Embracing Doubt

Very few things make me feel more vulnerable than writing.

It is a mystery to me why.  I’ve always written something.  In elementary school, I’ve submitted poems and short stories to youth fairs.  In middle school, I’ve entered writing contests.  In my younger years my teachers made me feel good about my writing.  However, in high school, I began receiving some of the harshest criticisms.  I remember getting a paper back from one of my English teachers with so much red ink on it.  In the margins, in between the lines, there was red ink.  Then, at the bottom of the second page, my teacher wrote in red ink, “You changed tenses so much that I felt seasick reading this paper.”

I should’ve remembered that she didn’t dismiss my ideas about Hamlet’s and Ophelia’s relationship.  Instead remembered a vulnerable writing experience, not a triumphant one.   Since then I must’ve written a few really good essays.  I was an English major and I graduated.  However, there is just so much about writing that reminds me that I haven’t arrived.  And that I’ll never arrive.  If I want to write, and I always do, I have to work for it.  Every time I face that blank page, in a journal or on the laptop,  it’s déjà vu.

Maybe it’s because I never felt that I’ve received the best writing training.  I only knew if I had written well or poorly after submitting the essay.  Not much feedback before or during writing.  Worst of all, rarely was there an opportunity to rewrite and resubmit essays to show that I took the feedback into consideration and made revisions.  I’ve been always willing to learn how to write better.

Here is another issue I’ve had to confront about my writing.  I haven’t had many writing teachers although I have taken many English classes.  The few writing classes that I’ve taken always taught me to argue one side of issues.  In his article, “The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt, Phillip Lopate (2013) talked about how he’d supported his daughter’s display of ambivalence in one of her college entrance essays.  He felt it was acceptable to argue the validity of both positions in her paper; her high school counselor and teachers thought otherwise.  As an English teacher, I’ve taught my students to always argue one side of issues as well because that was what I was taught.  Choosing one side and sticking to it was supposed to signal that you were a competent writer (especially for assessments).

However, I’ve never been taught that good essays feast on doubt (Lopate 2013) until reading that article.  I’ve never been told that inner debates, mental wavering, contradiction, irresolution are effective tools for essay writing (Lopate 2013).   I was always told to pick one side; consequently, I taught what I knew.  Yet, what is more human than identifying loopholes and alternative perspectives in arguments?  Sounding confident and self-assured in essay writing shouldn’t be expected.  It isn’t real.  Well, it isn’t real for me.  In my mind, I have difficulty staying on one side of an argument.  I’ve just been trained to do it on paper.

No matter the issues and the arguments, what you can expect from me is vulnerability.   You may read an essay on this blog one day and return to read it again to find that it’s been revised.  I may argue for AND against issues that concern me.  I’ve read recently that Walt Whitman constantly revised his writings.  If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.  I don’t know if doubt made Whitman revise his work, but it will probably be my main reason for doing it.

Lopate (2013) called doubt his “boon companion, a faithful St. Bernard at his side.”  I, on the other hand, describe doubt as the constant churning in my stomach, the slight feeling that I need to throw-up every now and again.  I’ve felt it since high school, so . . . .

Still, I love writing.  I won’t let doubt stop me.



Lopate, Phillip. “The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt.” The New York Times, 16 Feb. 2013, opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/16/the-essay-an-exercise-in-doubt/.