Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Confidence Game

It's time for another blog chain and this time I'm not only starting it, but I get to choose the topic as well. The question that I want to discuss is something that I've been thinking about quite a bit lately, and that is:

How as a writer find do you find the balance between being having too much or too little confidence in your work?

Here's the thing, we sit in front of our computer screens (or in Jessica's case with her pen and paper) and make shit up. Sometimes it's sucks. Sometimes it's great. But (and this is the fun part) we never know for sure which one it really truly is. Whoooooo!!! Good times, right? RIGHT!??!

Okay, so we have crit partners and beta readers to help us sort things out... except when one loves the part where Cassandra kills the dragon, another hates it, and no one understands that the dragon is a metaphor for the first boy who ever broke Cassandra's heart!

What then?

Or even worse all your readers hate something that you love, or love something that you hate, or think that dragons are not metaphors.

That's when you start worrying whether you are like Kenley on Project Runway scoffing in the face of Tim Gunn's always astute advice or conversely are losing the authenticity of your own vision and voice to appease others.

Personally I struggle with this, but at the end of the day there is something that I try to remember and it's a lesson that I learned a long time ago.

Somewhere around sixth or seventh grade I specifically remember one day when our teacher gave us this fun little exercise. She gave us a printout with a beginning sentence on it and we had the rest of the page to write the rest of the story. I was the kid who at the beginning of the school year when we got our new language arts books I would frantically flip through it looking for the creative writing exercises that they scattered throughout the book. So, as you can imagine I was thrilled with this assignment (yes, my lack of popularity at this age wasn't entirely due to my red Sally Jesse Raphael glasses and tragic perm.)

While writing that story I was able to take a short break from wishing that I was anywhere but there at school, because I actually was somewhere else. I suppose it would be nice if I could remember that story and perhaps even scan the original copy of it so that I could display it here. Unfortunately, that story is buried way deep in a landfill right now and the only solid detail I remember from it, is that it ended with the shocking twist ending: "I'm telling this story from my grave."

Okay, so I wasn't exactly M. Night Shyamalan, but when we read them aloud the rest of the kids in my class liked it. In fact that they liked it so much that when a vote was held to determine the best story it was chosen as one of the top ones alongside the story by another boy in my class. Now here's where the (over)confidence thing comes into play, because I thought that my story was better. I might have even thought that compared to mine, his story kind of sucked.

But, but but. But when my teacher had the class do a final vote to determine the best (I think this teacher used to give prizes of pencils or candy to worthy students and that was the prize at stake, other than the obvious one, that is, of knowing that you were THE BEST.) story, and we put our heads down on our desks and raise our hands to vote - I voted for his story and not my own.

Yes, that's right - I voted against myself. I thought it was the polite thing to do. And I didn't want to look like I thought I was the best, even though I actually did think I was the best. And most of all I didn't believe in myself enough to vote for myself.

My story lost and I am not even making this up - it lost by one vote. In fact it was so close that my teacher even held the vote again to make sure that she hadn't miscounted and I voted against myself again. Although, to be honest the second vote against myself had more to do with not wanting to be seen as a flip-flopper.

Now, that was a long time ago. I've since traded the dorky glasses for contacts and straighten my hair instead of trying to make it curl. It's still hard though sometimes to stick my hand in the air and say that I believe in what I have written. And I have to do it when I send out query letters, or put something out there for a crit, or even when I just have to tell myself that it is worth it to sit in front of that computer screen for a couple hours instead of spend a little extra time with my husband just chilling and watching TV.

So there's the question and my answer. And I'm gonna go on the record saying that I think it's pretty damn good. I am certain the rest of the blog chain is going to have some great responses as well, and you can find the next one over at Archetype Writing.


  1. Oooo, mean Kate, mean!!! You want me to analyze my confidence in my own work? I may never recover!! (ahem, this one is going to hurt - but I'll forgive you because it's an awesome topic!) :D

  2. I didn't see THIS question coming!

    I think you did the honorable (stupid, but definitely honorable) thing by voting for the inferior story.

    I also think this is a GREAT question. It reminds me that having the thick skin that a writer MUST have, you can only attain that toughness through confidence in your own work.

    I'll definitely be following this blog and thinking about how I'll answer!

    :) Terri

  3. I agree it is really tough to find the confidence. I had tons when I was a closet writer - got that dose of reality when I got to my first crit group...then you learn more, you perfect your craft and you grow as a writer and then one day it hits you. You're confident with your voice. Long road. Worth the trip :)

  4. OMG, is is the funniest thing I've ever read. I didn't know what to blog I'm just going to link you blog to mine.

    I have the confidence thing. I feel confident in my work, but with each crit i get back, I'm on this downward spiral to changing everything that I think makes my writing unique. I'm learning NOT to do that.

  5. *snort*

    Kenley from Project Runway.


    I also had tragic perms, and I think my glasses were worse than SJR's. They were ginormous plastic frames, which-- for unknown reasons-- connected the ear pieces to the bottom of the lens pieces, giving the illusion they were upside down.

    I was stylin', I tell you!

    Great topic!

  6. Kate, this is an awesome post. I laughed out loud at the perm and SJR glasses, we all must have gone through the 80's...

    Anyway, the issue of confidence is so tough. I agree with Michelle, this is totally going to hurt, depending on how I'm feeling on my post day. :) But a great question, lots of thoughts to be found.

  7. I bet that boy voted for his own story. It would be interesting if we had some men on this chain so we could see if their perspectives differ from ours on this topic. But I'm sure this will still be a good topic without them. ;)

  8. Sorry guys I know this is a kind of "open a vein" type of topic! Especially when unfortunate fashion trends of the past enter into it as well! :D

    And Sandra that is an interesting point you raise about whether the boy voted for his own - maybe we'll have to dig up a boy from somewhere for a male perspective.

  9. Tough topic, especially when I have Julie Andrews singing in my head.

    Couldn't you just kick yourself for being the nice guy sometimes?


  10. Mon dieu! (Okay, I don't know what's up with the French today. Maybe it's the 80s flashback...I'm back in high school or something. Duran Duran is the BEST! lol)

    This one is going to be painful for me if you want me to be honest, because I will have to admit to sometimes being an arrogant little bitch. Not always; there are days I just want to quit writing, but sometimes I read something I wrote and think "Damn, that's good!"

    But admitting you can be arrogant on the inside...well, that's REALLY putting yourself out there, because it's like telling everybody you voted for yourself -- twice!

    This may be my favorite post you've written so far, Kate. It's just brilliant. I loved the narrative and the story about when you were young.

    I'll let this simmer in my brain for a while and write my post tonight!

  11. This is it isn't it? This is why we write but do we have the confidence to vote for ourselves so we can shine?

    I'm with you though, back then I would have voted for the other guy. But these days no, I would have voted for myself.

    Confidence, that and a thick skin is what we really need as writers.


  12. Aw man. I too had the tragic perm. Some days I still feel like that. Tragic perm girl. Can't write to save her life. But then there are the days where I feel like a shampoo commercial. Let's hope today is one of those days for both of us!

  13. It is pretty damn good! Good topic too. Well done.