in my group reassured me that I will – someday – recover my original voice. That once I get beyond this “wow, look what I learned today” phase of my writing career (which is, by the way, annoying the heck out of my husband), that the craft part will come more naturally and the authentic me part of it will return.
Will I also outgrow the “self-doubt” part as well? Or will I always be that person double-checking the transcript to see if my grade is correct?
I vote for the latter. Self-doubt is not easily outgrown. Look at this way: like many women, I will always – effortlessly – get an “A” in self-doubt.