Monday, August 10, 2009

Confidence and Humble-Pie

I don't know about you, but when I started writing, I soared over the atmosphere in happiness. Perfect fit, writing and me. So I wrote my first book, my second, my third, and I submitted them as I finished. It felt good, natural, lovely. And anything that felt so good and natural and lovely meant instant success, right?

Now by success, I'm not talking about huge advances and press releases, I'm talking about getting "the call."

While I wrote those first books, I had no access to any critique group, and I was still a new-ish member of my local RWA. All that earlier confidence slipped a notch or two as I listened to the members share their stories. I dreamed of instant publication, but these were talented people, and most of them had experienced skads of rejection. I thought, why would I be different?

I hadn't been rejected yet, nor had I received contest results or gotten feedback on my books from fellow writers. A nagging voice urged me to have other writers read my work, so I did. Contest results arrived along with the form rejection. And my confidence plummetted. But I learned something very valuable.

Blind confidence is necessary to succeed in this business.

Did I read that wrong? She must have made a typo.

Blind confidence is necessary. If anyone starts out on their writing journey without a massive dose of confidence, they won't be able to handle the upcoming, bone-crushing blows to their ego. Now mind you, there are plenty of talented writers who get published on their first try out. I'd never pretend everyone is doomed to write for years before getting the call. However, the vast majority of us will experience plenty of rejection before we get published, and in order to survive, we need confidence.

But we also need humble-pie. It wouldn't make sense to get feedback from contests, critique partners, and editors, and then toss the advice aside. Sure, we need to evaluate the comments and decide if they're right for us, but to cling to a false confidence will only hold us back.

Poster @ Brewhouse Yard Museum, Nottingham
Photo by timparkinson

We need to be objective about our own work. We need to accurately assess our strengths and our weaknesses, and the best way to do it is to throw off our preconceived notions about our writing and listen carefully to anyone generous enough to point out our problems.

At first, it's not easy. It's hard to read criticism from contest judges. It's painful to read suggestions from critique partners, and it's devastating to get rejections in the mail. But then, we take the advice and apply it to our current or next novel. We study and avoid making the same mistakes. And we repeat the process. Sometimes over and over. And it gets so much easier.

If your path resembles mine, be thankful. We're learning to accept criticism. We're learning to be objective about our work and to take advice. Editors will be giving us plenty of suggestions when we do get the call, and we'll be able to handle it. When our books are published and we open a review, we might have hurt feelings if it's negative, but we'll remind ourselves how far we've come and look ahead to how far we have yet to go.

And we'll smile.

Next week I'll be sharing tips on keeping your confidence high while attending a conference, but this week's posts are general encouragement. Thanks for waiting!

30 comments:

  1. I love encouragement, Jill! And I, too, believe we need a certain level of blind confidence. What a difficult path we've chosen. We must believe in ourselves and the stories we are telling. If we don't, who will?

    By the way, I checked out your wonderful website this weekend and your article to the right. I might email you with a couple of questions, if you don't mind.

    Thanks for the encouragement this Monday morning.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post Jill! I too, started out thinking great stuff about my writing. LOL!
    I want to get the call too. When I think of the "rules" and how hard it is to get pubbed, I can get discouraged. But then I see the success stories and they really encourage me. Esp. call stories. LOVE those!
    Thanks for the post!

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a beautiful post! And so true!!

    And I have to say I love the new pic with you and the sunflowers - gorgeous!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh, gosh, yes. My skin has gotten so thick now, I look like an alligator. LOL!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I also love the encouragment, Jill. I think a good mix of confidence and humility is so very important.

    Sometimes (who am I kidding, most of the times) I struggle with this. I waffle back and forth between confidence that borders on full-out pride and humility that borders on full-out self-ridicule. Yep... I need some work on this department. :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. It's hard to read criticism from contest judges. It's painful to read suggestions from critique partners, and it's devastating to get rejections in the mail. But then, we take the advice and apply it to our current or next novel. We study and avoid making the same mistakes. And we repeat the process. Sometimes over and over. And it gets so much easier

    SOOOO TRUE!!! You have said what we all feel and need to do! I'm right there with you with the exact emotions!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great post, Jill. I always love your insight, it's a great reminder. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Good post! Sometimes it feels like a long journey but it helps to appreciate each step of that journey. It's what makes us who we are as writers.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Good morning! It's so nice to be indoors, out of the rain, with modern appliances. (Yes, I just got back from camping.)

    Heather: Well thank you! And please e-mail me with any questions. Website design is fun and doesn't have to be the stressful nightmare we envision it to be!

    Jessica: Success stories keep me going too. A great website chock full of 'em is www.writeattitude.net.

    MeganRebekah: Thank you!

    Jennifer: Alligator skin? It's the perfect excuse to buy expensive lotion!

    Katie: I know! I'm the same way. I like to think of it as being "sensitive." :)

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Terri: Sometimes I have to remind myself that no job is perfect when I get the blues. But this one is pretty close!

    Ralene: Thank you!

    Cindy: Yes, and all this conflict we're experiencing helps us write conflicted characters!

    Marybeth: You betcha!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

    ReplyDelete
  11. you are the barnabus of the writing world. i love that you're obviously blessed with the gift of encouragement to bless others. :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great post! It's so hard to find that balance between confidence and remaining humble. You state things beautifully here. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Yes, just lean from the generous comments and keep on going. That's what we all need to do. I love that someone tole you to have great confidence. We need that,too.

    ReplyDelete
  14. A great reminder for all of us. It's our willingness to be open to growth that will be the light on our publication path.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Happy Blogiversary, Jill! You've been doing this for a year now, am I right? Keep up the great work of motivating so many writers.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I couldn't agree with you more! If we set out on the writing journey without some level of confidence, we'd never survive. You have to have pretty thick skin to get through all the blows. Humility is just as important. It's what helps us grow from those same blows!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I love Jeannie's description of you as the Barnabas of the writing world, Jill. So apropos.

    Finding that balance between confidence and humility is important. We take hard knocks in this business and must have what it takes to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get back on the path. At the same time, we must be willing to accept constructive criticism and learn from it.

    ReplyDelete
  18. We all need to have some kind of inner confidence that drives our willingness to subject ourselves to days and weeks of working so hard without any form of compensation (except of course, inner satisfaction). So, I agree, confidence is essential, but so is that willingness to learn and grow. Thanks for an encouraging post today!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Jeannie: Wow--what a compliment! You made my day!

    Lady Glamis: Thanks! Confidence and humility plays tug of war in me all the time.

    Nancy: We can't lose our sense of power or we will never succeed!

    Tess: Openness to growth--too true.

    Jan: Yes!! Thanks! A whole year--whew! And to think, you were the only reader for what, five months? Ha! Ha! You know how much I appreciate you, right?

    LazyWriter: Your comment made me think of rejection/criticism as wind blowing around us. But our confidence is the tree trunk keeping us in place--thanks!!

    Keli: Right on! I can speak for myself--I know if I only heard good things, I'd have a terrible ego. I've needed the humility that came with this journey.

    Jody: Yes, willingness to learn and grow. I feel like I'm in grade school again. It isn't always easy!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Good advice, and helpful. I esp like this quote: "Blind confidence is necessary to succeed in this business." That is true of many things. We have to believe in our writing even when others may not, yet we have to maintain a humble posture to accept whatever criticism they may offer. It is a tricky position. I'm learning that writing, like anything else, is a learned art. Rare is the natural-born speaker or writer; most who are good in these fields worked hard and long.

    Good post. I enjoyed the visit.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Jill, you are so right. It's such a fine line between confidence and humility.

    I've been humbled many times by crit partners and contest results.

    And I've been buoyed up by crit partners and contest results too.

    A fine line indeed. :)

    ReplyDelete
  22. Warren: Welcome! Isn't it encouraging to know that hard work pays off? That we don't have to be born a superstar? I find it comforting! Thanks for your insight.

    Erica: Me too! Criticism and feedback are like hurdles in a race. When you hit one with your knee, you get back up and clear the next.

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

    ReplyDelete
  23. I agree. I think that blind confidence can be a great strength, or a great weakness, depending on how one uses it. I love how real confidence and humility can go hand in hand. I think confidence keeps us going, and humility helps us grow. :)

    ReplyDelete
  24. Danyelle: What a lovely way to put it: confidence keeps us going and humility helps us grow. Perfect!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

    ReplyDelete
  25. A smart post! I appreciate the thought you put into this. And I think you're right.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I was totally oblivious to the realities of the writing world in the begining. It can take you on a roller coaster ride, but having people encourage you and help you along the way is a must. At first critiques were so hard, but now I am so thankful for them and their prespective. I've grown a lot during the process:)

    ReplyDelete
  27. Kara: Me too--well put!

    Thanks for stopping by!

    ReplyDelete
  28. The ego I'm not so sure about. Determination and a love of it, though, that is definitely needed. And humble-pie is also a definite must. Yes, yes, lots of humble-pie!!!!

    ReplyDelete

I love to hear from you!