Thursday, April 12, 2012

self-confidence and the writer: a little affirmation goes a long way

It happens all the time: I see the finished masterpiece, beautifully bound and perfectly published, ready to be read by the masses. My idea, the vision in finished form, has appeared to me during a long walk, a hot shower, a stretch of highway driving. I jot the idea down quickly so as not to forget it. I pat my inner genius on the back. "Well done, Genius," I say. "Aw, shucks," she replies. "I'm just the messenger."

And then I sit down to write it.


The masterpiece? Turns out it was a mirage, and all I'm left with is a blank screen or page. And my genius takes off her mask to reveal a trickster who, in a voice not unlike The Simpsons bully Nelson, just points and says, "Ha ha!"

I'm faced with that moment that all writers face, the source of all writers block: the fear that I am not good enough. That I was never good enough. That what I am about to write is not, was not, never will be good enough.

This might be the greatest obstacle in any writer's success. Napoleon Hill's second lesson in his Law of Success course is Self-Confidence. He says this:
You will find that the one who advances believes in himself [italics Hill's] and herself [I add the feminine pronouns throughout]. You will find that s/he backs this belief with with such dynamic, aggressive action that s/he lets others know that s/he believes in (her)himself. You will also notice that this Self-confidence [capitalization Hill's] is contagious; it is impelling; it is persuasive; it attracts others.

You will also find that the one who does not advance shows clearly, by the look on her/his face, by the posture of her/his body, by the lack of briskness in her/his step, by the uncertainty with which s/he speaks, that s/he lacks Self-confidence. No one is going to pay much attention to the person who has no confidence in her/himself.

S/he does not attract others because her/his mind is a negative force that repels rather than attracts.

I remember years ago, during my very early days teaching composition, when I attended a workshop in which I felt so intimidated by the talent surrounding me, so stupid in their presence, that I kept my mouth shut throughout. Had a camera been on me, I'm sure I would've looked like a deer in the headlights. And I realized that my students probably picked up on this same energy, for this lack of confidence didn't start at the workshop. When I shared this with my mentor, he earnestly assured me that "you belong here" -- in the classroom, the workshop, and the academy. From that day forward, I changed my mindset. I belong here became my mantra. I know this stuff became my follow-up. And, coupled with my taking the initiative to learn as much as I could about teaching composition, the change was instantaneous. Within a year not only was I presenting at workshops (and soon after, conferences), but experienced instructors were astounded to learn that I'd only been teaching for just a few semesters. They would seek advice from me. They would implement my ideas.

A little affirmation goes a long way.

Yes, I had done my homework. I wasn't just faking my way through. But it was the mindset that fueled the initiative, and vice-versa.

This same mindset propelled me to publish Faking It one way or another. Why? Because I believed it was a good novel. I believed it was a well-told story, with good characters and good writing. And yet, when it came to querying agents, I lacked confidence in my ability to write a persuasive query letter, and I'm sure that had something to do with the rejections I received.

However, despite those rejections, I knew I could find an audience for my novel if an agent or traditional publisher couldn't. Or, even better, and audience would find it. Because when it came to networking, I was already confident.

As writers, then, we need to develop self confidence not only in our craft, but in our selling of our product and ourselves. Say it until you know it; loop it in your mind; record and listen to it while you sleep: I am good enough. My writing is good enough. I belong here. How do I know? Because I've written good stuff throughout my life. Because I've sold a lot of books. Because I understand the writing process, and I practice it daily. Because I find joy even amidst the struggle.

Because the trickster, not the genius, is the mirage.


Padgett Gerler said...

Great, Elisa--just what every writer needs to hear from time to time. Thanks!

Andrea Wenger said...

Just what I needed to hear. I'm in the process of querying my women's fiction manuscript, and the rejections can be frustrating. Not that I don't expect rejection. But there's always that nagging voice that wants to know why. Does my query letter suck? Do my opening pages suck? Or is it really, truly, just not the right project for that agent? I know it's a good novel, if only I can get the right agent to look at it.

But you've shown how successful a writer can be without an agent, without traditional publishing. And that gives me hope, too. One way or another, I will be published, and I will find an audience.

Elisa said...

Thanks, Padgett!

Andrea: Keep doing what you're doing. This is a great time to be an author -- we've got more choices and fewer limitations than ever before. I do believe, indeed, that you can/will be published, and the audience will find you. :)