April 19, 2012

On Confidence...Or the Lack Thereof

Writing is a funny thing.

Sometimes, I feel like Superwoman. On these rare days, I can look at my manuscript and think, Hey, this ain't so bad! It might be sort of good! Maybe!

Other times, I feel like the Worst Writer to walk the Earth. This is when I shut down my laptop and refuse to open Word for days because just looking at my book makes me cringe.

In the past two months, I have been both Superwoman and the Worst Writer Ever. One week, I'd walk everywhere with a little bounce in my step, because I loved my book and I was proud of the work I put into it and---gosh darn it---I was going to send it to my agent right this minute!

But then, in the next week, I'd slump into Slumpy McSlumpsville. I'd stare at my manuscript until my eyes blurred because I had no idea how to fix this mess of words. It got to a point where I had to take a break from it and work on something new because my brain was a confusing place to be.

(Off topic: Would anyone like to swap brains?)

What?! You don't want to swap brains with me?

It's strange going from a place where I had buckets of confidence to a place where I couldn't squeeze a drop from it from my body.

And then came the Email of Hope:

My agent read my book! And he didn't hate it! In fact, he seemed to even like it!

So, for the past few days, I've been walking with that same bounce in my step once again. I can do this! I tell myself. I'm not an awful writer! Let's eat some cake to celebrate!

*Commences eating of cake*

Evil murderess or cake aficionado?

But...this whole experience has got me thinking.
Will I ever reach an equilibrium of confidence? As in, will I ever reach a point where I won't need an Email of Hope to make me feel confident in my writing?  
Or is this roller coaster of emotions simply a part of the writerly journey? 
Right now, I'm leaning toward the latter. As much as I'd like to believe that my confidence levels will go up the more that I write, I can't help but suspect that I'll make many return visits to the Pit of Despair with every novel I pull out of my brain. (Poor Brain.) Part of this is because of me. See, self-confidence doesn't come to me naturally. It's something I have to strive for continually and more often not I lean on my friends for that extra boost.

But I don't think I'm alone in feeling this way.

On blogs, on Twitter, I've been amazed to read about other writers---many of whom have published multiple books---who experience a similar confidence roller coaster. I read their happy posts when they've finished a draft, and I read their frustrated tweets when they just don't think they're any good.

And this surprises me because, when I started to write seriously, I sort of thought that my confidence levels would simply go up and up. I viewed the whole process like a stepping stone: I'd get a little more confident when I got an agent, then more when I got a book deal, then more with every subsequent success. Yet, what I've learned from my published friends is that there's always something new to worry about. Like sales numbers. Marketing. School tours. Writing sequels under tight deadlines. And selling more books in a tough marketplace.

Sometimes you just need a hug.
Go hug a writer already!

This post is getting pretty long, huh? Haha. And I don't even know if it has a point! But I guess what I'm trying to say is this....

In a crazy world like publishing, you have to find some level of confidence within yourself. You can't rely on your friends or your agent or your editor to do that for you. You have to believe in your work and you have to believe in you.

At the same time, confidence will ebb and flow. It's the nature of this competitive business. Sometimes we're going to feel like amazingly awesome writing warriors who can conquer publishing with each competitor we behead. I mean, with each book we write. But, sometimes, we'll feel like Slumpy. And we'll wear pajamas for weeks. And we won't brush our hair. Okay, maybe we'll brush our hair.

It's just all part of the business.

10 comments:

  1. You know, I always thought my confidence would go up with time, too. But I think the doubts and pits of despair are, as you point out, just part of the overall journey. Creativity is not always on 100% of the time. Creativity has no right or wrong answer. For these reasons it's only natural to slip into those gray moments of despair. But hey--the Doubts mean we care, that we want to create the best story possible, that we don't want to disappoint. If we weren't anxious or scared, we'd be doing something wrong. (That's my two cents at least. Now if only it helped me tackle the Doubt Monster...)

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    1. Ohh, love all of your points, Erin! Especially how the Doubts simply mean that we care about our work and that we want to put the best story out there. I never thought of it that way but how true! I'll have to remind myself of that when the Doubt Monsters get me again.

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  2. I don't know anything about writing a good story (or a sentence for that matter) but I can really relate to your confidence issue... Parenting is the same way. I'm constantly questioning if I'm doing the right thing for my kids. Just when I think I've figured it out something comes along to sideswipe my progress.
    Just today I was rushing through Target and a woman stopped me to ask, "You're son doesn't have any socks on. Are you OK with that?" I was fine with it when I left the house, but then I began to question that decision. Am I a mother who knows that her son runs hot and doesn't like socks? Or am I horrible because I'm subjecting his little piggies to a cool spring morning?
    Parenting, like writing, is subjective. Some will like your work as a parent and some won't (but the people who won't don't matter much).

    I like your work as a writer and when you need a cheerleader, we're here for you!

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    1. Aw, thanks, Courtney! You and Geoff have always been so nice about my work and what I'm writing. It means a lot!

      And yipes, I can't believe a woman would say that to you! I mean, really? It's not like it was 30 degrees in North Carolina! Geez, the nerve of some people. You are a fantastic mom and if I was there I would have told that lady to mind her business. And maybe push her a little. Haha.

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  3. Ohh man, I know what you mean with the constant upping and downing and despairing and slumping. Sometimes I think the longer I let a manuscript sit, the more its flaws compound in my mind until it's this horrible monstrous beast that I can't imagine tackling. Then I finally, FINALLY make myself look at it and: hey! It's not thaaat bad!

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    1. Oh, excellent point about letting a manuscript marinate for awhile! That can really help me to realize that my writing isn't as bad as I think it is! (Or sometimes I get a good laugh because the writing is indeed that bad! Haha. I love reading my early stuff....)

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  4. Writing is a roller-coaster, but I think so is life in general. Sometimes, I'm like, "Hey, my life is awesome right now!" and other times, I get really worried that I'm not where I "should" be in life - the whole "Should I go back to school/making more money/married/have kids/own a house or car/etc." spiel. It's hard and a support system helps, but like you said, we just need to find some of that confidence in ourselves and take the lows in stride.

    Also, I try to remember what it felt like the days I felt awesome, so that when I'm done I can give myself a kick in the pants and be like, HEY, REMEMBER HOW AWESOME YOU WERE? GET BACK UP THERE! :)

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  5. Oh man, I seriously doubt there's a writer in the world who couldn't relate to this post, regardless of what stage in their career they are. Which, in itself, is basically reinforcing your point. It doesn't matter how successful a writer is, for someone who really cares about their craft I don't think that doubt will ever go away. For me, it's kind of happened in inverse proportions. I believe my writing over the past couple years has gotten a lot stronger--but at the same time, my levels of self-doubt have gotten stronger too. It's weird. Or maybe it's weirdly normal.

    Also, yay for your agent liking your book! That's so exciting :)

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  6. *hugs* That reminds me, I need to mail something today...

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  7. I toooootally feel you on this. (And it's funny--I was in the same sort of headspace, where I just talked to my agent who also didn't hate my project last week and I felt great! Except now I've looked at the book again and think she's nuts and am tempted to just send her a blank document titled 'massive improvement.' Ahhh.) You articulated so perfectly what it feels like to be a writer! Sometimes, though, I wonder if that's a good and necessary part of the process? Doesn't feel like it when you're in it, certainly, but maybe on some level it works out for the good?

    Also, the picture of the farmhouse in your most recent post is SO gorgeous!!

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