When writers have doubts about our talent….

itʻs important to remember that EVERYONE has doubts about talent. Even the great ones…

Cezanne and his fear

Such beautiful art, such a remarkable vision. It seems impossible that such an artist would fear failure, doubt his gift. But he did, often.

He once said, “We all live in a rainbow of chaos.” Such poetry. But he also wrote, “God knows how the Old Masters got through those acres of work … I exhaust myself, work myself to death trying to cover fifty centimeters of canvas.”

Art is a discipline that takes us places we could never have predicted, could never go otherwise. As writers, that means we must have the courage to be transported by words, imperfect and compelling, into the place where we are more than we were before we began writing. In that place, always larger than the world we left behind, we canʻt help but feel a combination of exhilaration and doubt. What holds us up is the “rainbow of chaos.” What pulls us down is our own fear in the midst of discovery.

One of my favorite poets, Stephen Dobyns, wrote this poem about Cezanne:

Cezanne’s Seclusion

“I have begun to think,” he wrote in a late letter,
“that one cannot help others at all.” This
from a man who once called friendship the highest
virtue. And in another he wrote: “Will I ever
attain the end for which I have striven so long?”
His greatest aspiration was certainty
yet his doubts made him blame himself wrongly,
perceiving each painting a disaster. These swings
between boldness and mistrust, intimacy and isolation
led him to stay at home, keep himself concealed,
becoming a sort of hermit, whose passion for the world
directed every brushstroke, changed each creation
into an expression of tenderness, which he dismissed
writing: “a vague sense of apprehension persists.”

from Body Traffic. (c) Penguin, 1990.

The End is the Means, and Vice Versa

What is to become of us, in our strange fragility, in our remarkable strength? In the end, the rollercoaster of feeling we ride is just part of the journey. We constantly stretch ourselves as writers and artists, so we move through uncertainties and celebrations as the price — and the reward — of simply being persistent.

We get there by going there, and the end (the poem, the painting, the memoir) is a process. Thatʻs why discipline and practice is so important. Good work happens when we choose, no matter what part of the rollercoaster weʻre experiencing, to write. The process and the product are ultimately the same thing; our art canʻt be lovely unless we love ourselves and our  journey enough to face our own doubt and keep writing.


3 thoughts on “When writers have doubts about our talent….

  1. This is such a relevant post. I agree that every artist, at some point in there life, and maybe at several points, will doubt the validity of the work they are doing. And, even worse, it is difficult to really tell how well we are doing. Sure, there is the praise we get from friends and family, but when the stuff hits the fan, that empty praise will do us little good.

    Great post.


  2. What pulls us down is our own fear in the midst of discovery.

    well said! and once viewed that clearly, it’s almost easy to do. The trick is to identify that moment when we begin to doubt and open it up rather than contract around it.


  3. Yes. I’d say, embrace it, the doubt — and I think it’s the same thing. About praise — it’s really a way for them to say they love us and support us — and sometimes it’s hard for them to understand what is driving us forward, why we push so hard for something that isn’t there yet. It’s a balancing act, letting something be finished when we’ve done all we can do, and pushing through to the “rainbow of chaos” where our discipline and our vision will create something entirely new.


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