Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Confidence. A Constant Battle.

One thing I've noticed about working to become a writer? The better you get at putting the words on the page and making them pretty, the more you doubt that you're any good at all.

It's an odd feeling. Because while I know without a doubt that I'm a better writer than I was 8 years ago, I am not confident that I'm good enough to actually continue getting lucky and selling books. Which kinda makes no sense.

And as far as I know, all the writers go through the same thing. Whether they're a lead title at a big six or adored by their small press or making good money self-publishing. There seems to be a universal wavering of confidence that plagues writers. No, I'm willing to bet it's all creative sorts—musicians, artists, dancers, etc.

I could sit here and muse about whys to this feeling, but the whys are often irrational in this case. At least many of mine are: I'll never sell another novel, no one wants to read my stories when there are so many good ones out there, my genre is ebbing in popularity, I'm not that great at this in comparison to whoever, my stories aren't original, my characters are flat, blah blah blah. My reasons for not feeling confident change as often as I eat meals, it feels like.

I want to talk more about how to deal with the doubts when they come. Because they will come. And sometimes they will cripple your confidence so badly it'll take time to recover.

First, I think it's important to remember that it's normal. Personally, I find a lot of comfort in knowing all writers lack confidence at one point or another (or constantly). It reminds me that you don't have to feel 100% about it to keep going. It also helps me realize that even though I might not think my work is good, that doesn't make it true. I've heard horror stories about how awful it was for an author to write a certain novel, and reading that novel you'd never guess they struggled at all. When you're in that place, it feels like your insecurities are hanging out for all to see. But they aren't.

Next, I usually have to go all "daily affirmations" on myself. Which sounds really stupid. It kind of is. But sometimes I have to just tell myself to stop it. I have to remind myself of all those things you hear over and over. Like "No one can write your stories because they're not you." Or "It's better to be writing in an obscure genre you love than a popular genre you hate." Maybe a little "It doesn't have to be perfect—that's what revisions are for." You'd think I could remember these things for more than a few minutes, but they always seem to slip my mind when I'm in the thick of a difficult project (and they all seem difficult lately).

If the daily affirmations start becoming ineffective, I usually move into the "screw you" phase. It's a fun, rather childish phase in which I mentally flip the bird to all of publishing and think stuff like "You don't like me? Fine. I don't like you either." Or "It's not my fault no one understands my art." And a good helping of "I'm in charge I can do whatever I want and I will like it so you can all go to hell for all I care." Basically, the adult version of a temper tantrum. But, I hate to admit, sometimes this works for me. Sometimes that frustration becomes amazing fuel and I write more and I feel confident because for once I'm not worried about anyone or anything but me and my story.

Truth is, I don't actually know the answer to curing the insecurity battle. If I did, that would be awesome because I'd never have to deal with it again. I imagine I'd be a ridiculously productive person if I never doubted myself. I also imagine I'd be a jerk.

While I hate fighting for my confidence, I have a feeling it's an integral part of being creative. Even to the point that you couldn't be creative without it. My doubts and insecurities push me to do better, to reach higher, to never get complacent in what I'm crafting. Could you imagine believing 100% in all you do? How open would you be to change if you thought you were perfect? How innovative could you be if you thought all your initial ideas were right?

Strangely enough, a wild amount of confidence is the mark of a novice in most every creative profession. So I guess if you're battling with your confidence, you're going in the right direction. Perhaps most of all, we should all take comfort in that.

22 comments:

  1. This is great. :)

    Is that the first page of HOUSE OF IVY AND SORROW? The writing is GREAT and the ivy vines around the chapter heading is beautiful.

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    1. It is the first page! I posted it on my FB author page, but never here. Thought it would be a nice picture for today. The layout is so purty:P

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  2. Can I love this post? It seems like my CPs and I have all hit this crisis of confidence recently (and we don't even have a lovely book out to validate our abilities!), so this post is very timely. Thank you, as always, for being so honest!

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  3. Nice read! It seems to be topic going around the block lately! I like your sentence about how there's comfort in knowing all writer's lack confidence, and the last paragraph to round it up, how it's the mark of the more seasoned author, which is also a comfort. :)

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  4. Nicely put, I'm always facing this doubt and I tend to act like a child all the way cause it works with me :)

    I love that first page of House Of Ivy & Sorrow, it's beautiful whether the writing or the formatting, and those ivy vines! Ah! winsome :)

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  5. So true. I used to love drafting...not so much anymore. Now that I'm a better writer, I can see how terrible my first drafts are. They make me cringe. I have to CONSTANTLY remind myself that's what revisions are for. Great post!

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  6. Beautiful post and well said, I really needed to hear this today. Thank you!

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  7. Thanks for the inspiration :) I'm constantly plagued by doubts. And then I look at the first draft of my first book and think "Well, at least it's not as bad as that crap." Then I eat chocolate. That always helps.
    P.S. My copy of Transparent is winging its way toward me at this very moment. I'm very excited to read it :D

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  8. Sometimes it's hard for me to be confident, especially because there are some people who have told me that I'm not good enough. But I refuse to let them stop me, because then that means that they win.

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  9. Oh, yes. I understand. I am the inevitable doubter.

    I loved reading about your "screw you" phase, and overall this blog post offers some good advice and encouragement. Thanks!

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  10. Lack of writing confidence? Yes! I'm moving in the right direction!! Great post, Natalie, and one I needed to hear today.

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  11. It is illogical, and it is normal. Somehow knowing the latter makes me feel better about the former.

    I have a beta reader who will yank me into a yahoo chat when she can tell I'm getting too self-destructive. For me, no amount of self-talk beats getting some sense knocked into my head.

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  12. PHEW! It's always so nice to hear that I'm normal. (By writer standards. By normal standards, not so much.)

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  13. This is a beautiful post. I've been going through self doubt all week! I want to print this out, frame it, and put it on the wall in my office. Thanks for the reminder that I'm normal!

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  14. Loved this post!
    And I'm reading TRANSPARENT...ohmygosh. So much awesomeness. (Which totally doesn't add the pressure of writing more awesome stuff, right?) ;)

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  15. Absolutely. Every time I even send something to one of my crit partners or my beta readers I'm terrified they won't like it.

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  16. Thanks, Natalie! This is exactly what I needed to read today. You nailed it.

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  17. Great post, Natalie. And so true. I worked for a publisher for years. One of the authors had published well over a hundred books. But when she turned in a manuscript, she would say, "Well, I don't know if this is any good."

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  18. Only found this post today, but it was just what I needed. I'm going through one of those phases where I'm convinced that I suck and will never amount to anything. It's good to be reminded that this is normal, no matter how hard it might be. :D

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  19. Well, that's depressing. I was sure I'd feel different when I got published. But I'm betting you're right & I won't.

    I think I just feel bad for my husband - having to put up with my writing highs and lows.

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