After hanging out with writers for more than twelve years, I noticed one of two traits evident in most of us, especially when starting out. Overconfidence, which can be quite unattractive to others, or the opposite – insecurity about one’s ability to put good words on the page.
My friend once applied for admission to a prestigious writer’s conference. She sent in writing examples (which were great) and stellar references. While she waited to hear the decision, she’d say, “They’ll never take me! I’m not good enough.”
When she got her acceptance letter, she shook her head, saying, “Apparently they’ll take anyone!”
We tease her about it still, but I remember that same beginner’s lack of self-confidence. I submitted chapters to a writer’s conference hoping they’d affirm I could write well enough. Though I got great feedback and acquired a wonderful agent as a result, it was not enough for me to believe myself worthy to be called a writer.
I took my work to a critique group, where they gave me new ways to express a thought. Since I didn’t trust my own ability, I often changed the manuscript to reflect their suggestions. Eventually, I sent this newly revamped chapter to my agent.
Her reply? “What happened to your chapter? It doesn’t even sound like you. Change it back.”
Whoops. My lack of confidence had reared its pesky pen-head again. While the changes weren’t terrible, somehow I’d lost my voice, which had attracted an agent to my writing in the first place.
I changed it back.
That experience taught me to be secure enough in my own voice to protect it from the majority of suggestions, to make an executive decision as the author. Is this what I really want to say? Is this how I want to say it?
I switched from a critique group to one first-reader/critique-partner who gets my voice and doesn’t impose her personal style on mine. This method works well for me. Now I try to be flexible enough to “murder my darlings” when they need to be slain, but recognize those who should continue living on the page. It’s a good system. And it’s given me the confidence to write three novels.
A little confidence makes all the difference.
Cathy Elliott is a full-time writer in northern California whose cozy mysteries reflect her personal interests from quilting and antique collecting to playing her fiddle with friends. She also leads music at church and cherishes time with her grandchildren. Cathy’s other plot-twisting works include Medals in the Attic and A Vase of Mistaken Identity.
Website & Occasional Blog – www.cathyelliottbooks.com
Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com/cathyelliott10/
Facebook – Author Cathy Elliott cathyelliottbooks.com