The Doubt Demon vs The Muse

Vintage typewriter close-up - Memoir, concept of history

The other day, I saw a comment online from a woman who said that she had finally figured out how to make space in her life to write. Now that she’s writing, she has a new demon to face. It’s the voice that keeps asking her, “Why are you writing? Who is going to read this? Who is going to care?” I thought to myself, “Huh, so that guy visits other people, too.” Seriously, how does this doubt demon find the time?

I am now about halfway through a second draft of my book, so I’ve had a lot of experience with the doubt demon. Throughout most of my process, I’d been lucky enough to have other voices, too. They said things like, “You need to write this. Even if no one reads this, the act of writing itself is important and useful.” Instead of silencing the doubt demon, I nurtured that encouraging voice. Maybe that voice is The Muse? I don’t know. I tried to make that voice grow stronger and that worked for me.

That worked for me until I started soliciting feedback on my memoir and someone people asked, “Why am I reading this?” They manifested my most fearful voice into physical reality and that totally sucked. Those comments made the doubt demon’s voice louder than The Muse’s voice for a short time.

Shortly after that, I ran into an interview with the famous memoirist Cheryl Strayed. In it, she says that memoir is most often criticized for being narcissistic. It’s not just the writer who asks, “Why should anyone care?” It’s also the critics. So then, Strayed explains that people recognize their own story in other people’s stories and that makes them care. That’s great. This revelation is especially wonderful for people who are afraid of being too mundane, but it swung me in a different direction.

Several months ago, I listened to a Magic Lessons Podcast (I don’t remember which one, but you should probably just listen to them all, anyway) and the discussion was about how when we first sit down to write our own stories, we always think to ourselves, “My story is too boring.” Then, when we’re done writing, we worry that our story isn’t boring enough.

That’s where I am now. Now, the doubt demon asks, “Why should anyone care about someone who is so weird? How do I become relatable? How can we dull this up a little bit? How can I shrink so people don’t notice how alien I really am?”

My experience with the doubt demon is that it doesn’t exist unless it has something to doubt. It’s the voice of fear and fear only speaks up when it thinks something’s at risk. If something is at risk, then that means we’re trying for something. So, maybe hearing that voice isn’t a reason to go into despair, but it’s an indication that we’re on to something. We’re trying for something.

My Muse voice has shifted, too. Now its saying, “You’re writing this because it needs to be said.” Somehow, when my doubt demon got fiercer, The Muse got bigger, too. A few days later, I saw that dozens of people had responded to that one woman’s comment about her voice of doubt. All of them were encouraging. They manifested her most encouraging voice into physical reality. Maybe that’s what happens when our desire to move forward gets strong enough. It finds a way.