Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Have You Seen My Confidence Lately? It Ran Off. Didn't Even Leave A Note.

I feel like the suckiest writer ever born.

Notice I said "feel" and not "am." I don't want this post to turn into a complain-fest, but I've been thinking a lot about this disconnect between where our writing actually is and how we feel about it. Because, for the most part, it seems like it doesn't matter how great a writer is—they go through these phases where their self-esteem is in the gutter, and it feels like every word is rubbish.

I mean, I remember once reading about Sarah Dessen's struggles to write a book, and it was both mind-blowing and comforting that she at times felt like she sucked, too. SARAH DESSEN. She's freaking amazing. She has ten novels out. She is a bestseller. She is smart and beautiful, and when I met her earlier this year she was the most gracious and graceful person. (If it's not clear yet, I kind of idolize her.) How could she think her writing was anything but incredible?

I'm not sure I have the answer to that question. Personally, I have less confidence in my writing now than I did when I first started. Shouldn't it be the opposite? Why does it work that way? When I truly did suck, I thought I was awesome. But even though I know I've improved over the years, I feel like my words are...stupid. My ideas are stupid. Everything is stupid. It's completely and utterly frustrating, because I know I shouldn't feel like that but I often do.

Maybe it's all the rejections? After almost 200 query rejections and a couple dozen editor rejections, I have garnered a certain brand of humility. You figure out that how you feel about your writing doesn't necessarily reflect its merit, and that is a tough lesson. It leaves you floating, relying on others to tell you if your work is good enough. I mean, I thought every novel I wrote was good enough—and I was wrong...11 times. How can I trust my own judgment after all that?

But, well, relying on others' judgments isn't the funnest thing either. It feels GREAT when someone tells you your book is good...for about five minutes. And then the doubts creep in again, and you have to search out a new reader, a new hit. Praise becomes nothing but a shallow, counterfeit form of self-esteem. Which, of course, means that criticism becomes something far worse than it is. Instead of being helpful to improvement, it's this monster of darkness that confirms every terrible thing you think about yourself. Not. Good.

Or maybe it's my own improvement that's to blame. It's kind of a double-edged sword—becoming skilled in something—because the more you learn, the more you see how far you have to go. It's like in Hikaru no Go (Freaking AWESOME show). Hikaru has no idea just how good his friend Sai is at Go (a Japanese strategy game) because he's a complete novice, and as Hikaru grows in skill he realizes just how unskilled he is in comparison to master Sai.

I feel like that all the time these days. I have so far to go. While I must admit that I have improved a ton since I first started writing, it sometimes feels like I'm still that noob because I am only just seeing how much more road lies ahead, how much learning and growing and...failing I will be facing. Stupid failing, why does it have to be so integral to the learning process?

This insecurity rut has to be broken. I have yet to find a fool proof way of breaking it (If you have one, please let me know.), but I will take it as a good thing that now I can at least recognize it when I'm in it. I am aware that the way I'm feeling doesn't necessarily mean I'm a sucky writer. This awareness does help me press on, even if I'm not having the most fun ever.

It goes in waves. I do know that, having been through it practically every year for the last five. At least I know it will end. I just wish it would hurry up.


  1. This is exactly how I've been feeling lately. I'm glad someone else feels the same at times. It means I'm not alone. :)

  2. Totally agree with the previous post. 'Course, it hasn't just been about writing. It can be like that with any learning experience and any part of life.

  3. You're not alone! Our confidence(s) ran off together, chortling all the way at the chaos they left behind.

    Good post today on Mysteries and Margaritas addressing STEINBECK's struggles with uncertainty.
    If he can work through it, so can we ;-)

  4. I'm sure you're great and I'm also sure that even Shakespeare had a few doubts. I mean, "Much Ado About Nothing?" What was he thinking? LOL

  5. I love that you, and Sarah Dessen, and almost every author I've ever heard, has doubts sometimes. It's the perfect reminder that we're all human, we're all going to struggle, and that's part of the journey.

    Plus, if we never had insecurities, how could we possibly write convincing characters?

  6. We all feel that way at times. I'm editing the sequel to my debut and worrying that it won't be as good as the first book. There is pressure to make this book, just as good or better. Ugh.

    But it keeps a writer humble too. No big heads here! lol

    Remember these words of wisdom: "This too shall pass..."


    Check out my Books!

  7. As an aspiring writer, I talk about these same fears and feelings a lot with my critique partners. A LOT.

    I think the thing to remember is that we're always evolving... as people and as writers. I think there is this (completely false) idea that with publication comes lack of doubt and utter confidence. I know I have assumed that's how it is. Because HEY, YOU'RE GETTING PUBLISHED. But if I really sit back and think about the idea of that, OMG, the pressure.

    Words of wisdom... I have none. Hugs... I have plenty <3

  8. Oh my gosh, Amen! *clinks glasses* I've been feeling like that road is never-ending lately. I could totally use a confidence booster (or wine, which is easier to come by).

    Good luck getting out of the rut!

  9. It happens to everyone. It'll pass.

  10. Girl you aren't alone! Glad to not feel so alone by reading this and all the comments!

    Lets start a club~

  11. I know the feeling. I think sometimes it's tied to knowing that I've finished a book, and that the polished writing there is better than the unpolished stuff being vomited onto the page during the 1st draft. You think about the finished thing, and then look at the unfinished thing, and it's like 'I wrote both these things, shouldn't the writing be similar?'

  12. Sigh, failing IS hard, and I hate it when everything I create seems like crap to me. Hope this current wave of yours ends soon!

  13. I'm stealing everything Becci said. We always have doubts, no matter how far along this journey we get. I remember when I got my black belt in karate, I immediately thought, "I don't deserve this. I'm not good enough." Because it showed how much farther I truly had to go. My instructor likes to say that "Your black belt is just the beginning." It's the same for writing.

  14. I always think of it like an iceberg. We only see the tip when the dream begins, but we don't see the killer mass underneath. And if we did, we would never have gone for it. But who ever goes for icebergs? Terrible analogy.

  15. Dude, I think if you're a writer and you don't feel like Scum's ugly second cousin at least every now and again, you're not trying hard enough. Failure means you're working at it. Thus you can only truly fail by not trying.

    Personally, I feel like I'm a worthless scribe every other second, so I must REALLY be working hard.

    Now I need chocolate and a beer ... STAT! :-)

  16. We've all got days or weeks or even months like this, Natalie.

  17. Natalie, your wisdom astounds me. We can't always feel on top of the world. There are times when we are stretched thin, but those are the times when we grow as writers. What you're feeling are growing pains. I'm glad you know it'll pass soon...and you'll be stronger because of them.

  18. I feel like this often, in fact more the often...ok...really all the time.

    I have some amazing critique partners. And whenever they say nice things about my writing I file it away in a folder in my e-mail called encouragement. And on those days when I'm about to start a writing session, but feel like there's not even a point to picking up the pen or booting up the laptop because I think my writing sucks, I pull up one of these encouraging e-mails, and it seems to get me out of the funk.

  19. I so relate. SO. I finally had to make myself stop making posts about it because like you, I didn't want to fill my blog with that kind of negative self talk. It's kind of morbid, but I actually like knowing that I am not alone in this. It comes, and thankfully, it GOES!

    Here's to hoping it goes SOON.

  20. "I am" = God, or the Divine, the original Source.
    So, let's change our language, so we can all collectively and individually say,
    "I am a creative genius"...in any efforts we pursue.

    I have now realized that when I walk away, with now plans or demands or expectation to coming back, no responsibilities of performing, that I can come back when I choose, or when it chooses me. So, now I walk it off, which is a great problem solver. And, better yet, now I have taken up all the river rocks from the front yard, as many as I can carry at a time, and drop the off in the back yard. A self imposed physical challenge is a really good distraction.


  21. I hear you.

    But then, what's the point if there's nothing left to learn? How boring would that be? :)

  22. I'm in rewrite phase so I get bashed with it daily now. I definitely empathize with you. Hope tomorrow is a better day for you! =)

  23. Two psychologists named Dunning & Kruger found that people with below-average skill grossly overestimated their abilities, while people with above-average skill tend to underestimate their abilities.

    Unskilled people overestimate because they don't know what the criteria are. A beginning writer knows that she wrote a whole story, and it has a beginning, middle, and end, so it must be pretty good (even though it's not). A skilled writer is aware of tension, POV, goals, etc, and can see how she failed to execute these things perfectly (even though it is, overall, a good story). Experts also overestimate other people's abilities. If something was easy for them, then it must have been easy for everyone else, too.

    This makes my self-doubts even worse, because on days when I think my writing is great, I think, "Maybe...or maybe you're especially unskilled and this is the Dunning-Kruger effect."

    You could try looking at the first stories you wrote, to remind yourself how far you've come.

  24. I totally have to agree with you. I've had that feeling many times. Thank goodness for my best friends and their praise.

    Also, I am so grateful I stumbled across this blog. It has been amazing having the opportunity to learn that there are people out there who feel the same way I do about writing, in general and personally.

    Thanks for all you share!!!

    And don't worry, something will come along that will break this sucky slump!

  25. Sometimes I read your posts and wonder if you secretly have some telepathic ability. *eyes suspiciously* Seriously. I feel like this all the time. For me, it comes in cycles. Even though I know the rock-bottom I-am-awful-why-am-I-doing-this phase will pass, it doesn't help while I'm it. I try to just ride it out and to not send my friends too many crazy emails. If you come up with a cure, send it my way.

  26. So relatable. Love this line: "When I truly did suck, I thought I was awesome."

    I was on fire this summer and hit that rut lately as well. Tough to push through but we always do. Well, some people give up. Too bad. You'll be rockin again soon.

  27. I totally understand. :)

  28. Every writer has doubt. Lately, my brain has decided to occasionally say, "Is anybody going to find this interesting?" as I type away on my WIP.

    That said, I do have some advice for you. It's a good first step to recognize the problem. The second step is to make a decision as to what to do about it. For example, when the self-doubt creeps in, tell it no. Loudly and firmly. And then actually refuse to indulge in those thoughts/emotions.

    You've already shown your dedication and discipline in everything you've accomplished. And you have accomplished A LOT. But you will enjoy the fruits of your dedication and discipline more if you also apply those same strengths to the fear machine living inside you.

    I will tell you what - my life got a lot better when I decided to destroy my own fear machine. Sure, it rumbles back to life here and again, but every time I deal with it I get better at saying NO. It's like any other kind of training you might do. It takes practice, discipline, and determination - qualities you already possess in spades. You just need to turn them inward as well as outward.

  29. Whoa! I hear you, understand, and I have heaps more to look forward to..*gulp, hugs*
    Hi from the campaign and heres my lhttp://thepatientdreamer.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/okay-why-not-have-a-go-gulp/ink..

  30. "The more you know, the more you realize how far you have to go." This is by far the HARDEST part of writing for me and I have two books out and two under contract. But I'm sure the one I'm near the end of right now is total crap and I'll have to put it away for a while before I can look at it and go, "Hm. Maybe there's potential."

    I hate writing sometimes. But I can't quit. So then I just decide to love it again. And mostly that works. Mostly . . .