How do you restore faith once it’s been lost?
I don’t know about you, but I’m a writer who is full of self-doubt that only gets worse the older I get. Rather cynical for a girl of 24, but there it is.
I’ve known for almost two decades that I was going to be a writer. I’ve always known that I would have to be in a creative or artistic field; my brain isn’t suited for business or anything that deals with a lot of people. (Oddly enough, I can handle being a librarian, mostly because I love books so much. But that’s about the only “normal” job I can hold and not go crazy or totally mess up.) Writing is really my only talent. I know this. And yet, I still have doubts about becoming a successful writer.
When I was younger, I really didn’t have plan about how I was going to become a published author…but I didn’t feel I needed one. I knew what I could do, what I wanted to do, and all I had to do was do it. I didn’t have any doubts about my eventual success. And yet, now I believe that it’s highly unlikely that I will ever achieve publication of any kind. I don’t even know if I’m capable of finishing anything anymore. For at least six months, that thought has paralyzed me. My depression was in full swing and only getting worse. I’d managed to stem the tide with anime, but that wasn’t enough anymore. I was losing my writing, my faith in writing, and I didn’t know how to stop it.
In many ways, I’m still not sure. I’m still fighting the depression. It’s easier now but I’ve got a long way to go, and I still can’t picture myself being successful. I really can’t. I can’t even picture myself holding a finished manuscript. But one of the coping mechanisms I’ve developed to handle my depression is helping me a little with my crisis of faith as well: don’t look too far ahead.
For whatever reason, I’ve always looked ahead. I try to consider all possibilities and scenarios before making a move. This has allowed me to lead a fairly safe and comfortable life, but it’s also inhibiting. I usually can’t relax, let go, or experiment like many other people do. At least, not without a massive influx of guilt that tends to take away from any fun I might have. Part of that inhibition comes from seeing too many possibilities, seeing all the ways something could go wrong and trying to plan for those possibilities. When you couple that tendency with severe depression, you get a very bad recipe that paralyzes you and fills you with a deep sense of futility. I could see so many ways to fail that I couldn’t see any of the ways to success. That killed a lot of my motivation and caused me to stop writing for a long while.
My coping mechanism has been to stop thinking. I still use the creative part of my brain, but I stopped looking ahead. I try to only plan a day or two ahead of where I am and to focus on dealing with each day as it is. I can note longer-term plans or events in my calendar, but then I don’t think about them or look at them again. Each week I check my calendar to make sure I haven’t forgotten an important appointment, but otherwise, I focus on the here and now. Since thinking about the future caused me a great deal of misery, I now try not to think about it, or I ignore things outside of today. “I’m going to the gym today” is a much more manageable thought and action than thinking, “I will go to the gym every day for a month” or even “every day this week.” That kind of long-term goal or plan is just too overwhelming in my admittedly precarious mental state. My sense of well-being has been compromised, perhaps irreparably, my nerves and emotions lying very close to the surface. It leaves me feeling very raw and unstable. I can’t let myself dwell or brood anymore because that’s the depression that keeps trying to drag me down into the grey abyss again. I caught a breath of fresh air and a beam of sunlight trying to climb out of that pit; and I’m not about to go back.
So, like with the gym, it’s much easier to say, “I will write a page today,” or “I will write for an hour today” than to say, “I will write everyday from now on.” I can’t let my goals be that amorphous and overwhelming anymore. In order to write every day, I have to take each day as if it were brand new and it’s all I’m going to get. Does this make the doubts go away? No, I still think that I’m probably not going to finish. But if I focus on trying to do a little each day, no matter what it is, then eventually, without even realizing it, I’ll be finished. I just have to keep going until I reach that particular day. I can’t predict when that will be, and it really doesn’t matter, I suppose. At least, I tell myself that it doesn’t matter. So far, it seems to be working.
There is one other thing that keeps me going, even though I lack faith: a debt. I owe my characters. I owe them big time. They’ve stayed with me and put up with so much from me that I owe it to them to tell their stories. I do love my characters; I identify with people in fiction far more than I do with those in real life. I know that my own personal history is not particularly interesting. But my characters have very interesting histories and I’m the only one who can tell them. I care about them and what happens to them, and so, even though I may never finish, I still owe it to them to try. This kind of motivation may not exist for everyone, and I’m not saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Writers may share similar struggles but we’re all very different people. What pushes me may not push you. You’ll need to look back and find what made you start writing in the first place, or recreate as best you can the circumstances that encouraged your writing. But for me, the give and take of gratitude and debts is a very powerful motivator in my life that colors all of my relationships, real and imaginary. It’s really the only article of faith I have left.