Thursday, March 18, 2010


I've been thinking about Sean's post on confidence. I just reread it. I'm not sure I have anything useful to say, but I'm going to try anyway.

I used to do a panel at Minicon called "Psychological Survival for Science Fiction Writers." I had to give it up, because people would leave the room in tears.

Why? Because I would start by discussing what I saw as the reality of being a writer. I see it as not easy. Most of us do not have careers like William Gibson, who wrote a series of dazzling short stories for Ellen Datlow at Omni, then published Neuromancer, which won the Hugo, the Nebula and the Phillip K. Dick Awards. This is pretty good for a first novel. He went on to publish a number of highly respected books. As far as I know, they have sold well. I don't know if they are all in print, but you can get all of them new at Amazon.

Most of us write novels that publishers don't buy, then -- if we are lucky -- novels that do get bought, but don't break out. Maybe our publisher drops us. Maybe we have to change our names to continue writing. Instead of sudden success we have slow gains -- if we are lucky. For most of us, it's not a safe living. It may not be a living at all, but something we do in addition to a day job.

We do get positive reinforcement: the praise of friends and relatives when we are starting out, then publication, maybe good reviews or nominations for awards, maybe the awards themselves, the respect of other writers, readers who come up at conventions and say, "I like your work."

The problem of confidence is twofold. How do we deal with times when we are getting negative feedback? And how do we enjoy -- really enjoy -- our successes? The second may not sound like a big deal, but it is. When you are feeling frustrated with your career, it can be easy to undervalue the good experiences and focus on what isn't happening.

Part of it is personality, Doug says he simply believes in his work. Lyda says the same. I grew up on stories of avant garde writers and artists struggling with self-doubt. It was part of being a writer or artist, especially a good writer or artist, or so I thought. As a result, I am rather too fond of angst. I don't recommend it.

When I did my panel, I would tell people to take care of themselves physically: exercise, eat well, get sleep, be moderate about the use of alcohol and other mood altering substances. I am crazy about coffee, but am currently moving over to tea.

And nurture yourself psychologically. If you are not a naturally confident person, work on positive thinking. Work on enjoying life.

The world is full of people who want to be writers. A comparatively small number actually become serious and competent practitioners of the writing craft. That's a considerable achievement. Publishing -- any publishing -- is an achievement. The respect of one's colleagues is an achievement.

With all its frustrations, writing can be fun. You have a really neat idea. You write a really good scene. You are doing something that many, many people want to do.

Enough of this. I have to do my taxes.


tate hallaway said...

Good post, Eleanor. Thanks.

Kelly McCullough said...

Yes, very good.

Eleanor said...

I felt that I'd written it before. I tend to mull stuff over for a long time. I don't usually write the same novel twice, however.