Wednesday, August 12, 2009

That's Not Me

I've been given cause to reflect lately upon what can be both a good and a bad thing. Something I have noticed that seems to affect both the successful and not-yet successful among the writing community. And that is a lack of confidence, or more specifically, an inability to see ourselves as the others around us keep insisting we are. Despite repeated comments from others, in fact, who seem to see us as much more than we see ourselves.

I could probably psychoanalyze this by noting that, in my experience at least, most of the writers I know weren't the popular kids in school. We didn't have the swagger that came from being a star athlete or something along those lines - after all, pro sports pays better than being a writer, most of the time, though I think your odds of making the "majors" as a writer are far higher. Not to mention those kind of activities suck down a lot of the time those of use who write were using to put pen to paper.

Or, you know, stalking the head cheerleader. But that may have just been me.

While I certainly think that's a lot of it, there ought to come a certain time when we start acknowledging that all the people around us who tell us we're good - and who are no hacks themselves - may actually have a point and aren't all suffering from some mass delusion. Now, I say this, having found myself in a similar position, and more than once in my life. (Though that is mainly a result of the break in my life as an active writer more than any change in my own attitudes. I simply wasn't putting anything out there for anyone to judge.) Yet I am not reserving this condition simply for myself. I know a few others who, despite having been told repeatedly just how good they are, have trouble seeing themselves as that person with talent.

On the one hand, a certain amount of this is healthy. I think it helps keep you humble. This may just be my impression, having never met the man, but despite the astronomical level of his success, when I watch Stephen King in an interview or read his comments on the whole thing, there seems to be this inherent humility, as if he still can't believe it himself. As if, somewhere behind the millions of books, movies, and other things sold with his name attached, there is still the fledgling writer who tossed the draft of "Carrie" in the trash.

In part it's probably a result of being our own worst critics. Even after having sold for publication, there's still that nagging little voice that says this one isn't good enough, or this story doesn't quite work, or it'll take too long to find an agent, or sub to a magazine, or *something*. I am reminded that it is not a new phenomena, either, as Robert Louis Stevenson tossed "Jekyl and Hyde" into the fire. He then promptly rewrote it the next day - I think at the insistence of his wife, so perhaps the moral here is to marry someone with better judgement than ourselves - but not before he gave in to that moment of doubt.

Now, not everyone is talented. And there are more than a few instances of people with no real talent being propped up and continuing to write primarily because they're surrounded by people more interested in patting each other on the back than actually honing any real craft or talent. But, you would think, that after enough people who you *know* have talent, who have opinions that are valued and worth more than the empty air they're breathed from, have told you that you, too, belong in their ranks, you'd be a bit more confident about the whole thing.

Instead of sitting there, thinking, "that's not me they're talking about."

When it is.


Kmcelhinny said...

Well that is a *very* good point. And a good entry. It sounds to me that you are starting to believe in yourself, and that is great... and the fact that you want to share the news, help others to see that they are good and they are not alone with how they are feeling is just as wonderful. :D

Self doubt is a hard thing to overcome, there are many people, I've met even a few months ago that were afraid to even sub something out... even though I saw they were phenomenal. Confidence may not get you a quick "Yes," but can help a person keep trying.

Wow! I'm wordy! :)
Good post. Very uplifting. Thank you.

slcboston said...

yes, you are :)

thanks for your comments - can I claim this wasn't about me at all? :D

Diana said...

The irony of the situation is that the best writers, usually think they are crap. And the worst, think that they are brilliant. Being able to be objective about one's skills as a writer is very difficult to do.

Damien Grintalis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damien Grintalis said...

I think this is a fantastic post. Self doubt is a powerful thing, but maybe a little of the 'not quite good enough' feeling helps to keep a talented writer's confidence from turning into arrogance.