22. I’m pretty nervous about writing my book and trying to get it published. I guess I don’t have much for self-confidence when it comes to this. Do you have any advice?
Unfortunately, Shelly, I think the one thing aspiring authors need is an abundance of self-confidence. Your belief in yourself and your writing is what is going to get you through those rough rejections that can feel so incredibly personal.
But even if self-confidence doesn’t come easily to you, I think there are things you can do as a writer to help bolster your belief in yourself and your abilities.
1. Always remember that writing is a learning process and, like any craft, it’s going to take time to master. Be in it for the long haul. People like to talk about talent, but I think the idea that some people are born writers (or painters or whatever) is a destructive, hurtful myth. You can learn to be a good writer, and, no matter how long you’ve been writing, you can always improve your craft. Even with nearly twelve published novels under my belt, I’m still learning – and, more importantly, I still stumble and fumble a scene or a character or a bit of plot. That’s why I still go to a bi-monthly writers’ critique group and listen to what my peers have to say when I hand out my chapters. (1 a.) Similarly, you should strive for it, but don’t sweat perfection. You can never write the perfect book for everyone. Someone somewhere is going to bounce off your work. Just write the best book or story you can at this moment, finish it, and send it off. Then go on to the next one with what you learned from the last. (1 b.) Hopefully, you love the learning process as much as I do, because this process should be fun. If possible, it should be one of the main parts of what feeds and drives you forward.
2. Dance on your rejections. Just yesterday I went to a party at a friend’s house where he was celebrating his first official rejection for his novel. As he put it in his invite, he’s now officially “in the game.” This is a healthy attitude, because as the old adage goes “persistence is more important than talent.” (I might not believe in the myth of talent, but I do believe persistence pays off.) I also believe in celebrating every moment of writing. I’d have a party for finishing, party for sending it out, a party for the first rejection, and, of course, a huge blow out if it ever sold.
3. Cultivate supporters. In order to have a party for every step of the way, you need to have people in your life who will show up to toot your horn (and listen to you whine.) Find other writers – on line or in person. Having fan friends or lovers is good for the ego to a certain extent, but only another writer will really understand all the ins and outs of “rejectomancy” (my friend Kelly McCullough’s word for the practice of trying to figure out how close you got to the editor’s desk by overanalyzing obscure clues – the yellow form letter? Blue?) If you’re a romance writer, join RWA. It’s an amazingly supportive organization. If you’re a mystery writer, join Sisters in Crime or Private Eye Writers of America or whatever local group you can find a chapter for. Science fiction writers have SFWA. If you can’t find a writers’ group, find a readers’ group at your local bookstore… or, if you live somewhere too small to support any of that, find a critique group on line. And remember that it goes both ways – you need to support your writer friends too!
4. Write for yourself. It’s tempting, particularly in romance (though I fell into this trap in science fiction too,) to try to “find the market and write to it.” I love to read descriptions of themed anthologies, but every time I sit down and try to write a story aimed at a specific market, I fail. I usually just can’t find that “spark” that keeps me going. Other people’s ideas aren’t mine. If I’m going to write, it needs to be important to me – my stuff, my ideas, my obsessions, my weirdness. If I’m writing about themes that matter to me, or about the things that make my juices flow – well, that first big hurtle of putting my butt in a chair becomes that much easier, you know?
I think if you can cultivate these four things, you’ll go a long way. If nothing else, you’ll be happy doing whatever it is your doing, no matter if you achieve traditional success or not.