Friday, October 17, 2008

Back on the Blog Chain: How Do You Manage Confidence?

I promised you another Blog Chain post on the 19th, and here it is. This time, Kate chose the topic: How as a writer do you find the balance between being having too much or too little confidence in your work? We've already had some wonderful insights from Kate, Archetype, and Michelle. Feel free to read their posts, as well as the other members of our Blog Chain. As always, links are on the side bar to the right.

This topic reminds me of a Passing the Pen essay I wrote five years ago for my website. It's called, "I Me Mine: Writing and the Ego." In this essay, I discuss the various ways in which writing can help or hurt the ego, as well as help you move past your own sense of self when you're actually writing. But I owe you my current thoughts on this topic as well.

One of my conclusions in my earlier essay is that the best way to keep the frustrations of writing from hurting your self-confidence is not to let your self-confidence depend on your writing. I think the level of confidence you have in your daily life is a major component of your confidence in your writing abilities, and I think feeling competent in some part of life helps improve your confidence. Whether it's being good at your day job or a hobby or parenting, a skill in some part of your life will make you feel more confident about tackling other hard tasks, like writing.

I have to admit I was overconfident at first when I started writing. I wasn't so foolish as to send out my very first draft--I rewrote it completely after taking a writing class--but my first novel was about 170,000 words long with about seven different POV. I did get some interest from a couple of agents, but it never got past the partial stage. An editor at Tor did look at the full manuscript, but I never got the suggestions he had for it. It's been so long he's no longer there, so even though I never got an official rejection, I consider that book dead there.

My confidence in my writing has varied over my career. There are times when I read my work and think it's great; then there are times when I can barely get a sentence to behave. (Or, as I like to put it, you can't write your way out of a paper bag with a sharp knife.) There are times when I read a book and am so impressed by it I feel I can never world-build or describe something as well as that author does. I've had some modest successes, such as an Honorable Mention in an international competition called the UPC Science Fiction Awards. (This was enough to get my name in Locus, the newspaper of the science fiction field.) My short story, "A Reptile at the Reunion," was published earlier this year in the anthology Firestorm of Dragons. Still, I want to sell a novel and see it in bookstores. It's a tough goal to accomplish, given that only a small fraction of books make it out of the slush pile. Are my books ready for that? Perhaps not quite yet, at least that's not how I feel now that I've been reading Flogging the Quill and Miss Snark's First Victim. I still need to capture with words the hook that makes people want to read on. But I think if I keep learning and writing, I will learn that skill, and someday I'll achieve my goal--if not with one of my current novels, then with another project.

So that's my conclusion: confidence is not a fixed quantity. Although it may fluctuate, you can maintain your confidence if you think of yourself as a student of writing. Every new project will teach you something different. If you're always learning, you can encourage yourself by realizing how far you've come but not get too confident and think you know everything.

Before I extend the chain to Abi, I'd like to leave you with a quote from William Blake:

If the Sun and Moon should doubt, they'd immediately go out.

Keep writing, and keep your dreams alive.


TerriRainer said...

I agree with what you said, although I seriously doubt I could have been quite so eloquent!

I believe that it does take a person that is confident in other aspects of their life to be able to take the massive rejection a writer receives and NOT throw in the pen, so to speak.

Another great post in the chain.

:) Terri

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

It is cool to read about some of your writing successes, Sandra! I also like the idea that we should think of ourselves as "students of writing".

H. L. Dyer said...

Good advice!

You rock hard.

I'd like to hear more about that first novel. And do you ever toy with going back to edit it again?

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

There's a little blurb about that novel here:
I did try working on it a couple of years ago--I posted some chapters to my workshop. Trying to revise that novel made me realize just what a big project that was. ;) Also, I felt that the advice I was getting wasn't working for me or the story. I still think the story has strong possibilities and hope to work on it again at some point.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Sandra, what a great post. I, too, thought it was fun to get to know more about your writing accomplishments. I loved the quote about the sun and moon going out. Sometimes I feel like that, that my inner light (or whatever it is that the doubt kills) has gone out and I need it to be re-lit. Good job! :)

Anonymous said...

I think you are totally right in thinking that it takes a confident person to even try writing. Someone who never had a moment of confidence would never pick up the pen.

Nice post.


Maria Zannini said...

>>...the best way to keep the frustrations of writing from hurting your self-confidence is not to let your self-confidence depend on your writing.

Excellent advice! You know I'm in the middle of chaos. Hope to be online again in a couple of weeks, but I wanted to add my kudos for such sound advice.

I'm of a mind that you can't teach self-confidence. It's something that's earned with experience and time.

I foresee a very promising future for you Sandra. You have your feet on the ground and your head in the right frame of mind.

Michelle McLean said...

Wonderful post Sandra! You are so right. My confidence level is affected by other things in my life. When the rest of my life is going well, rejections don't hurt quite as bad. And it was definitely a learning curve, but I've finally (mostly) gotten the hang of not letting rejections affect the confidence I have in other aspects of my life. Great post!

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

I loved your post, Sandra. My favorite sentence:

"Confidence is not a fixed quantity."

You are quotable, my friend.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Is it bad to have 7 viewpoints? Faulkner managed. (*big innocent grin*)

I like this line a LOT: "Although it may fluctuate, you can maintain your confidence if you think of yourself as a student of writing."

So the problems aren't failures, they're learning blocks. Nice reframe, as we say in psych!

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