Saturday, January 26, 2013

Confidence and the Writer

One of my writing groups has a number of truly prolific and successful folks in it.  I was talking about this in my other writing group and someone asked, "Why do you think they're able to finish so much in such a  short time?"  It was a great question.  I had to think about it for a minute or two.  There was one person in particular I was thinking of.  When I thought about her, the word that came to mind was "confidence."  An enviable, and not inappropriate, healthy and powerful confidence in herself and in her writing that allows her to barrel ahead with fully realized worlds and adventures.

Now I'm hitting a snarled nest of a mess in the middle (of course!) of the magical realism nightmare I'm working on.  And it occurred to me that part of my problem is a lack of that confidence.  I second guess and second guess about where certain scenes should go and whether certain elements work or make sense or should it go here instead and before I know it, I've psyched myself out.  I lack confidence.

As writers, we should have a healthy capacity to reflect on our work, to look for ways to improve it.  We should be open to criticism.  We must be willing to revise, again and again.  And yet, that very willingness to revise can turn on us and render us and our work mediocre, wishy-washy, hesitant, unfocused, lacking in voice or style or originality.    

There is a fine line, of course, between confidence and arrogance.  Some writers believe their work is inherently the greatest literary achievement since Shakespeare, whether it's any good or not.  You hear agents talk about this all the time, the queries that declare how great they are in such hyperbolic terms that it's an insult by implication to every other writer.  

What gives some writers the kind of brash confidence that allows them to pitch flawlessly, to query with ferocity, to complete one draft after another without falling prey to the demons of self-doubt?  Maybe all writers are plagued by those demons, and some have a greater capacity and strength to withstand them.  Perhaps it is simply the personality we're given.  Maybe those of us who find confidence elusive manage to bring a vulnerability to our style instead.

So what does it mean to have confidence as a writer?  It means plowing ahead with a story wherever it may lead.  It means having faith in your own vision.  It means not only having the strength to hear, and accept criticism, but also to question it, interpret it and even refuse it.  It means decisiveness, forward momentum, stamina, completion.  

How does such confidence coexist with the capacity for honest, unflinching, realistic self-assessment?  Can it?


  1. Write in all your doubts along with your literary excellence. You can worry about removing what doesn't belong later.

    This is my biggest problem in moving forward. I question myself at a point and then I'm frozen with doubt.

    1. Good advice. "Write in all your doubts." I will have to sit with those words a bit. Theres meat in them.


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