02 September 2012

Mona Lisa's Confidence

by Carrie Bailey

The goal I envisioned since I started this blog is to boost writer's confidence by providing support, community and a tiny trickle of technical information about writing. In fact, The Handbook of the Writer Secret Society, does exactly that, too. We all tend to have some level of writing skill on which to base our confidence in ourselves and that is truth that no one can take away from us.

And, there's something to be said for having confidence. It opens doors. It breaks down walls. It floods valleys...

It's undeniably the single most important quality a writer needs to develop. We've got to believe that our stories have value and trust our own ability to create them. We need to share them and be able to accept the criticism that comes from not being perfect. How else do we survive an encounter with someone who is generally unenthusiastic and probably would have given a big "ho, hem" for the Mona Lisa if they'd been DaVinci's neighbor on the morning he completed it in 1519. 

We can't. We have to have confidence in ourselves. But, add too much conviction to our choices and ability, we become arrogant. Take it away and we're immobilized by insecurity. Of course, there's something worse than both of those:

false modesty. I don't mean when a person denies their own talent and ability when really they have it and everyone else is aware like if Stephanie Meyer was to stop us in the book store and say, "Gosh, I doubt anyone would want to read my next book." Not like that, I mean those obnoxious horrible indecent individuals who believe they're the most able writers among us and as they gush about how insecure they are we can tell they're lying. Yeah, them. They're the worst. *

Recently, I attended a function where almost every last creative type had adopted this approach to their work. Their reasoning-I imagine-is If I say I'm insecure and terrible, then you'll say no no, really it was good and then I'll add that to my stockpile of forced compliments that I remember in order to justify my belief that I, [insert name], am the world's deepest and most profound writer.

Arrogant? Insecure? Nah, Mona's the face of confidence...
I never considered mass murder before. This sort of false modesty, is a sort of insecurity and arrogance mingled and mixed to the same great effect as combining bleach and ammonia. Either be too insecure to share your work or confident enough to take honest feedback. Please.** And soul searching for your worth as an artist belongs in therapist's office, during pillow talk with a very patient lover or you can mumble to yourself about it on the bus, don't subject other writers to hearing all about it.

Bottom line, if you want confidence, real confidence, don't ask yourself big questions like,

"Who am I do think I can write a novel?"
"Am I as good as J. K. Rowling or better?"
"What will I spend all my incredible wealth on?"

Or small ones like,

"Will anyone ever read my work and like it?"
"If I go to a conference, will I feel out of place?"
"Do I even have a natural talent for this?"

Ask yourself right-sized questions like,

"Where can I learn how to write a better query letter?"
"Can I commit the time to completing a novel?"
"Am I willing to write what people want to buy?"

Confidence comes from knowing what you can do. Sell an article. Publish a short story. Write a novel. Repeat. That's what makes a writer. Take an honest inventory of your accomplishments. Identify your next goal and write it.


*No, I'm not talking about you Perry Block. I have complete confidence that you're sincerely insecure on every level, especially the lower ones.

** Please, please, please.

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