I’ve been doing a few last minute edits on my crime manuscript (so my current WIP was put on hold for a week) as I have started the long process of finding an agent. There were some strong themes that stood out to me in my story, but also in my writing process. As a psychologist, I spend a lot of time engaged in self-reflection, so now that I’m back at work the emerging themes seem to cross over into all elements of my life. I thought i’d touch on how vulnerability, trust and self-doubt are common challenges that are experienced by writers, psychologists and of course in many other professions. I hope you find it interesting!
As a psychologist, I learned very quickly that in order to be a good therapist and for my clients to feel safe and trusting of me, I also needed to be vulnerable. As part of my training I learnt how to dissect how I was feeling (completely foreign to me!), explore those feelings and make sense of them. I learnt that you don’t have to change the essence of who you are to be a better person, but through self-reflection in a safe place, you can identify your strengths and weaknesses. For someone to be vulnerable with you then you need to be vulnerable yourself. Self-reflection involves being vulnerable. You can only truly look within if you’re willing to face your strengths and weaknesses. I try to build on my strengths and I try to work on my weaknesses. This is something I encourage in the people I see in therapy too. I work with people from all walks of life and I need to be mindful that some people, experiences or behaviours may evoke strong emotional reactions within me.
You have to be true to yourself in your writing too. When I began to write seriously (about eight years ago), I tried to write what I thought I should be writing and I also attempted to write how I thought I should write. In essence, I was trying too hard. I wasn’t being myself and true to my voice. I wanted to write literary books that were smart, characters that were intelligent and articulate but instead I created characters that were two-dimensional and to be frank, quite boring. In the past couple of years I’ve managed to hone my voice and tap into not only my own vulnerability but also that of my characters. Blogging has really helped with developing my voice. It’s an evolving process.
I love that I’ve been able to write about inherently flawed characters and to challenge them on a psychological, emotional and physical level. In doing so, I’ve taken myself out of my comfort zone too.
One of the biggest things I had to learn as a psychologist when I began working with people in long-term therapy was trust. Trust in myself and trust in the process. Like in writing, there have been many times when I’ve questioned, what the hell am I doing? What is the point of this? Where are we going? Sometimes it’s the people I see, that have asked me that. Over time I’ve learnt to trust the process. Trust that rapport will build, a relationship will form and change will happen, not just for the client, but within me too.
In writing, my characters throw me these questions when I start to get off track. As I’ve moved into the final 20,000 words of my current WIP, I’ve really had to trust the process. I’ve had to trust that it will all work out. That the anxiety, the feeling stuck and the hopelessness will pass when first, I acknowledge these uncomfortable feelings and then keep on powering through.
One of the best resources I have as a therapist is a sense of community. I surround myself with like-minded people, I engage in individual supervision and this not only provides me with a sense of camaraderie but the feedback I get helps me grow as a person and develop my self-awareness. If I’m feeling anxious or doubting myself then I’m not going to be very helpful as a therapist. Of course we all feel anxious and doubt our abilities at times, but I try to talk about it (or write about it) to sort through these feelings as they arise.
I probably don’t even have to say much about self-doubt and writing. It tends to come hand in hand, doesn’t it? My confidence seems to come in waves. There are times I feel really optimistic and hopeful about my written work and achieving my goals, but then there are the inevitable setbacks along the way which make me doubt myself. It’s something that I think most writers experience at some point.
It’s all these elements: vulnerability, self-doubt and trust issues that I explore in my manuscript EXPOSED. My protagonist is an anxious psychiatrist who doubts her competence and fears working with high risk patients. I exaggerate these normal fears that are found in the helping profession and push my protagonist to the limits. The story is not based on my personal experiences but I can definitely relate to the emotions my protagonist confronts in the story.
As I wrote this post, I realised I could probably draw on another parallel, with the experience of motherhood (where we often feel vulnerable, doubtful of our parenting skills and just have to trust that it’ll all work out!) but I suspect this article would be way too long so perhaps I’ll save that for another time!
What are your experiences in vulnerability, trust and self-doubt in the writing process? How do you manage it?