"Writing itself becomes the subject of the writing course..."

 — Michael Carter       


Doubt

August 8th, 2012 by

This week, I kept to a strict, almost religious writing schedule, writing every morning and avoiding interruptions until around noon. And I tried to keep the writing alive over the weekend by putting in at least an hour. In this unglamorous way, as of today, I’ve reached forty-two thousand words in a rewrite of a major project.

And this week, I started to have doubts about what I was doing. No one, after all, has asked me to do this. Who is to say it will be taken seriously by others? Will an editor find it interesting enough to publish?

These are reasonable doubts. After all, most books don’t get published. Most people don’t care about what I care about. And usually the best entertainment is not reading some three hundred page novel about a confused man.

But there was one other issue, at least as I’ve learned to think about this. Some doubts are reasonable, and some can seem reasonable. And this time, when I got to the root of my doubts about my writing, I realized they were rooted in a humourous exchange with friends this week. I’d been alone writing, and then the exchange happened, and then the rocks cascaded. I realized how important humor is, and I thought my writing was probably too dry.

Doubts of a Nonbeliever

I’ve lived long enough with myself to know that when I experience doubt of any kind, I usually want to reflect for a while before I abandon ship. This is important because I experience doubts about everything I do. It’s quite amazing that I’ve ever accomplished anything that most reasonable human beings do by nature. I doubted that going to college was the right move for me. Then I doubted I would ever finish. Then I questioned graduate school. And I doubted my relationships. Somehow, I am happily married to a wonderful person, and I am a full-time college professor.

I’ve come to understand that doubts can be both very reasonable and rooted irrationally in my own insecurities. I continue to doubt the safety of standing on a railed deck twenty four stories over downtown Boston.

Doubt/Belief

Years ago, in my twenties, I was a nihilist. That is, I believed in nothing. And yet, I had occasional doubts about this nothing. Eventually, I had an experience that caused me to begin to question some of my fundamental assumptions to my belief in nothingness.

Now, as a Christian, I find I haven’t answered every objection my old nihilist self still raises against faith. I have many questions about suffering. I’ve come to see that holding faith as a commitment can sometimes put me at odds with reason. Doubts lead me to think and to question. Joseph Bentz, in his book Tipping Points, documents many examples of people who became Christians and continued to live with and work through their doubts.

Working through my own doubts doesn’t always result in a deeper certainty. But it does result in continued faith.

Carrying On in Good Faith/Doubt

I suspect that some of this could be applied to just about any endeavor or project anyone is involved in, from stopping world hunger to promoting peace and justice. If there is a project we’ve come to believe in, it is perhaps human to have questions about it. But the questions are simply a part of the work. I think my doubts about my book this week were healthy. I’d begun to do what I always do in a long project, to lose sight of the fact that I was doing something for human beings who would not just go along with every quirky point, every over-long sentence, every undocumented, unsupported assumption I hold about the universe.

There seems today far too much certainty, or, as Wayne Booth once called it, modern dogma.

I’m settling in with my doubts. Those I had this week about my book allowed me to invite a few thoughts about my readers in so that I could include them in my process.

Some might consider me bull-headed, but the journey continues.

Posted in certainty, doubt, faith, nihilism| 3 Comments


Replies:

Comment by socalteacher on August 8, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Tom,

Great post! Please remain bullheaded, as it gives hope to the rest of us who are journeying along the same path.

Comment by Thomas Allbaugh on August 8, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Dave, thanks for the permission to remain stubborn. I hope you stay with your writing as well.

Comment by Alyson on August 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Don’t abandon ship and give in to those doubts. Being disciplined in your writing is always a good thing, even though the outcome isn’t certain. And having faith in God leads to a sure thing.

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