On writerly confidence.

| Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Today's Tune: Under The Hedge

Don't forget: only a few days left to enter my awesome contest full of signed books and critiques!

First: can we talk about how much I love The Sing Off this season? Because I do. I really, really do. LOVE PENTATONIX THEY ARE SO GOOD I CAN'T EVEN TAKE IT. Ahem. Yeah.

Next: let's talk about confidence and never feeling like we're good enough. BECAUSE THAT'S FUN.

My blog-buddy and agent-sister (I can't believe I get to say that eeeeee) Phoebe North recently wrote a blog post that really spoke to me. It was about her experience at Visible Paradise (a SF/F writer's workshop) and how it really affected the way she viewed herself as a writer. She talked about how the writers she was working beside -- a pool of incredibly talented, creative people -- all had difficulty taking compliments when it came to their work, even when that praise was well-earned.

You should really read her post, but this is what it boils down to: that workshop helped her learn that it's okay to think of herself as a professional writer. A talented professional writer (which she absolutely is). It gave her permission to take pride in her work.

And I'll start with the comment I posted on that entry:

"... I can 100% relate. I think, as writers, there's a sort of unwritten rule that we're SUPPOSED to feel some level of inadequacy or self-loathing. That anyone who doesn't is a big-headed hack who thinks they're better than everyone. Which is not at all fair. We CAN take pride in our work and feel secure in our writer status without being unrealistic about our capabilities or our willingness to continue learning.

It's hard when we hear the same thing over and over: 'Listen to the criticism, ignore the praise. Ignore the praise. Ignore the praise. Ignore it because you can't learn from it.' And while on some level it IS true that we learn more through criticism, that doesn't mean that the praise is always unfounded. Sometimes we deserve it. No, we DO deserve it. Because we work hard and we study hard and we write well. And that's okay."

This is something I struggle with a lot, and I know I'm not alone. There's this weird pressure on writers (and other artists) where we're not supposed to appreciate or take pride in our own work. Doing so makes us, like, JERKS or something. I feel like I'm constantly wavering between not quite believing that people think I'm actually publishable and reading my stuff from months past and going, "Woah, wait, *I* wrote that? But it's good!"

It's like no matter what sort of validation there is out there to get, it never makes me quite believe in my own merit. Talking about my writing achievements makes me feel boastful and I constantly fret about how to let people know that I'm a REAL WRITER who writes THINGS THAT ARE PRETTY GOOD without sounding full of myself.

But after reading Phoebe's post, and after my experiences from the last few weeks, I'm finally approaching a place where it's okay to not be full of self-loathing and constantly hating my words. To admit that hey, I'm not bad. I'm better than not bad. I'm good. I'm talented. I'm a writer. An author.

There's a line between pride and arrogance. Arrogance is misguided confidence in the face of repeated criticism in the same area. Arrogance is saying, "No, critique group and agents and editors, you are WRONG when you say I need to work on my writing, despite the fact that you're all pointing out the same weaknesses."

Pride is admitting to yourself that sometimes you write gold. That when talented writer friends, critique partners, and publishing professionals are all telling you that you don't suck, maybe you actually don't suck. It's giving yourself your own stamp of approval, which is often the hardest stamp to get.

So I'm standing here and baring myself to you. Telling you that despite hearing over and over again that I'm a good writer, despite being told my work moved someone to tears, despite having a short story selected in a contest by an author I fiercely admire, and despite jumping the frightening hurdle that is obtaining the coveted offer of representation... despite all of that, doubt still eats away at me.But its bite is getting less and less powerful.

And I'm standing here to tell you that it's okay to face your own monster and tell it, "Yes, I am good. I am going to do this. I am talented."

"I am a writer."


{ Isis Rushdan } at: November 9, 2011 at 6:38 AM said...

I wish confidence can in a pill so whenever we needed it we could simply buy it. Your post resonates with me on many levels. I think we just have to decide, regardless of validation from the outside world, that we are going to believe in ourselves. It must come from within, then no one can ever take it away.

Loved this!

{ Cristina } at: November 9, 2011 at 6:45 AM said...

just what I needed to read today!
thank you!

{ K.T. Hanna } at: November 9, 2011 at 6:49 AM said...

Thank you. I really needed this. And I've been emotional lately, so this made me cry lol.

I know we're all good at encouraging other people, at motivating others - but sometimes it's hardest to take your own advice.

If revision is teaching me anything, it's not to be arrogant. Occasionally I think that maybe I really can do this, maybe it's not hopeless. I'll try for more of those thoughts in the future.

Thank you again. I'm going to go read that other article now too.

{ Mel Fowler } at: November 9, 2011 at 6:53 AM said...

Yes you ARE a writer. :)

I think it's finding a balance. You need to be confident of your work, but humble, just like you said. It's knowing that you've worked so hard to write your story, and if someone copliments you, you just say, Thank you, because you know that you've created something magical!

{ Mel Fowler } at: November 9, 2011 at 6:54 AM said...


{ We Heart YA } at: November 9, 2011 at 7:04 AM said...

*fist pump*

Fantastic post, Steph, thank you! Will definitely be sharing this one with writer friends.

{ Seabrooke } at: November 9, 2011 at 7:52 AM said...

Great post, Steph. I've gotten the impression that most creative-types tend to be on the slightly insecure side or generally lacking in self-confidence. My husband is an incredibly talented artist, and while on some level he recognizes that he's better than the average person, he still has a hard time hearing and accepting praise and he's always fairly critical of his own work. Another artist friend of mine is the same way.

And nearly all the writers I know seem to lack self-confidence in their own work. I've managed to allow myself pride in my work, so I usually feel pretty good about it... but now I worry instead that my pride is misplaced and I'm seeing a castle where there should be a house. We can't win. ;)

{ Stessa } at: November 9, 2011 at 7:55 AM said...

First off, I looove the Sing Off this season. Pentatonix is my fave. I'm so glad someone agrees with me!

It's definitely a hard line that people struggle with, accepting that they actually are good writers, instead of brushing off the compliments people give them. Thank you for your insight!

{ anonymeet } at: November 9, 2011 at 12:31 PM said...

Great post! Seems like self-doubt and creativity go hand in hand sometimes. But it's important, as you suggest, to work on being proud of the good things, as well as struggling through the bad.

Also MY LOVE FOR THE SING OFF KNOWS NO BOUNDS, OMG SERIOUSLY! Pentatonix is utterly amazing. Kevin and Avi - the beat guys or whatever they are - are beyond amazing. I also really like Urban Method. Their numbers are always full of ~hardcare drama~.

And I was so SAD to see this week's elimination. Won't say who it is, in case anyone hasn't seen it. But that group ROCKED!

{ Phoebe North } at: November 9, 2011 at 1:41 PM said...

Oh yay! I'm glad the post helped you and thanks for sharing it.

After a brief freakout at VP, I got in touch with internet friends to ask for advice. How do you handle these compliments, you know? And the best advice I got was, "Get good at saying, 'Thank you for the kind words. So glad you enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing it.'" So I've started doing it, and you know? It feels good. Humble. Gracious.

Some of this is gendered, I think. Women are taught to be self-effacing about themselves. But the irony is that it has the opposite effect from what's intended. It makes us seem dithering, unkind with praise--just as bad as seeming proud. And that's no good, you know?

Anyway, hugs, agent-sis! Can't wait to read what kind of brilliant fiction comes out of your brilliant brain.

{ Emy Shin } at: November 9, 2011 at 6:20 PM said...

Yes, I agree with Isis that there totes needs to be confidence pills, because I have no confidence in my writing whatsoever. A lot of it is due to the huge chasm between my reading taste and my writing skills, as eloquently said by Ira Glass. But some part of it is so much the result of the pervasive idea that, in creative works, even if you think you're good -- you're not supposed to acknowledge it, much less say it out loud.

So this post? Is just awesome. I really needed to read it. :)

{ Jessica Love } at: November 9, 2011 at 8:39 PM said...

What a fabulous post. I'm hoping to get to this point soon. I feel like self doubt just EATS ME ALIVE sometimes, and I so want to get over it.

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