Layout Image

20 Things that Doubt Will Do, and 3 Things It Can’t


  • is torture*
  • is terrible for others to watch
  • will make you beg to be allowed to stop
  • prompts fantasies of stacking shelves in a supermarket, at night, without thought, free of doubt
  • is normal
  • comes with the territory
  • cannot be escaped
  • reduces
  • demands a front row seat at every launch
  • questions your authority
  • knows all your weak spots
  • can stop you from starting
  • can stop you from finishing
  • can stop you from launching
  • can make your stomach turn with nausea at the sight of your own name in print
  • throws up shadows
  • prowls
  • then pounces
  • is suspicious
  • is destructive


Doubt cannot be escaped.  But you can learn to work with doubt by your side. How? By building up your writing muscles.  By stopping self-recrimination, and knowing doubt is normal.  By knowing where doubt cannot reach.  Where it has no power.  Because doubt cannot touch:

  • Your right to practice
  • Your intention: the difference  your words will make
  • The strong, insistent beat of your writing heart

~~~ “Doubt is torture”: a short chapter in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones Photo Credit: Crescent, by Hamed Samer

Share on Twitter


  1. Tweets that mention 20 Things that Doubt Will Do, and 3 Things It Can’t | Confident Writing -- says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Todd Rutherford, Joanna Paterson. Joanna Paterson said: 20 Things that Doubt Will Do, and 3 Things It Can’t: Doubt: is torture* is terrible for others to watch wi… [...]

  2. Iain Broome
    Twitter: iainbroome

    Lovely simple post and very pertinent for me. Trickiest six or so months of my writing life to date, for all sorts of reasons. There’s really nothing worse than doubting what you’re doing. But get through it we must!

  3. Craig Phillips says:

    This is a really great post Joanna. Imagine all the great writing works we might have missed out on if the writer had given in to doubt.

    Be confident, and believe in what you are doing. I think this is the best way to produce your best possible work.

  4. Karen Swim
    Twitter: karenswim

    Joanna, doubt is indeed destructive. If we allow doubt to win we deny ourselves the opportunity to improve. I am not sure why we sometimes torture ourselves with “not good enough” rather than focusing on continued progress. If we never write, we never improve and doubt has the victory. Now, I must keep that in mind each day when those same thoughts creep into my head. :-)

  5. bookfraud says:

    if doubt is torture, then my staring at a blank screen populated only by a blinking cursor is being chained to the iron maiden.

    we are all our own worst critics, and by doing so, provide our best excuse for not working at all. (doubt personified). this may sound like it’s counterproductive to say, but some of the best writing advice i ever received was “you can’t be afraid to suck.” in other words, what we may write could be bad, but letting this doubt trap you is worse than being bad to begin with.

  6. Leah Pauls says:

    I wish I had read this when you first posted it. Doubt had waged a war on me that day. This post would have been a WOMD. Thankfully, doubt didn’t have its way, but I’m a bit worn out from the struggle.

  7. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Iain you have my sympathies - it’s a horrible feeling. I started writing this when in the grips of it, and I felt better to realise it was ‘normal’ - but not better enough to stop it being torture ;-) Still, as you say… only way through it is to get through it.

    Craig in some ways that is what doubt forces us to do - boil it down to what matters, those values and beliefs, your own view of the world, your own writing voice… the things that are unshakeable

    Karen I’m sure there are whole books to be written in those ‘why’ questions of yours… ;-) I guess we learn to keep going even without knowing the answers to why, or the solutions beyond one foot in front of the other. And keep re-applying, day by sometimes painful day.

    bookfraud definitely there is an element of perfectionism in the doubt attack, and allowing for our work to be ‘good enough’ (which is often pretty darned good) can be one of the ways to shimmy past it

    Leah I know what you mean - it is draining, and it is a struggle… but we do learn and grow as we work through it, of that I’m sure. Glad you’re out the other side

  8. Patricia says:

    I often see myself stocking those shelves at the supermarket all night long and frozen in the dairy case…or scrubbing other people’s bathroom floors - enough I yell at doubt…but I surely goodness and mercy have been there too many times.

    I also am experiencing a new one…I doubt that I can believe strongly enough or purely enough to succeed.

    At least I keep getting up again and going at it…

  9. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Patricia we can be so hard on ourselves… the personal development world has taught us that our thoughts shape reality, so if we don’t succeed somehow we didn’t believe strongly enough on purely enough…? That can’t be right. I know I fall into the same trap myself sometimes and it can be very destructive… I do believe kindness to self is essential to living with doubt (and the effort of getting up again and going at it)

  10. [...] 20 Things That Doubt Will Do, and 3 Things It Can’t [...]