Guest Post: Writer Confidence—Too Much or Too Little?

by Patty Jansen

Let’s presume for a moment, that there is a writer called Leon. Leon doesn’t exist, of course, and I picked the name because I don’t actually know anyone by that name. Leon, however, embodies a number of characteristics I’ve seen in workshops and on writer sites.

Leon has written a novel, has self-published it ‘because so much crap gets published by mainstream publishers’, and is now frequently, and loudly, complaining about the lack of reviews, about the idiocy of ‘legacy’ publishing and about how everybody else should be self-publishing, too. But, you know, it is the first novel he’s ever written and to be honest it’s–uhm–not very good.

Let’s presume there is another writer called Frederica. Same deal as Leon–I don’t know anyone by that name. Frederica has dwelled in writer workshops for yonks, and enjoys ‘helping absolute n00bs out’. She has had some minor short stories published, and has submitted to publishers and agents. She’s had a few requests for the manuscript, but she hasn’t submitted anything for a while now. Which is a pity, because she writes quite well and has some lovely ideas.

Now consider that horrible thing: writer confidence. It’s that little voice in your head that says ‘This is total rubbish’ when you’re writing something. It is the insidious feeling that makes you cringe when reading your own manuscript, and makes you think twice about submitting to anywhere that pays top rates because ‘it’s not good enough’ and will never be so.

Leon clearly has too much confidence, and Frederica too little. Both are crippling. Leon would benefit from spending more time learning his craft and listening to people who have read his work. Frederica would benefit if she didn’t consider any criticism as euphemism for ‘I’m no good’ and if she could be made to submit her stories. At the root of their problems, both are probably afraid of rejection. Leon takes rejection as an insult and becomes defensive. Frederica takes rejection as a rejection of her person and feels hurt.

It would of course be ridiculous to suggest that writers aren’t–and shouldn’t be–affected by rejection, but neither defensiveness or crawling in one’s shell are productive reactions. We need to learn to write to a standard that publishers will buy, and the only way we’ll know that is to submit to markets. It does not help a new writer to withdraw from this market-testing for whatever reason, even if you intend to self-publish.

Note that in the above paragraph, I never said ‘we need to learn to write well’. What constitutes publishable writing is a fluid concept. The parameters of what is good writing are ill-defined and subject to taste, namely, that of the editor where you send your submission. Contrary to popular belief, an editor is a human being, with preferences and likes and dislikes, and with the style of a magazine or publishing house to consider. An editor is not the same person as the next editor. Therefore, if an editor says no, that doesn’t mean that the next editor will also say no. Similarly, if an editor says no, it doesn’t mean that the editor is an idiot. It means that the editor had no need for the material, nothing else.

A writer with too much confidence gets hung up about rejection. A writer with too little confidence gets hung about rejection. A writer with the right amount of confidence may feel down for a bit, but will send the submission somewhere else. This writer will think ‘I’ll show ’em’. And you know what? Sooner or later, you will indeed.


Patty Jansen lives in Sydney, Australia, where she spends most of her time writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. She publishes in both traditional and indie venues. Her story This Peaceful State of War placed first in the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest and was published in their 27th anthology. Her story Survival in Shades of Orange will be published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

Her novels (available at ebook venues) include Watcher’s Web (soft SF), The Far Horizon (middle grade SF), Charlotte’s Army (military SF http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005OOFFPC ) and books 1 and 2 of the Icefire Trilogy Fire & Ice and Dust & Rain (post-apocalyptic steampunk fantasy).

Patty is on Twitter (@pattyjansen), Facebook, LinkedIn, goodreads, LibraryThing, google+ and blogs at: http://pattyjansen.com/

 

3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Writer Confidence—Too Much or Too Little?

  1. I think the “I’ll show ’em” attitude is critical for new writers–for all writers!–but it’s easy for that to stray into overly confident.

    A lot of this too much/too little problem can be addressed by figuring out your goals as a professional author. Some people have found success through the bull-headed path by throwing a ton of their books onto the Kindle store. Others prefer to aim directly at traditional publishing. Once you know your goals, you can fine-tune your mindset.

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