Recently, I came across an old article discussing why writers can feel like frauds. "The Imposter Syndrome" - when you have difficulty internalising your own accomplishments. This isn't unique to writers, it's pretty common among a plethora of vocations. Though it links in pretty neatly with a favourite quote of mine: "The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." - Sylvia Plath.


All of this left me a tad reflective on the nature of our self-doubt for writers. Especially crime writers. For many crime writers, their work needs to feel realistic in order to maintain the suspension of disbelief. I'm not saying there aren't other genres that require this. What I'm saying is that readers of crime tend to be particularly savvy when it comes to picking up inconsistencies, errors in police procedure and technical aspects of forensics which the average man on the street won't know (or care about.) As the self-doubt ridden creatures we are, it makes it tougher to stomach when we need to exercise some artistic license (in order to keep the story from becoming bogged down in the land of tedious real life.) We look at these bits and go "is anybody really going to believe this nonsense?" Obviously some people do... there's many a massively successful author who seems to draw opposing opinions in this area. Some people think they're the best thing since sliced bread, yet others will decry them, shouting from the rooftops how they've written unrealistic drivel.


Then there's an area, brought up recently by Rosie Claverton's sharp piece, covering whether crime fiction contributes to the mental health stigma in society. (If you haven't read it, you should.) Which brings in another area of writing crime that pops into my mind every now and again. Does a writer have a moral obligation to steer their reader towards more conscientious and ethical behaviour? If you believe this, then it gives a brand new clip of ammunition for your self-doubt. Am I achieving the right message in this dubious grey area? Am I making the societal stigma of mental illness worse or better? Do I even know how I'm affecting this? The list of questions goes on.


Of course, just about everybody is familiar with the negative outcomes from self-doubt. You miss out on trying something new. You discover something you were ashamed of for years isn't anywhere near as awful as you thought it was. Writers do tend to be our own worst critics. Every novel, story or article is another wreck we drop while travelling along our winding road of lingual destruction. At Harrogate I was surrounded by so many talented writers. I felt like a minnow in a great ocean. I was even starstruck a couple of times. Every time I read anything I enjoy, it always makes me doubt my own work. "It's just substandard." I tell myself. "It's not good enough to sit on the shelf next to what these people have written." Self-doubt really is a killer! A buzz killer!!!


It's at this point I stop to doubt my own doubt. (Take that Descartes!) All these great writers are all still human. They eat, they sleep (well, some of them do), they drink. Yeah, we all definitely drink. The point being, not one of them is some superior deity. If all of these humans can achieve these great things through hard work and talent, then anybody else with enough talent can. The thing that probably makes all the difference, is the hard work they put in. Self-doubt doesn't defeat them. It just pushes them on to work harder and make sure their writing, their story... is the best quality it can be.


It brings me back around rather nicely to the opening quote - Well Sylvia, I agree that self-doubt may be our worst enemy, but I think like many of our greatest... you haven't completed the thought. It may be our worst enemy, but we need it to keep us honest. To keep us strong, yet humble. To keep us working hard, and to work harder even when we think we're almost done. Every last sentence smoothed down and then polished for that fine glossy finish. That's how the best work is created. Self-doubt may be the worst enemy to creativity, but it's the greatest ally of quality writing.

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