Wednesday, May 11, 2011

“Being Gretchen”: Happiness for Writers Who Second-Guess

We writers are blessed with extreme sensitivity; it’s what allows us to write. On the other hand, it can be a curse: we constantly gauge reactions to our work, even our own, as we self-edit. But self-editing is essential! (Sound of pulling hair out.) I constantly second-guess my approach to my current novel; with every rejection—and nearly every reading—I’m tempted to rethink the entire project.

But there’s help! The other night I was reading an enjoyable book called The Happiness Project. In it, author Gretchen Rubin discusses her own second-guessing paralysis.

On pp 77-78 of The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin explains that along the way to her immensely successful New York Times bestseller, many people gave her advice. One friend suggested she change the title; another recommended she emphasize different aspects of her life such as conflict with her mother. When she protested she had no conflict with her mother, he harrumphed that she was in denial.

With each suggestion she worried: was her tone wrong? Was she wrong to talk about her own experience so much? Perhaps the answer was yes, and yet… “I didn’t want to be the novelist who spent so much time rewriting his first sentence that he never wrote his second.” Gretchen decided that if she wanted to accomplish anything, she needed to push ahead without constantly second-guessing herself. She needed to "Be Gretchen." And there I was, holding her beautiful and worthwhile book, now in reach-the-masses paperback, in my hands.

Possibly because I had just read about Gretchen’s experience, I felt much more relaxed about heading back into my jello elephant of a novel yesterday for one more go-round. And something wonderful happened: a new idea took off and made magic. At least I felt that way, though I’ve heard that a chemical released in the brain during creative bursts gives that euphoric sensation of having created something special…

Oh no! There I go again, second-guessing. Today I will choose again to “Be Storm Petrel” and push ahead with my own vision of the project, and encourage you to do the same.

Thank you, Gretchen Rubin!
- Storm Petrel


  1. Thank you, Ms. Petrel, for this reassuring post. It's all about trust. Trust yourself to know the story YOU want to tell. I know, in your case, that story has got to be compelling to others if it excites you.

  2. Dear Storm Petrel,
    That chemical that causes euphoria when we create is the same one that is splashed over our brains after we give birth. Maybe it is there to give us the confidence to potty train our novels. -- Inkpot