Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Putting the Con in Confidence

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

There's a great scene in the second season opener of The West Wing where Chief of Staff Leo McGarry is giving advice to President Bartlet:
"Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given to you. Put it another way, fake it till you make it."
The pursuit of publishing is a rough road, and if you're anything like me, you've had moments of pure panic along the way. This is normal, but that nagging self doubt can be destructive. It can keep you from taking the necessary steps to your publishing dream. Because if you're too scared to get advice or feedback, you'll have a much harder -- if not impossible -- time improving your skills and your work. (Granted, there are some who just pick up a pen and write a sellable novel, but we don't really like those people, do we? -grin-)

Confidence in your ability to grow, even when you know you're not Harlan Ellison (insert your own favorite author here), is what gives you the strength to put yourself out there and improve. It's understanding that your work is not you -- and seeing how others feel about that work can help you make it better. It's what allows you to listen to a negative crit and turn it into a positive learning experience.

Is it scary? Heck yeah. Painful? Yeppers. Necessary? For most, yes. Because that's how we learn and grow. We skinned our knees falling off bikes too. That didn't stop us from trying to do a wheelie. Can you imagine giving up bike riding because you were afraid the other kids would think you pedaled badly? Why let worry over your writing stop you from growing as a writer.

I have always been confident about my writing, even when I was sure it sucked and no one would ever want to read it (I guess I was confident that it was bad). I may not have felt good about the project I was working on, but I always felt that I had the ability to write something that I could sell someday. I think that confidence is what pushed me to study, learn, try new things, and put myself out there to get critiqued and learn how to critique others.

I think it also helped me put a necessary buffer between me and the project. I was a writer, but the work was the work. It could suck, but I was still okay. All I had to do was figure out why the work sucked, and do what I had to do to make it better.

There were times when I was completely deluding myself and that got me through to the other side. Other times, I knew I was deluding myself, and those were the dark moments. Those were the times I was sure I would never reach my dream and I should give up. Or more current, sure I was a one-book wonder and that I could never, ever, get the sequel to be as good. And now that I'm done with my contract, that fear that I won't sell another book.

That's when you need the con. The lie. And what better time to fool yourself than to get you through a dark moment? Because ultimately, it's not a lie. All that you need is there, you're just too scared to see it.
"Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given to you. Put it another way, fake it till you make it."
If it's good enough for Bartlet, it's good enough for me.

If you're looking for more to improve your craft (or a fun fantasy read), check out one of my writing books or novels:

In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for plotting a novel, and the companion Plotting Your Novel Workbook, and my Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series, with step-by-step guides to revising a novel. 

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structureand the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.
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  1. I always love reading your posts! Great insight and advice, as usual.

  2. Reading blog posts by people who have published their debut is always a bit scary, since it really drives homes that you can't just coast along on a magic carpet of fame and money once you've 'made it'. A sobering thought, perhaps, but I think it helps if you keep the reality of the publishing world in mind. There are far too many would-be authors out there who don't seem to want to accept that it can be so difficult at times - misplaced confidence, perhaps?

  3. Very true! It's by doing that we learn; it's by believing in our dreams that they come true.

  4. That's so bizarre. I woke up from a dream this morning telling myself "fake it 'til you make it". I don't even remember what the actual dream was about! It must be a sign (probably of impending lunacy...). Either that, or I read your blog so often that I've become attuned to your thoughts - were you just thinking about nachos 5 minutes ago? Oh wait, nevermind, I'm just feeling hungry.

    Anyhoo, it's always reassuring to hear that other writers get scared, and it's helpful to learn others' strategies for dealing with it.

  5. Fake it to make it is told to alcoholics and drug addicts in and after rehab.

  6. For me, I know if I didn't fight back against my self doubt I would just stop writing because I think most of what I write is horrible. But reading the quote from Ira Glass below, puts things into perspective and motivates me to keep working hard.

    From Ira Glass . . .
    “What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

  7. "I was a writer, but the work was the work."

    This is something I repeat to myself often (in different words :) ).

    Because people naturally grow ties to anything they put time into, being critiqued on it is super hard. Particularly in creative fields where the item produced came not only from your hands but also from your mind. Someone disliking my work does not correlate to them disliking me.

  8. Thanks Janice! What a wonderful and inspirational thought!

  9. Awesome and very true--thanks!

  10. Love this post, Janice! "Confidence in your ability to grow..." YES! You may not be there, yet, but you may...someday.

  11. Okay, you had me at "West Wing," which is one of my all-time fave shows, but when you threw in the Harlan Ellison reference--
    Are you sure we're not long-lost sisters? There were rumors my daddy fooled around....

    Really, good stuff. Thanks!

  12. Anon: Is it? That fits then, because the Leo character was an alcoholic. Been a while since I've seen that episode, but I think he even says that now that you're mentioned it.

    Sam: I just read that article somewhere recently. Must have been a Twitter link. It's really good advice. The reason why you own newbie work disappoints is especially interesting.

    Emery: Exactly :) It's hard to separate those though. My day job is also creative, and I think that's helped me to separate my writing from me.

    Angie: Most welcome!

    Robin: You're also welcome ;)

    Amanda: It was the "yet" that kept me going. I wasn't good enough...YET.

    Julee: Harlan Ellison and Aaron Sorkin? We must be. At the very least we share very good taste :)