Crises of confidence, or "who do you think you are?"

Photo by Patrick Tomasso,
Photo by Patrick Tomasso,

Sometimes I have crises of confidence.

I know, right? “What a shock,” you say. Even though online we present our best possible faces to the world, always doing interesting things or going to exciting places or shooting photos from just this right angle because that makes my nose look less crooked and the funny wrinkles around my mouth that no amount of moisturizer will seem to—uh, never mind. Although that’s probably a topic that I could write about at length, too.

My crises of confidence extend to pretty much every aspect of my life. If you meet me at any point, chances are I’m fretting about something. It may not show (it probably does—it totally shows, doesn’t it?), but like those wrinkles at the edge of my mouth (and the corners of my eyes, and the little frown divots in my forehead—ugh, ANYWAY), the fret is always there. And of course, the funny thing is that most of the things I worry about? I can’t do a damn thing about them. (Kind of like those wrinkles.)

You would think that after writing a book, and then writing another one, it’d get easier, right? That I’d be more confident in my abilities, that I’m capable of not just writing a book, but finishing it and seeing it published?

Au contraire, though. Even though I’ve finished the first draft of my next novel (number three, if you’re keeping track at home), I have a lot of revisions to do on it—and that’s before I even consider showing it to anyone. Every time I open the file, I think to myself, Am I wasting my time on this? What if no one wants to read it? What if no one buys it? What if the readers who liked the first book think this one’s total crap and don’t want to read another thing I write ever again?

It even extends to this blog: Does anyone really need one more person spouting off advice on writing? Stephen King said all writing advice is bullshit, so is this just a case of “less calories, same taste”? What if I just skip it this week? Will anyone notice?

I guess I’ve tied myself in knots often enough, and for long enough, to recognize this spiral when it starts. It’s a narrow place to get yourself caught in, this passage where you set up all these expectations for what you’re writing before you’ve even finished it… sometimes before you’ve even started.

It’s hard to make peace with the fact that, as a writer, so much of publishing is out of your hands, whether you’re traditionally published or going it solo. You (or they—you know, the all-knowing, all-seeing, ambiguous “they”) can do everything right and get everything as polished as possible, and your book can still sink into the bottomless well of Amazon’s algorithms, never to be heard from or read again.

So why do you do it in the first place? That’s what I always have to remind myself about, and what I always have to come back to. What does that look like, exactly? Well, for me it’s remembering that when I was eight years old, I started writing Battlestar Galactica fan fiction. This was in 1979, so it wasn’t even the good Battlestar Galactica. (Eventually, when I was maybe twelve or thirteen, I graduated to a thinly veiled Doctor Who retread.) Or remembering when I was maybe nine or so, and dragging an old manual typewriter out of the shed in our backyard. Why it was in there I don’t know. The memory cheats, of course, so maybe these things didn’t even happen as I remember them, but I remember that it was just plain fun to do.

“Your writing is your art,” someone told Jason Zook (he’s an entrepreneur and I’m probably the least likely person to be following him, as I’m not an entrepreneur, but he’s funny and he’s got a really cute dog, so there you go). Succeeding at your art doesn’t mean tons of sales—that does mean something, but it’s more like succeeding at sales, regardless of artistic merit. That doesn’t mean sales are bad [insert subliminal “buy my book” message here], but that’s so far out of your hands that it’s insanity to peg it as your goal.

You’re never guaranteed an audience. It’s not like you inherently deserve one. (And when I say “you,” of course, I actually mean “I.”) What can you do that’s totally in your control in order to measure your art as a success? In my case, it’s each successive draft I finish, or each new story that I write. And it’s definitely dragging myself out of the spiral of self-doubt and getting back to work on the reason I do this in the first place: because regardless of how many people read them, I love telling stories.


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