Friday, September 20, 2013

Self Defense Against Doubt

Doubt is a writer’s most formidable and dangerous adversary. It waits for the moment you are most vulnerable and strikes without mercy, leaving you hurt and afraid.

So, what can you, as a writer, do to protect yourself from doubt in a business that feeds doubt with long periods of waiting, rejections and criticism?

Well, I’m glad you asked. Today I’m going to give you a crash course in Self Defense Against Doubt.

I have been writing for eight years, so I have a great deal of experience with doubt. I have also been studying Isshin-Ryu karate for seven years. During my journey from white to black belt, I’ve learned several ways to defend myself against attackers. Doubt is an attacker, so many of the methods against a person intending to do you harm, may be used against doubt.

Self Defense Against Doubt Tips

In karate, the number one rule of self-defense is to NOT put yourself in a position to be attacked. Attackers love areas that are not well lit and where they can catch a victim alone. They also look for victims, who do not carry themselves with confidence.

Doubt is the same. As writers, when we receive a particularly harsh critique or rejection, or when the days of waiting for a response on a submission stretch into weeks and months, we tend to mope. And when we mope, we like to do so alone, curled up on the couch with an obscene amount of chocolate...ok, maybe that's just me, but you get the point. When we mope, we make ourselves the perfect target for doubt to strike.

 TIP #1 : DON’T put yourself in harm’s way. Just as you shouldn’t walk to your car alone at night in a poorly lit parking lot, you shouldn’t isolate yourself in a dark room when you receive a rejection. First, put down the chocolate and get off the couch.
Get outside, go for a walk, soak up some sun, get together with a friend, preferably one who understands the ups and downs of writing. Do something so that you are not caught alone with Doubt.
TIP #2 : Keep your senses alert and don’t ignore your instincts. You know the warning signs of doubt. The punch in the gut feeling of rejection, the whisperings of uncertainty that grow louder as the days progress, the urge to consume your weight in chocolate. Pay attention. Watch for hints that doubt is sneaking up on you, and avoid it by referring back to the suggestions in Tip #1.
Tip #3: Use your voice!

When we teach self-defense at the dojo, we give students an arsenal of effective weapons to use against an attacker. Of all of the weapons, the most powerful weapon in self-defense is your VOICE.

Attackers do not want attention drawn to what they are doing. Be loud! Scream so anyone and everyone around you can hear. The karate shout is called a KIAI. You’ve probably heard it before in martial arts movies and most likely mocked out the strange cries emanating from the actors’ lips as they fight.
In Isshin-Ryu karate, white-brown belts all use the same kiai: Osu! (pronounced “Us”) When you earn your black belt, you choose your own kiai. Mine is “Hi!,” which sounds friendly, but when screamed as I punch and kick, it loses some of its warmth.   
Despite its sometimes comical sound, the kiai has very important purposes in self-defense.

I memorized the purposes of a kiai with the acronym P-SAFE. I know, kind of gross, but I have two sons, and the acronym is nothing if not memorable.

When you kiai loudly during an attack, you do the following:

1. Protect the inner organs from harm by quickly exhaling and tightening the stomach muscles.

2. Scare off an attacker, who does not want attention drawn to the act

3. Adrenaline rush. A strong kiai will force a surge of adrenaline through your body and psyche you up for defense.

4. Focus your mental and physical Energy

In self-defense against an attacker, we recommend a kiai that will draw attention to the attack. Effective self-defense kiais are “No! Stop! Police! Help! and for kids, “You’re not my Mommy/Daddy!”

As a writer, you may effectively use a kiai with the same results as P-SAFE. My personal kiai against writer’s doubt is “I AM a Writer!”

Pick a kiai that will pump you up and use your VOICE! Shout your kiai at the top of your lungs and send doubt scurrying back into the shadows.
TIP #4: Figure out your “Go-To Moves” against doubt.

As I stated earlier, in the dojo we teach students a variety of ways to defend themselves in an attack including punches, kicks, breaks, locks, holds, and sweeps. Though they learn a myriad of moves, we stress that they choose 2-3 moves that they feel will be most effective for them. I am partial to elbows and knees. Others like palm heels and hirakens. Whatever moves are chosen, they need to be moves that can be executed swiftly with little to no thought. They are “Go-To Moves.”
Personally, I keep an arsenal of the following 5 weapons/moves in reach at all times while writing:

Go-to Move #1 - Copies of positive notes, emails, feedback I have received about my writing.

Go-to Move #2 -  Inspirational quotes. I love Disney quotes!

Go-to Move #3 - Visuals: plot diagrams, chapter breakdowns, SMART goal charts of my work to remind myself that I can do this and have made progress on the days when it feels I’m at a standstill.

 Go-to Move #4 - Music! When doubt grabs hold, I pump up my favorite inspirational songs, sing along at the top of my lungs and dance it out or hit the heavy bag in my basement.

My Current “Go-To” Playlist

I Lived - OneRepublic
The Fighter – Gym Class Heroes w/ Ryan Tedder

Hall of Fame – The Script w/ wil. i. am

One Step at a Time – Jordin Sparks

It’s Time – Imagine Dragons
You're the Best - Joe Esposito

Go the Distance - from Hercules

Go-to Move #5 - Best friends and writing buddies phone numbers & emails at my fingertips.

Use your “Go-To” moves in combinations. Hit Doubt with a powerful 1-2 punch!

In addition to the above 4 tips, here are 10 “Mental Self-Defense” Techniques written by the amazing Renshi James Snow for Fairport Karate Academy. They are techniques used in our dojo that may be applied to protecting yourself against Doubt.

1. BREATHE: Breathing helps connect the mind and the body, calming both and soliciting power. Exhale tension, inhale power.
2. ATTITUDE: Recognize its importance. If you say, “I can’t”, you won’t.
3. COURAGE: Be courageous. It is human to be afraid, but you CAN control your fear. True courage is not a matter of eliminating your fear, but doing what you know to be right despite fear.
4. COMMITMENT: Make a commitment to your goals. The Samurai burned their ships when they attacked a distant foe, since knowing they could not turn back enhanced their commitment to victory. (NOTE: This IS not the same as burning your bridges)
5. RESPECT: Treat everyone with respect, including and especially yourself. While it may be worth ignoring bad behavior from strangers, do not accept disrespect from people you deal with frequently. Let them know such behavior will NOT be tolerated and has a consequence.
6. FLEXIBILITY: Be flexible. Emulate the willow that bends with the wind, but does not break. Adapt and overcome.
7. STAND IN BALANCE: Stay centered and focused on what is important to you. Do not let others sucker you into losing your focus, and learn to deflect an attack by disrupting an adversary’s physical or mental balance.
8. THE BEGINNER’S MIND: From Zen, a term that masters give to the humble state of always being open to learning new things.
9. BE POSITIVE: If you exude positive energy, positive things will come to you.
10. RESOLUTION WITHOUT FIGHTING: Reserve physical force as a last resort if in danger…you or others. “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.”
With these weapons now in your arsenal, the next time Doubt attacks, scream your self-defense kiai at the top of your lungs, and KICK Doubt’s sorry, cowardly BUTT!!!
And when Doubt has been beaten, get back to what you love to do, what you’re meant to do.

Photo from my Self Defense Against Doubt for Writers demo at RACWI talent show.


  1. Great post, Keely! I am now picturing you sitting at your computer shouting things. :)

  2. Ha ha ha! Thanks, Dee! Yup, that's how I roll. ;)