My eldest son is an artist. Earlier today, he brought down a new piece for my inspection. He draws almost exclusively in pencil, and he was experimenting with color. He stuck his drawing under my nose, and the look on his face told me he wasn't happy. I could tell I needed to walk that tightrope between being honestly critical and bolstering his self-confidence.
I'm his mama, so I think everything he does is amazing, but it pisses him off, and rightly so, if I don't look with a critical eye and give him some honest feedback. He had created a face. I told him his use of color made it look sad. The blue made the eyes pop, and the purple shading made the cheeks seem drawn.
"Yeah, I know. I don't think I meant for it to be sad."
"It's kinda cool. You tried this new thing, and it revealed something you weren't consciously aware of in your work."
I could tell he was chewing on that when he went back to his desk. He was doing that zombie walk that indicated his body was present, but his mind was far away. The scowl he'd worn when he showed me the picture was gone. I hope I pushed back his self-doubt just a little.
Self-doubt is the enemy...a cancer to anyone who creates, and I don't know any creative person who doesn't suffer from it to some degree. When a friend hands me something he's written and immediately starts qualifying or apologizing, I give him the Diana Ross hand. Just stop. Let me read it before anyone decides it's a piece of crap. Of course, in that moment of handing over, self-doubt roars to the surface, and you simply know that whatever you've created is a total piece of crap.
I can't take the moral high ground here. I'm as guilty as anyone. When I handed my beta-reader, Amanda, my last manuscript, I handed it over with a litany of excuses.
"I know there's a sagging middle. I haven't edited yet. Blah, blah, blah..."
She gave me the Diana Ross hand.
Once she read it and gave me some feedback, I was fine. I had things to work on and think about. I could do something about my piece of crap. Amanda was honest enough to tell me where I had problems, but she didn't think it was a piece of crap. I'm still not sure. I haven't revised that particular manuscript enough to feel good about it yet.
I need someone to give me the Diana Ross hand now. I'm headed to Orlando Wednesday for the RWA convention. I will be meeting my agent in person for the first time, and I have a pitch session with an editor. I like to think of myself as a confident person, but self-doubt is lurking in the background waiting to jump on me in a moment of weakness.
To my artists, writers, singers, and myself: We can't succumb to self-doubt. There's no profit in it. If we let it, it will eat away at us until there's nothing left. Just Stop!
...and think it o-o-ver.