Sabahat Quadri Works


A colleague at Indireads wrote a charming romantic novel with an explicit sex scene. The story could have been written by Shakespeare himself, but for one reader, the thought of sex before marriage between an Indian couple was all that blazed out at him. He left a vitriolic little review for the author along the lines of ‘this doesn’t happen in our culture’. The author was understandably frustrated. “How do they think we became a population of one billion people? Storks!?” But the review affected her enough for her to tone down her words. She told me that her next book had no sex scenes, at least, none that may be construed as ‘against our culture’. She couldn’t be sure, even then, that her words wouldn’t be misunderstood, judged and found to be wanting.

Being a writer means that uncertainty plagues you.

This may not be true for every writer out there, but more than any other profession in the world, writing (and the arts, which would encompass music and film) is evaluated with complete subjectivity. You can be a complete success or an utter failure depending upon your audience’s taste, their mood when they read your book, and comparisons with other writers within your genre.

I don’t know about you, but that leaves me in a constant state of flux between bouts of euphoria and absolute confidence in my words, and deep depression at the possibility of failure. Will my readers hate the book? What if they do? What if one these haters tells people? What if they find mistakes; what if the facts don’t check out? What if I am totally deluded and my writing isn’t really that good? What if the few readers who do like my work are similarly deluded?

What if, what if, what if. Writers have different reactions to doubt. I have two.

It took a great deal of courage and self-reflection for me to send my book to my first reviewer. I wanted an honest review, but I was so unsure that the reviewer would like the book, that I had an ongoing argument in my head for days before I hit the send button. The polite, well-structured email had been sitting in my drafts folder for almost a week before I finally screwed up my courage, convinced myself that a bad review didn’t matter that much, and sent it out. I stamped out possible depression at a negative review before I might experience it. It was one way of overcoming my fear.

I’ve done that before. The first time I lost a race (I was a long-distance runner), I was devastated. I hated second place, and I despised myself for not winning. To counteract the sudden dive in my self-esteem, I convinced myself that winning was no big deal. My reasoning was that if I didn’t care that much about winning, second place wouldn’t hurt so much.

This isn’t exactly a winning formula, however. And giving in to the doubt is worse.

Giving in to the fear would have meant that I never sent the book out. I might never have written it, nor published it. I may never have marketed it, or sent it out to reviewers. To effectively market my book to my potential readers, I have to care for it, believe in it, have pride in it. I have to know that it’s good, or my forays into the world would be timid at best, non-existent at worst. Books, unlike music or film, are unlikely to catch someone’s instant attention. It’s not like hearing a song on the radio, or seeing a trailer on TV and suddenly finding your audience. Excerpts have to be read, descriptions have to be enticing, reviews have to be outstanding for a reader to actually pick up the book. And you can’t hold a concert or an exhibition or a viewing and capture large numbers of readers in one go. Each reader has to be courted individually.

On the other hand, tamping down on our expectations and fears, convincing ourselves not to care so much, can limit our potential. We start second-guessing our own ideas, we shy away from experimentation, from new ways of seeing the world, new ways of representing the world. We conform. We follow the beaten track, take the yellow brick road and look for the Wizard just because everyone else is.

Uncertainty is what brings out the tried and tested, the formulas. It’s what drives mediocrity.

I realize there’s a third face to this coin, however, and like the actual edge of a coin, it’s a narrow ridge that makes for a tough balancing act. It’s a state where you don’t kill the fear, and you don’t give in to it. It may mean that I’ll end up a circus performer, walking a tightrope of doubt and just being one of the crowd. It may be the road to insanity, for all I know.

But I’m rolling the coin now, and I know if I stop moving, the coin will fall. If it does, I don’t care to know which side it will fall on, because neither works for me.

11 responses to “Uncertainty”

  1. You can walk that fine edge, Natasha. It is really where all life is lived. We just dull ourselves to that awareness by dwelling in the excitement of success one moment, and the despair of failure the next. The value of the work has to be first and foremost in the doing of it; when the pleasure that gives us is sure (and I don’t mean that writing isn’t hard work, or that that work does not have frustrations), we can surf the other uncertainties.

    1. Natasha Avatar

      This post almost went in another direction altogether – I started thinking about how we choose our careers. I was good at writing, but I was better at art, and I had more opportunities as a designer. Did I choose the path of least resistance? Did I pick my career because I was good at it, and not necessarily what I really wanted to do?

  2. Beautifully written. One should always do what one wants to do, same goes for writing. The perspective will always be different from different point of view. Life is like that.

    1. Natasha Avatar

      Thank you, Ruchi. I agree, it all depends on our own circumstances. Mine had a little to do with the fact that I am from a traditional, semi-conservative desi household, and journalism or creative writing was an unacceptable career choice.

  3. Lovely post, Natasha, I can just see you balancing on the edge of that coin. Of course, we know that we have to write as we see fit, but I do wonder how often we unconsciously self censor out of a fear of how we’ll be perceived. Staying indoors writing might feel of the surface a very safe way of spending our time, but we actually take huge psychological risks when we put our work out there.

    1. Natasha Avatar

      Thank you, Anne. So glad you dropped by!

      I know that I self-censor. I also think that our uncertainty grows exponentially because of the isolated nature of writing. Which, in turn, makes it harder to put it out there.

      1. And the rejections must play a part, even though we know statistically there’s only a slim chance of getting published, we’re bound to think it’s something we’ve done wrong

  4. An insightful post, Natasha, which I found very helpful. I think the devil of doubt is always hovering close, and views activities such as putting our writing (which contains and therefore exposes something of our inner self), into the public arena as an invitation to sit join our inner circle. I think learning to live with and/or ignore such a companion takes determination and practice.

    1. Natasha Avatar

      So true, Teagan. Doubt makes the after-writing part of a book ridiculously hard. In comparison, writing a novel seems like a piece of cake.

      Thank you for the comment. 🙂

  5. Yolanda Ramos Avatar
    Yolanda Ramos

    A great post and very true. You touched on the fears and hopes of every indie author.

    1. Natasha Avatar

      Here’s to hoping we all conquer our demons. 🙂

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