Skating on creative uncertainty

Becky Plunkett, Jennie Salter and Gilly Pugh run through the script. Photos: Supplied
Becky Plunkett, Jennie Salter and Gilly Pugh run through the script. Photos: Supplied

There are times when it 's very good to be able to overcome self-doubt. To dwell in a state of certainty, writes Liz Breslin.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin

I've written another script for the Wanaka Pantomimers this year and it's going to be fine. Oh no, it isn't. Oh yes, it is. I love writing plays. Oh no, I don't. Oh yes, I do. But I don't so much love the self-doubt that goes on in the blue times between script to reading to stage. Oh no, I don't. Oh no, I don't.

I have no doubt that the rest of the Wanaka Pantomimers - our director, the lovely Gilly Pugh, the actors, I'm not telling you who, and the crew, the crew! - will do a fabulous job. It's not that. It's the morass of worry and fear; the gap between brain and words on the page. Or something. I wish I could be more coherent. But I'm mired in doubt. Oh yes. I am.

Help is at hand. Google "self help self doubt" and you will instantly have 380,000,000 results at your mouseclicktips. Like that isn't part of the problem. I limit my search to the first page of the Book Depository results and the titles themselves start making me feel more motivated: You are a badass. Stop doubting your greatness and live an awesome life. Banish your inner critic. Whispering Demons of Self Doubt. Smash Self Doubt. Find your Creative MOJO. True You.

Jennie Salter practises climbing the beanstalk.
Jennie Salter practises climbing the beanstalk.
There are times when it is very good to be able to overcome self-doubt. To dwell in a state of certainty. When turning at the Albert Town Vets Corner four-way-rush intersection, for example, or using two of your metacarpophalangeal joints to break through a carefully positioned rectangle of pine wood. In both those cases it's crucial to believe that you're going to get it right. And in both these cases there is very little room for variation as to what getting it right looks and feels and sounds like.

When you perfectly time your weaving through the morning traffic, nobody says, "I love the way you slipped that pun in as you changed gear." When the board is in two pieces on the floor, nobody says, "Good job, but the iambic pentameter was a bit off in the middle of your preparatory breathing." No.

But with a piece of writing in the public eye, then it's all up for dissection and debate. The way that character spoke. Why that line was so apt. Why that joke was off. Whether the ending worked. How the writer should go home and watch amateurs make mackerel three ways on TV and never write another thing. (That last one is what I've been telling myself all week. Mackerel. Yum.)

I like that level of engagement. Oh yes, I do. And so, oh no, I don't know why I'm so fearful. It could be that I want it to live up to last year's panto, because the comments on that were all so good (except that one death threat). It could have been that one death threat. But, whatever the backstory, the doubt and the blank page, the doubt and the shaping script, the doubt and the first draft, the doubt and the handover abyss - those I feel like I could live without. Oh yes, I could.

There have to be specific books for writers on the subject. If not, I'm going to write one called Step away from the open fridge door: the answers you seek are not at the bottom of the jam pot.

Or maybe, if I want to believe the words of that nice man Charles Bukowski, oh no, I couldn't. Live without the doubt, and be a good writer that is. He reckons "Bad writers tend to have self-confidence while the good ones tend to have self-doubt".

Chur, Charles. Like that actually helps.

The show

Jac and the Beansprouts
Lake Wanaka Centre
December 19-22.


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