THE C WORD CAN MAKE OR BREAK A WRITER

Hey Gang! Sorry if the title of this post is misleading. To clear the air let me say this isn't an egregiously late A-Z offering. Nor is it a post featuring naughty words. This is still a family blog after all. Well, mostly. (Last week's incriminating nun-spanking photo notwithstanding.

Nope, I've just been thinking a lot about confidence--or perhaps the lack thereof--and its effects on the writing process. 

No doubt that confidence is essential to good writing. A favorite author blogger of mine recently made some outstanding observations about the impact of confidence on voice. (READ IT HERE. If you don't already follow MOODERINO, do it now.) The point was made that inexperienced writers might find writing in first-person POV an easier way of inflecting character into their, well, characters. 

The logic? It often takes more daring, or confidence, on the part of a writer to mix their particular flavor into third-person (or other POV) because it's clearly coming from the author. First POV makes it easier to BE the character, and not the author. 

Confidence plays a huge part in all the other areas of craft as well. The words you use, the descriptions, become richer as your belief in your power to wield them grows. Cold isn't a good enough descriptor when you know you can do better. A shining sun just isn't as bright as burning blades of light dancing with the morning sky. 

Similarly, plots thicken as you gain confidence. You don't worry as much about throwing a major curveball at a story when you know you can write your way out of it. In turn, the story becomes a deeper and more rewarding experience as you take more chances. 

Playing it safe is perhaps the fiercest enemy of good writing, and confidence is the weapon to beat it.

So we know confidence is a good thing. We need it. But what about when it turns on us? While confidence is powerful, it is also fragile. To the point we can be roaring with it by our side at one moment only to be left silent and alone the next.

In writing, there are many, many, many--OK, there aren't really enough M-A-N-Y keystrokes left in this keyboard to get them all down--ways in which our confidence can be assaulted. 

I'll reference another blog post I read this week. Author Deborah J. Ross pointed out the impact negative writing relationships can have on our confidence. (READ IT HERE) What made her post so interesting is that she specifically addressed what happens when our writing "friends" turn on us--even subconsciously. 

She is careful to point out that not everyone in our writing group is out to get us, nor do most people join critique groups to undermine others. It kind of just happens. Subtle comments about poor genre choices for our writing, constant ‘it’s good but not publishable’ feedback, undermining our successes with gossip, etc. It all adds up to make us question our abilities.

Deborah makes an excellent and, I thought, very brave point: it’s hard to say when a trusted critique partner just becomes a critic, but it happens. We need to be cautious. We need to protect our confidence.

That’s just one example of how our writing confidence can be stripped away. There are more obvious ways too. Like being rejected by agents, receiving bad reviews, exploring the abandoned manuscripts graveyard on our hard drive--the list seems unfairly long when compared to the things that can build our confidence.

But that’s really the key, isn’t it? We can grow our confidence. It can be nurtured and strengthened. In that way, confidence is organic, not magic.


Quick Tricks for Building Writing Confidence:

Examine Your Best – We’ve all written at least a couple of things we’re proud of. Maybe it’s a poem. Maybe it’s a paper we got an outstanding grade on in high school or college. Maybe it’s a glowing sentence. Whatever it is, go back and read it or dwell on it for a moment. You’ve done it once; you can do it a million more times if you stick with it.

Talk Ideas With Anyone – This doesn’t have to be done with a writing person. Use your spouse, your friends—anyone who’ll listen, and preferably someone who gets excited about ideas. Tell them about concepts you’ve got for stories. Tell them about what you’d like to do with the characters in your WIP. Basically, dream big. Talk as if you have the skills to pull off any scenario, and the chops to break necks with all the twists you’ve got planned. You’ll feel energized and might even remember why you (hopefully) started writing in the first place. The story!

Believe in the Process – All too often when I think about how much time I’ve invested in writing (all the hours spent putting words down, the books I’ve read on craft, etc.), I’m left feeling bitter and inadequate, not proud. Why? Because I don’t feel I have has as much to show for it as I should.

Here’s a different way of looking at it: I’ve invested the time. I continue to work at it every day. That means I’m getting better, even if the tangibles say otherwise.

I come from a family of farmers. Every farmer questions if all the work and watering is going to payoff until they see the first sprouts. Shoot, sometimes it takes eating that first tomato before it really gets rewarding. Yet the best farmers are persistent and dogged about routine in the face of the doubt, because they believe in the process. Believe in your process. It will yield fruit.

Have you lost confidence in your writing abilities before? What are your tricks for getting it back?

~EJW~

28 comments:

  1. Second try - Blogger ate my first comment.
    I bounce ideas off my wife and my critique partners. Fortunately, none of them have turned on me.
    I remember that post of Moody's. Ironically, I thought I'd played it safe with dual third person point of view because first person seems daunting to me. (You've read my stuff. I don't want to BE my character - Byron has issues!)

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  2. Writing as farming / growing living things is a fantastic analogy.

    I love Mooderino's stuff. Always worth reading.

    I quit a writing class because everyone (*everyone*) in it prefaced their critiques of my horror / dark lit work with "I don't normally read this kind of stuff, but..." Fair enough, but I felt a subtle undermining disapproval after about a billion of these comments.

    That having been said, I do think that someone can lovingly take your stuff through a shredder and make it better. Harsh is not necessarily undermining; "this is great" commentary is not necessarily supportive. It's tricky.

    Elizabeth Twist

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  3. My writing has been the ONE thing that has stuck by me no matter what. Even when my friends and loved ones can't (or won't) be there for me, the writing has never left my side. At the risk of personifying it, it has been the one thing that has made me NOT give up on this world.

    Put another way, there is no way you can fail at everything. If you fail at everything, then you've succeeded at failure, which defeats its purpose. We all have our bad writing days, but man alive do we have those sweet ones, too. Just have to take it all in stride, and make sure we keep stepping in stride!

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  4. I am (sadly) forever lacking confidence in my writing abilities. I don't know that I have any tricks for getting it back except for "Just keep swimming..."

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  5. I was part of a playwriting intensive two years ago and one of the main things I remember is a presenter saying, "Every new writer thinks they lack confidence. I know some of the best playwrights of our times, not one of them is confident." That has definitely stuck with me.

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  6. Feels a bit like Moody Appreciation Day today (can we make it an annual event?). This, Alex's post, and I got a request for a full. Now what's going to be the blowback?

    Great post.

    mood
    Moody Writing
    @mooderino
    The Funnily Enough

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  7. Nice Blog ... Lots to chew on here.

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  8. For people who lack confidence, such as myself, there is a wonderful thing called "not caring". I'm the king of apathy. So that's how I'm able to put things out in the world. I put it out there. I lack confidence, but I really don't care what anyone thinks. That's what I recommend everyone to do. Just don't care...let it go...be at peace.

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  9. Interesting post and some interesting comments too!

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  10. Great post and inspiring advice, EJ. Yep, confidence is indeed hard to hold on to. Some days we're all gung-ho about the stuff we're writing/revising, and others... Well, it doesn't seem to gell in any way except crappy crap (is that family-blog acceptable vocabulary? I apologize if it's not). The thing is, "not caring", like Michael says above, may be the key to less pain and self-doubt, but it's also the first step in the road to a nihilistic writer's life, and I'm not sure that's in our best interest. If we're writers, we *do* write for others--we write because we want to share what we have to say, because we think it's important. Maybe not world-changing, but it's important, and we hope that one day, someone out there will read us and think, "Wow". That we'll have made an impact on that one life. We may not dream of best-seller-dom or millions in the bank, but making that impact, connecting with that perfect stranger that *gets* it--I think that's every writer's dream. In order to achieve it, though, we do need to grow--improve, work at it, get better and better. Putting ourselves out there is a two-way street: when we're lucky to get feedback, especially when it's *not* just praise and undying admiration, that's the golden opportunity to grow. It takes confidence to face it head-on, for sure.

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  11. Oh, great post! Confidence comes pretty naturally to me, but I think we need to really beware of the line where we run up against cocky. Sometimes when we get feedback, the temptation is to discount it because we feel confident already, but in fact if we do that, we stop growing. Feedback, even harsh feedback, makes us better. Learning to walk that line--staying confident but trusting that the feedback is part of the process--is I believe, where our writing starts to mature.

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  12. Good post. I've been thinking a lot about confidence in writing lately. I think part of it is about belief. I also don't allow myself to do any negative self-talk about writing (saying my writing is bad or unpublishable or whatever). Being around positive people, writing or otherwise. Writing a lot, reading a lot and setting daily writing goals and achieving them.

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  13. Great post, EJ.

    I just keep at it when I feel confidence slipping. It steadies itself with time.

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  14. EJ...

    This is my favorite post of yours so far... This totally connects with me...

    I went through a huge slump last year... So much so that I started to become someone I didn't recognize. Rejection hurts... It's hard. But I've come out of it so much the better person. And even though I'm facing rejection again now, I'm handling it so much better ;) I'm still working on how to keep the confidence up while facing the R's, but it's a journey, eh???

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  15. Hey EJ! It's such a good topic... and we are all fragile where confidence is concerned cuz we're constantly throwing ourselves out there. I don't think any writer has time to deal with a critic that can't be constructive. There's no point. CPs become critics when they can't see the writer anymore, only the writing. An even if our writing does suck, it's still a part of who we are, and no one should undermine it unless they are teaching craft.
    More and more I find myself receding from the internet to protect my writer's confidence and love of the craft. I use it for sites I value of course, and then I get off, cuz there's this strange little negative part of the writing world that exists, and whether it be the race to publish, or the twitter cliques or what, it impacts our subconscious desire to achieve our personal best. yes, I know I'm rambling but I just had coffee and well, there you go. ;)

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  16. This was just the post I needed today, yesterday and probably tomorrow, too. My confidence is taking a rollercoaster ride these days, from one rejection to the next. One agent likes me but flat out tells me to get help and the next just can't market what I write. How do you grip that confidence you need?? Because man, I have invested too many coins in this slot machine to back out now. I have to be getting better. I just have to be.

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  17. I love the farming analogy. Confidence is a tough thing for me and I am often my own worst enemy, but it's something I'm working on. Love your tips.

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  18. Once again, E.J., you've written an outstanding post! And thanks for dropping by mine. Sir Poops had a relasp this afternnon and we're back at square one.

    Also, I've been doing the A-Z Challenge over at http://secondhandshoesnovel.blogspot.com/

    Shelly

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  19. Spoken like a true professional. My scars rear strange little scabs tickling the underbelly of my imagination on a regular basis. Between huge egos and booze, writers like Hemingway numbed away any lack of confidence, plowing through every tomato field in sight.

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  20. Dude, being turned on by your writer friends would KILL!

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  21. This is one of your best posts, EJ!

    I switched my already-published novel from third person POV to multiple first person, and found it incredibly liberating (though I have to admit that some readers missed the fact that it's a MULTIPLE first-person POV and made comments about me switching from first to third....)

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  22. Fantastic post. That C word is vital. I have my ups and downs, but I'm better these days than I was when I was younger. I received one rejection when I was nineteen and stopped submitting for over a decade, hiding away what I wrote (because I couldn't stop writing). Surrounding myself with encouraging people greatly helps. The writing community online is awesome.

    Glad to meet you. New follower through Alex's blog. :)

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  23. Ha, you did you get me with the title. I almost clicked out before I saw what the post was about. I love the post. It is so tough to maintain confidence has a writer.
    I'm a new follower from Alex's blog. it's a pleasure to meet you.

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  24. I could use that swear can as I finally filed my taxes. Had a happy ending, but #%^#%&^% the IRS sure does take a lot.

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  25. Loved this post!!! I had a low confidence moment the other day and had someone challenge me as a writer - essentially, the "what makes you think you can write?" question. Since my confidence was teetering it was tough to answer, but some sassy part of me sprang up and said, "I'm a writer because I write . . .every day." (I didn't add the mental "so there"). Soemtimes those awful moments of being backed into a corner help me find my footing and decide there is no way I'm going to let someone else's criticism become my own.

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  26. Very good post! Never thought of a lack in confidence being the reason people write in first person before. But I suppose it makes sense--in some cases. Other times, when it's important to really get into the character (or because it "feels" right), first person is useful, regardless of writer confidence.

    Can't say I've ever had a major confidence issue (except when speaking with agents and publishers), but part of the reason may come from the fact that my friends are family are all super-supportive of my ambitions.

    J.C. Martin
    A to Z Blogger

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  27. This is a great post. Lack of confidence can be almost addictive to me.

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