4th Feb '12

Subject Doubt and the Writer

ByMichelle Paver

If you are deliberating on whether or not you have what it takes to enter the Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition 2013, you might be heartened to know that it isn't just the novice who doubts his or her abilities. Even the most well-established and talented authors have those moments of self-doubt - kept awake by the nagging thought: 'Am I good enough?'

Here on The sCoop! Michelle Paver, the hugely successful bestselling author of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, and one of the judges of The Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition 2012, shares with us her own feelings on that little devil called doubt:

"A while ago, I took part in a workshop for aspiring writers, and during the panel discussion, I mentioned that it had taken me 16 years to get published. Afterwards, a young woman from the audience came up to me and asked, a bit hesitantly, whether during that time I’d ever experienced any doubt.

I was genuinely startled. “Of course,” I replied as gently as I could, “every day for 16 years, and pretty much every day since then, too.” And I kicked myself for not having got this across during the discussion.

And this reminded me of the gulf that unpublished writers sometimes feel exists between themselves and those lucky souls whose books are sitting on the shelves in Waterstones. But the fact is, whether you’re published or not, doubt is part of a writer’s life. It goes with the territory.

Granted, what you worry about is probably different, depending on which side of the line you’re on. The aspiring writer may wonder, “Am I even remotely publishable? Or am I wasting my time? Am I any good?” Whereas the published writer may wonder, “Can I do it again? Have I taken a wrong turn? Am I any good?” But the doubts are there, just the same.

And that’s as it should be. Because if you don’t experience doubt – if you don’t constantly question yourself and your work – then how can you see what’s wrong with it, and make it better?

One final thing. It’s occurred to me that the idea that published writers are free of any doubt may have something to do with all those newspaper features about the author of the moment and her latest bestseller – complete with confidently smiling photo. Well, it might help to bear in mind that the morning after that interview was given, the author in question probably padded into her study with a mug of tea, and stood blinking at the blank page awaiting her on the desk – and thought, oh God, Chapter Nineteen. What if I can’t do it?"



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