The Writer’s Book of Doubt by Aidan Doyle: Interview

July 5, 2019

Doubt. We all have it.

It’s tough dealing with rejections, impostor syndrome and those pesky radioactive brain weasels. 😬

So I’ve invited my good friend Aidan Doyle onto the blog to talk about his new book The Writer’s Book of Doubt. The Writer’s Book of Doubt contains practical advice and inspiration for dealing with the problems of the writing life, and includes essays by authors like Aliette de Bodard, Delilah S. Dawson and Martha Wells.

Interview with Aidan Doyle, author of The Writer’s Book of Doubt

Kat: Writers don’t really have self doubt problems, do they? I mean, I am an author and I am supremely self-confident ALL OF THE TIME. My friends on the other hand… well they might need this book.

Aidan: Sixty percent of Writing Twitter is devoted to cat videos. The remaining forty percent is made up of writers expressing doubt about their work in progress or their career. Every job involves some doubt, but writing can be especially harsh given how many times you’re likely to get rejected. Looking for a new job can be exhausting and sending off short stories or novels can feel like being on an endless job search.

Kat: What was the tipping point for writing this book? Did you happen to have a particular author friend that may have complained to you one too many times about how much they sucked?

Aidan: The book had its genesis as a blog post, The Science Fiction Writer’s Hierarchy of Doubt. That was borne in part by a feeling of frustration at being able to sell some short stories but getting nothing but rejections when it came to novels, as well as witnessing how achieving different levels of writing success doesn’t mean your doubts go away. You get a whole new level of things to worry about.

The post got a lot of positive reaction and I decided to expand it into a book. Kathleen Jennings is an amazing illustrator and she created some lovely illustrations for the book.

Map of Submissionland from The Writer's Book of Doubt by Aidan Doyle
Kathleen Jennings’ illustration of the Map of Submissionland for The Writer’s Book of Doubt

When it comes to writing advice, everyone has different ways of doing things and I wanted to include a diverse range of opinions. As well as my own essays, there are twenty-two essays from guest writers covering topics such as how to deal with impostor syndrome, finding time for writing when you have children, and how to cope with being jealous of your friends’ success. Award-winning writer Martha Wells wrote an essay for the book on how to cope with the ups and downs of a long writing career.

Kat: How many self-help and motivational books did you read to write The Writer’s Book of Doubt?

Aidan: I’d previously read a few of these books, and then after I started the project I read another forty-nine books on productivity, habits, self-confidence, motivation, and critical thinking. James Clear’s Atomic Habits had the best practical advice in terms of developing better habits. Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow is an astounding book and full of examples of the ways in which people make bad decisions.

Kat: That would make you a motivational expert… do you feel more motivated as a result of writing this book? Does motivation now eke from your pores like some sort of inspirational sebum?

Aidan: Reading motivational books is the easy part. Making changes is the harder step.

As I was researching the book, I experimented with different productivity methods to see which worked best for me. The Pomodoro Method is the one that’s helped me the most to be more productive. It involves setting a timer for twenty-five minutes and focusing on a task. Then take a five-minute break. Then repeat.

When it comes to productivity, the goal shouldn’t be to turn yourself into someone who’s “always productive”. Everyone needs to take time off to recharge.

Productivity tips should help you better prioritise how you want to spend your time. It’s also important not to define your self-worth in terms of productivity. Inevitably there’s going to be a time when various factors conspire to prevent you from getting much done. If you view yourself as a failure, it’s going to be harder to get started again.

Kat: What advice would you give to a procrastinating author to motivate themselves to get out of their pyjamas, stop binge watching the latest season of Designated Survivor and write? Asking for a friend.

Aidan: There are different reasons for procrastination, but it’s often a way of protecting yourself from the consequences of being judged by your work. If you’ve grown up thinking of yourself as smart and taking value from your accomplishments, it can sting when a story is rejected. Procrastinating on starting the next one can be a way of avoiding that feeling. Telling yourself that you’re being “lazy” will usually make you feel worse.

If you’re having trouble getting started, set a writing goal of five minutes a day. The idea is to get started and develop a habit and you can expand the time you spend later. Another method is habit stacking – choose something you already do every day, for example drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, and pair that with your writing habit. After you drink your coffee, you’ll write for five minutes. You don’t need to expend the mental energy deciding to write, it becomes something you do without thinking.

If you’re someone who responds to deadlines, then set yourself your own deadline. Tell a friend you’ll have a draft of your story ready by a certain date. Having an accountability buddy and a deadline can motivate you. Neil Fiore’s book, The Now Habit has a lot more suggestions on dealing with procrastination.

Kat: Where can we get The Writer’s Book of Doubt? Not that I have any self-doubt issues, I am extremely confident, it’s for my aforementioned friend…

Aidan: It will be on general release from July 10 in ebook and paperback from the usual online retailers.

Now over to you, dear readers. Do you struggle with doubt as a writer? What’s your best tip for staying productive? Have your say in the comments below.

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