The Blank Page is a new weekly series on Novelty Revisions dedicated to any writer who is just beginning their journey or starting again after a long pause. Check back every Monday for more tips and inspiration.
It will happen to you.
You will sit down at your computer one day, open up a blank document, fully prepared to start writing something new, and a question will pop into your head that you’ve never asked yourself before.
“What if all this work I’m doing is all for nothing?”
This question will likely come without warning, without prompt. It might happen while you’re writing. It might happen before you even start. It might wake you suddenly in the middle of the night, bringing to question all the writing-related plans you may have had for the day ahead.
And the most terrifying thing of all?
Once this question makes itself known to you once, it will keep coming back. It will stay with you. And at first, possibly for a very long time, doubt will begin to feel like your absolute worst enemy.
But it doesn’t have to. At least, not forever.
For the past month, I’ve practiced my violin almost every day. Progress is slow, and I’m not putting in a significant amount of time to “get better” any faster than necessary. But most days, I enjoy the time I do get to spend playing. The simple things are much less of a struggle than they were in the very beginning, and I’m consistently looking forward to being able to improve little by little over time.
There was one moment about a week ago, however, that almost knocked my journey as a violinist completely off course. Which isn’t too far to veer from, since it hasn’t quite been two months since I started. But still.
I was just minding my own business, playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” over and over because no one ever said practice had to be complicated, and I had this terrifying thought.
“What if none of this matters and I’m just totally wasting my time?”
And then: “What if I never get good at this and I’m just stuck playing Mary Had a Little Lamb for the rest of my life?”
And THEN: “Why am I even doing this?”
This, my friends, is classic Beginner’s Doubt. Doubt in all forms hits you at various stages of developing any kind of skill, but when it hits you not long after you’ve crossed the starting line, it really hits you hard.
Why do we experience these moments when everything suddenly seems meaningless and we wonder what all our hard work is even for? Not because we’re weak, not because we’re incapable or that we’re destined to fail, but because questioning why we do what we do is how we convince ourselves to keep going.
Believe it or not, “going through the motions” isn’t how you want to spend your whole life as a creator. It’s fine for the mundane tasks and there’s nothing wrong with schedules and routines when you need that stability. But if you stay on autopilot too long, you’ll forget why you started doing all this in the first place. And that’s going to lead to boredom, maybe even to regret, and the often present temptation to quit.
Doubt is not the enemy you have always thought it is. It’s actually one of a creator’s most important assets. Doubt forces you to remember who you are and what you stand for. It doesn’t let you mindlessly write without wonder. It makes you stop. It makes you look around and appreciate where you are, right now, in this moment.
You need that. We all need that. It’s not healthy to create without purpose. It’s dangerous to go on day after day not taking moments to remind yourself that you write because it matters, because it’s what you’ve always wanted, because you know deep down inside that you want it more than anything you’ve ever wanted before.
When I’m standing there, violin and bow in hand, suddenly wondering what I’m even doing with my time, I’m reminded that this is something I chose, something that called to me and that I said yes to. It doesn’t matter if I play the same three songs over and over for the rest of my life … as long as I’m enjoying as many of those seconds as possible.
Maybe writing makes you feel whole. Isn’t that reason enough to keep writing?
Everyone, every now and then, needs to take a step back and evaluate their surroundings. What they’re doing. Why they’re doing it. Where they’ve been, how far they’ve come. How far they still hope to go.
This is how we make it through the toughest moments along our journeys to success. It’s like stopping to walk in the middle of a marathon. You need to give yourself a minute to breathe, to remind yourself that just because you can’t see the finish line yet — or its greater purpose for your life — doesn’t mean you’ll never get there, or that it isn’t worth continuing to get closer.
Don’t be afraid to question your work, to check yourself and make sure that what you’re doing is still for all the reasons you promised you would do it for. Don’t convince yourself that doubt is a sign you aren’t going to make it to your finish line. Instead, use it to propel you forward, to bring you closer to your goal.
We all, when we least expect it, start to doubt whether or not we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.
It will happen to you.
And that’s how you’ll know you’re on the right track.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.