On The Importance of Confidence in Yourself–and Your Writing

On my writing retreat last weekend, I reread my novel. Yeah, that’s right. The one I told everyone how terrible it was. How it needed major surgery. How it had plot holes so big you could drive a truck through them. How the characters were undeveloped.

In re-reading it I found that all of the above was true–to a certain degree.  But overall, the draft had a lot going for it–engaging characters, a great setting, a fun conflict (if conflicts can be considered fun).  And the writing was solid, mostly, even though I wrote much of it quite quickly.

The book wasn’t bad, but my attitude was.  I had been busy telling myself it was a piece of crap, that it was terrible and hopeless and going to be impossible to rewrite.  And that, in turn, made me feel terrible and hopeless and like I was worth nothing more than, well, a piece of crap. Because as goes my writing, so goes my life.  I’m happiest–and most confident–when I’m deep in the middle of writing a story.  And having confidence in my writing is a huge part of sustaining a regular writing practice.

So how did I manage to so spectacularly lose it? I’m not really sure, but I think it has to do with not being actively engaged in writing a novel.  I am always writing something, even if it’s just journal pages, but when I’m not working on a story of some kind, I lose faith in myself.  Of course, one needs to take a break sometimes.  And that’s what I thought I was doing. Instead, I was berating myself for the terrible work I’d done.

But, as is so often the case, the opposite of lack of confidence is not good either. This is when you are so puffed up about your work that you can’t take constructive criticism from anybody, or make good decisions about it yourself. Because you are so sure that it is all perfect! Sometimes writers mistake the experience of writing for the end result. In other words, just because the words flowed easily and you had a blast writing it doesn’t mean that it’s perfect at the end.  I’ve not yet seen a first draft that couldn’t stand some tinkering.

But I see far fewer cases of that than I do instances of writers lacking confidence in themselves. Years ago, when my kids were little they’d get worried if I was going to go complain to a teacher of a school principal about something, not wanting me to rock the boat.  I’d say, “If your mother isn’t going to stand up for you, who is?” I hope it taught them something about standing up for what was theirs.  And that’s how I feel about writing. We’ve got to learn to stand up for our work–without getting too egotistical about it.

Me included.

How’s your writing going? Do you have confidence in it?

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