stuck/unstuck: Jennifer Haigh on writing through doubt

In this issue of stuck/unstuck,* I ask New York Times Best Selling author, Jennifer Haigh, about doubt:

In life there are choices we have to make that, in hindsight, don’t seem like choices at all. We might say that the situation found us, or the decision made itself. But at the time we worried, were anxious, filled with doubt because what if we picked the wrong thing? Since the writing life is like any other aspect of life, can you share how you’ve moved through periods of doubt? How you used the doubt to enhance your process? Did you welcome it, so to speak, to go from being stuck to unstuck? How does it, each time, eventually resolve?

Jennifer Haigh is the author most recently of the widely acclaimed Heat and Light, and three New York Times bestselling novels, Baker Towers, The Condition, and Faith. Her first novel, Mrs. Kimble, won the PEN/Hemingway award for debut fiction, and Baker Towers won the L.L. Winship/PEN award for outstanding book by a New England author. Her stories have appeared in The Atlantic and Granta, Best American Short Stories 2012 and more. [I love her work.]

by Jennifer Haigh

“Like most writers, I live in a nearly constant state of doubt. This is particularly true in the first year of a project, the conjuring phase, in which I am making something out of nothing. My initial enthusiasm is interrupted again and again by troublesome flashes of common sense, in which I recognize the unlikeliness of success, the better-than-outside chance that the fragile thing I’m fashioning will turn to dust in my hands. This is no idle fear. It’s happened to me more than once, and will doubtless happen again.  The only way to guarantee it won’t happen is to write the same book and over again, something I’ve chosen not to do. This summer I finished my first-ever short story collection, NEWS FROM HEAVEN, and found myself as nervous as when I delivered MRS. KIMBLE ten years ago. I’ve written short stories my whole adult life, and yet this project felt very much like writing a book in a foreign language.

Unless you’re willing to risk a giant pratfall, it’s impossible to write anything of value.  It’s a question of writing through the doubt.  I’m now working on my sixth book, paralyzed by uncertainty, and the answer is the same as it ever was.  I get up and go to work.”

Visit Jennifer at JenniferHaigh.com.

Read Jennifer’s 3-Question Interview (the only one with 3 questions!) by clicking HERE.

*From the vault.