Reader Question: Do you ever doubt yourself as a writer? If so, how do you keep going?

Yes, absolutely.  Every time I start a new book, I wonder how I ever thought I could be a writer.  I don’t have the full story settled in my mind.  The characters are what come to me first, and they don’t always tell me where they’re going.  I have a loose outline because the publisher needs to have some idea what the story will be, but they also know that it will change in the course of writing.  (Not all publishers are so understanding.)

Writing a book can be frightening.  I’m often walking in a fog bank, unable to see more than a few steps ahead.  Sometimes I end up in a mire, unable to move, looking for something to grab hold of so I can pull myself out.  Other times, I’m in way over my head.

I’m not the only writer who feels this way. We’ve gathered in groups and talked about the many challenges of being a writer.  I expose a great deal about who I am, the struggles I’ve gone through – or am going through, the tendency to try to work out things for myself rather than immediately trust in God.  When the manuscript is done, numerous people get to read and critique it.  That’s when I find out if I’ve succeeded in telling the story my characters gave me.   Did I hold the readers’ attention?  Did the characters come to life?  Is the biblical message clear?  Does the whole project encourage and challenge the faith of the reader? 

When the comments and questions come back, it’s another chance for me to go back and rework scenes, dialogue, structure.  I’m fortunate to have editors who encourage me to raise the bar.

How do I keep going when I’m filled with doubts?  I just do the work, one page at a time.  I try not to think about writing a book.  A book is a monumental undertaking.  So — I set a goal to write four pages a day, five days a week.  I focus on the characters and let their story unfold.  I don’t think about what the reader might want, but keep my mind fixed on telling the story I’ve been given. 

And when it’s all done, printed and in the bookstores, I let it go.  I’ve done the best work I can.  It’s time to rest and wait for new characters to start whispering their story inside my head.  And when they’ve told me enough of their story, I swallow my doubts and start writing page one.