I'll be honest from the outset - I am not yet a successful writer. I sincerely hope that I'm getting somewhere with it, and it's still early days (well, around two years, actually), but I want to share my thoughts on what I think is the difference between where I've come from and where I need to get to. Hopefully you'll find it interesting, or laughable - whichever works best for you. I certainly hope I'm not being too naive.
One thing that I have felt most strongly for the last few months is the importance of being confident in your writing. I'm not the most confident writer, but I'm sure it will come so long as I keep trying hard. The mantra I've been working on recently is this:
If I can't get really excited by my own work - and I mean to the point where I'm demanding that people read it because I believe it's just that good - then why should any agent or publisher feel differently? Or friends or family, come to that?
Perhaps this is a bit simplistic, but I've found in my past writing that I simply haven't felt suitably charged about it to go about glad-handing and getting in people's faces about my work. And I've come to realise that it's imperative that I am that motivated, because it's not really in my nature to be like that ordinarily, and so I need a high level of confidence before I can do it. I'm not a great marketer, and I'm not someone who'll go around shouting about how great I am (whether I am, or not) - but I still get the feeling I could be like that, if I did have something wonderful to share. I have to become a more confident writer.
I think some part of being a successful writer is inevitably about being something other than just a writer. This isn't a thought that gets me feeling all warm inside - I like being a writer! I love writing, the process, the thoughts, the feelings, the personal response... all of that is amazing. So the very idea that being a writer has to do more than just write is really difficult to get over. But I know that I will, at some point, have to do things that aren't in my nature, in order to succeed.
At least one of my problems is that I hate having to talk myself up, and I feel very uncomfortable doing things that are, essentially, selling myself and my writing. However, and perhaps this is a key point, in my other day-to-day job I am confident, and I can make good and firm judgements for myself and others to follow. I have to remember, though, that I didn't immediately start out in that job being so confident, and it took time and experience to get there. It's not unreasonable to assume, then, that there is also a tipping point that will appear in my writing, where all of a sudden I will feel that I am sufficiently experienced, and have produced enough solid work, to feel confident in what I've produced.
The tipping point of confidence in writing
I don't think that writing is a game. I used to - I used to believe that applying to agents and publishers was all a big game of cards, and while there were a few people who got lucky hands, the house always won because only the house knew the odds, and only they really knew the rules.
While I still believe that there is a definite lottery element to applying to agents and publishers, I far more strongly believe that you are able to improve your odds. If you've been looking around for any kind of advice with your writing, then you'll have seen the words "Write, write, write" plastered all over the place. What I didn't really understand about this advice, until recently, is how powerful and true it actually is. Despite the fact that all writers and bloggers and agents and publishers ALL say the same thing - I still didn't really believe it. I think it was a mixture of fear and ego that stopped me from thinking that writing more would make any difference - but it really, really does.
The tipping point can only come when you've added more volume to the side of the scale that contains your writing. There is a definite balance, and the more load you apply to one side the better chance you have of succeeding, and - more importantly in respect to this blog post - at the same time increasing your confidence.
Confidence is key
It's such a pass?® phrase: confidence is key. But it really is! Perhaps the problem with the phrase is that people unthinkingly assume that false-confidence can substitute for the real thing, but it can't. Unequivocally - false-confidence cannot work in the same way that having genuine confidence in your writing can. But understanding why that's true is also important:
When you are confident in your writing, it will be because of all the hard work you've put in. It'll be as a result of receiving irritating feedback from your friends and family; it'll be from feeling you've not received enough support from people you'd imagined would be right there behind you; it'll be from producing hundreds of thousands of words worth of writing that - in the end - you can look at and see the progress you've made.
You will feel confident in your writing when you've earned the right to be. And, when you have the confidence, then you will be exponentially more motivated to avoid failure, ensuring that you start pressing your work into as many hands as possible.
With enough confidence behind you, I'm convinced that it's not possible to fail.