Monday, October 5, 2015

A question of confidence

Here’s a question for you writers out there: Are you confident? Do you think you write well, maybe even exceptionally well? Do you think you have something unique to say and that you say it with style, wit, and maybe even wisdom? 

Answer truthfully; don't be shy. Don’t worry that if you answer “yes” some armchair psychologist will call you an egoist or, worse still, declare that you must have no confidence at all; that you're feigning it, covering up what is instead a deep and rotten feeling of inadequacy. 

I think most writers have a healthy self-esteem. I think it's a necessary tool in the kit, especially for writers of literary fiction. 

To qualify as "literary" in the eyes of readers and critics, you have to do more than tell a story—you have to use “elevated” language and metaphor, and, more importantly, you're supposed to present original ideas on life, love, death, truth. What could be more demonstrative of self-confidence than writing these ideas down and charging people money for them?

Some argue the opposite, that writers are not self confident at all, which forms the basis for the romantic myth of the depressive literary figure. As the myth goes, writers write because they are desperate for love and approval. Often, they are so afraid to claim the truth of their own lives that they write it down, put it on a shelf and call it fiction. They are embattled souls who turn to drugs, drink, to the comforts of the oven's interior.

This archetype exists, of course—we all know where those bodies are buried. But I have to say, I've rarely met a writer of quality who falls more readily into the category of self-hate than self-confident. And I've met a lot of quality writers. 

Instead, in my experience, the best writers seem to have a quiet self-confidence about them. They're not devoid of anxiety and doubt, mind you, because they are human, and extremely sensitive humans more often than not. What moves them to write is a love for the act, yes, but it’s a love they would likely not have without the self-confidence it takes to sustain it. 

As you can tell, I’m still trying to sort through this question of authorial confidence. I get tied up in knots just thinking about it. To try and untangle myself, I’ve enlisted the help of a few writers I admire who were brave and generous enough to tackle this question:

Where does your confidence come from?

I'll put one answer up a week in the month of October, including mine. It’ll be interesting, so stay tuned.


  1. Looking forward to hearing all the answers to such a great question. Also, an interesting little blurb from Ian McEwan about confidence/self-doubt here: at around the 1:20 mark. It never goes away!

    1. That was great. And I totally agree with Ian. I have zero confidence in my ability to write another book most days, but some confidence that I am a pretty good writer. It's a confusing state!