Listen to Your Doubt-Guts

A writing tip from Stephen Parrish

I once made changes to a story that I suspected were wrong, changes an editor demanded. Years later, I’m sure they were wrong. Because my guts tell me so.

There comes a time when you’re no longer tentative about your writing. You’ve mastered the language; you have a voice, a sense of style, an ear that is tuned to the complexities of fiction; you’re in command. The paintbrush in your hand obeys you, not your crit partners, not the publishing industry, not even your writing idols.

You first notice something’s changing when you draft a scene that sticks with you the rest of the day. When you read it again the next day, it doesn’t suck. And this is my point: the only way we know something is good is when it fails to make us blush when we read it again after having placed ourselves at a distance.

Because doubt manifests itself in your gut. Doubt doesn’t let you go. Doubt cannot be silenced by covering your ears and chanting, “Nyah, nyah, nyah.” If you experience doubt about your writing, if you fear it might not be accomplishing what you want it to accomplish, it isn’t. If you suspect it sucks, it does. When your doubt-guts are quiet, when you put some distance between you and your work, and upon returning are delighted by the way it sounds to your ear, you’re done.

The paintbrush is doing what you tell it to do.

Since I run this contest, instead of plugging one of my own books I'd like you to consider some recommendations the Lascaux staff made—books we think deserve more love from readers:

Staff Picks: Treasures You May Have Missed

6 comments:

jennifer zobair said...

Doubt-Guts.

Somewhere in here is a Lascaux Review mug slogan.

I like this, Steve. A lot.

Wendy said...

Some great advice. I think it's easy to psych yourself out and miss that voice that comes from gut. Practice makes perfect?

Christine Henderson said...

Guess they'll remain a hidden treasure to me as I can't get the "staff treasures" to open.

One of my favorite gems is a book called "Walking Across Egypt" by Clyde Eggerton. It was written 1988-88 and is a great southern slice of life. Filled with lots of good eats and funny life moments.

Stephen Parrish said...

Hi Chris. Please try again. We've tested the link from various corners of the world and it works fine.

Sarah Hina said...

Thank you for this.

Tricia Sankey said...


"If you suspect it sucks, it does" lucid advice. You have to know it's great and to hell with anyone who says otherwise! :)