Is he serious or am I crazy?

in our first apartment

We were in the dark. I needed a place to stay for one night and my friend had an extra bed. He was on one side of the room and I was on the other. We were talking. The room had narrow windows, heavy curtains, and a low ceiling. I could tell where he was only by the sound of his voice. We’d been talking for over an hour in that darkness.

There is something about not being able to see…

He asked me a question I didn’t want to answer. I rolled over on my side and looked into the dark center of the room. It was one of those questions you can’t answer without sounding like a slut or a prude. I wanted an answer that will give nothing away, but I’m no Mae West, no Dorothy Parker. “I’m not going to answer that,” I said with an effort to laugh.

He was my best friend. We spent every day together. And he was engaged to a girl several hundred miles away. With every grad school failure I cried on his shoulder. He had amazing moods–dancing wildly in the center of the dance floor to nearly unable to crawl out from under the blankets. “That means no,” he said.

“You think what you want,” I said. The blanket scratched at me and my heart picked up speed. From across the room I can feel him thinking. I tell myself I’m imagining things. Reading too much into things. I was forever doing that.

Then he suggested what I had willed him not to. For a moment I thought of saying yes. Call his bluff or see what would happen. I laughed. “Oh of course not,” I said. “You just stay right over there where you belong and enough with the crazy talk. I’m tired and need some sleep.”

“Marta,” he said.

I rolled over to face the wall. “I know. I know you’re kidding. Honestly, you’re a nut sometimes.”

“Good night, Marta,” he said.

“Good night, ________,” I said, wondering if I’d said the right thing.

I have a hard time believing what people say to me about my work. Are they just being polite? Are they kidding? No. They’re honest. Why would they make that up? But maybe I want it to be true. Maybe they’re wrong. Why couldn’t they be right? Maybe I’m thinking too much of myself. Surely they are being nice. Nobody wants to say bad things to anyone. They like me. They think I’m crazy. I’m being overdramatic. I’m not crazy. But maybe I’m in denial about being crazy. I want them to like me. Maybe I should nod my head and go with whatever they say. Accept it. I can’t think straight. God, I can’t write.

Putting your work out into the world is so much exposure. And who wants to see this side of my brain? Some you have said that you don’t mind sharing or that you even like to. I know people who can’t wait to wave their manuscript at you and get an opinion. Some people don’t care what other people think. It must be nice to be them.

But then in spite of feeling panic, exposure, and uncertainty, I hand my work out anyway. Except to my husband. I told him once he could read my novel and then I had to take it back. I couldn’t handle the panic attacks.

What, if anything, scares you about writing? What makes you doubt yourself? What do people say that you can’t quite believe? How do you deal with doubt?

6 thoughts on “Is he serious or am I crazy?

  1. Writing is an art and I suspect writer’s deal with doubt very much like artists do – they want to believe the good things people say and don’t want to believe the critical things. Probably all of it should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s so subjective, at the heart of it. Some people will love it, some will hate it, some won’t care one way or the other. As an artist, you can only hope that more people love it than hate it, knowing you’ve done your best. And if you’re happy with your efforts and accomplishment, what the rest of the world thinks matters little.

    1. It is baffling to me how I know–understand–every word you say here and yet still I feel my nerves fray and judgment waver when my work is out there. Thanks though.

  2. I’ve never learned to deal with the doubt. I vacillate wildly between being supremely confident in my work, to the point of arrogance, and falling desperate and clingy into spirals of I-suckitude. I’m a manic writer, hitting the highest of highs and sinking to the lowest of lows in the area of confidence.

    I hear what others say. I try to accept them at face value, but I can’t do that when all they do is gush, say nice things, offer nothing in the way of critical feedback. They mean well, I appreciate it — then I promptly dismiss it.

    I don’t trust anyone to be fully telling me the truth. If I had an agent or an editor gush that way, I probably would doubt it at some point.

    I think it’s the doubt which drives me to keep working, keep getting better, keep improving … to push until one day I outstrip my doubt, outdistance it, outrun it and leave it blue and lifeless by the side of the road I travel on this writer’s journey.

    I can dream, can’t I? 🙂

  3. You are a courageous woman, feeling that fear and doing it anyway. I haven’t felt the fear in a long time…Since I stopped sending my stuff out! lol But you and I are sisters under Venus, so I have those same thoughts. I, too, read too much into everything, except I think I’m starting to be able to identify when it’s the crazy talking, as opposed to intuition. It’s a relief, even if I am fooling myself.

  4. Nothing helps, really.

    My newest thing to worry about: that I’m turning people off by my failure to accept compliments gracefully. So they just stop complimenting me — which of course leads me to conclude they hate me or, worse, the work.

    No wonder your meta-neuroses feel so familiar. 🙂

  5. The greatest leap I made in self-confidence came when I re-read something I’d written a few years earlier. I’d pretty much forgotten what I’d written, so I came to it fresh. I actually amazed myself with my own writing. I think for the first time ever. I’d looked at my work totally objectively- not with one eye closed against the possibility of reading something I didn’t like or that might even make me flinch. I still remember that feeling when I read the last line of that essay: “damn, I’m good.” I also realized that this particular piece was of a higher quality than other stuff I’d written. Very powerful, raw but not chaotic, wry but not snarky. I’d left some of that behind in my subsequent work.

    I keep that essay near my desk, as a reminder of what I’m capable of- so I’ll keep going, and keep trying to write at that level or maybe even beyond. It’s only one essay out of all the other work I’ve done, but it has that “I know it when I see it” quality. That reassures and enourages and challenges me more than any compliment, acceptance letter, or publishing contract ever has.

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