Crises of Confidence

I think that one thing that is universally experienced by writers is the crisis of confidence. In other words, doubt or the ever-present voice of your inner critic. (For my post on the inner critic, you can go to Sh*t My Inner Critic Says.) Anyway, I've been having a small crisis of confidence lately and this time it's quite different than periods of doubt in the past. Regardless what stage you're at, crises of confidence are usually characterized by sweaty palms, dry mouth, insomnia, overeating or loss of appetite, racing thoughts, gnawing doubt in your ability to form sentences, persistent ideas that your story or book sucks the big one and a strong inclination to give up writing completely.

Right now I'm here: I've been on submissions for going on 10 months now (for my first book; we just started trying to sell my second book about 3 months ago). While I've had a lot of requests for fulls and while I would consider many of my rejections to be good ones in that they say something positive about my work, I can't shake the fear that it's not going to happen. It doesn't help that none of the deals reported in Publishers Marketplace lately are comparable to what I've written. All I see lately are deals for cozies and no offense to cozy writers but whenever I think of cozies I feel like--at least on the surface--the genre is trying to make murder somehow cutesy and quaint. Having been personally acquainted with a killer, I can tell you in no uncertain terms there is nothing cute or quaint about murder. I resent that any class of books would attempt to make it so and invite cozy lovers and writers to please explain this genre to me. Anyway, lately more often than not I wake up feeling frustrated and thinking what the heck is the point of working on my new novel? Why should I believe that my writing will have improved from my last book and the one before that and the one before that? Why should I think that this time things will be different? Why am I doing this at all? I've heard of writers getting book deals in 2 months. Here I am going on 10. I'm not feeling good about myself or this glacially slow process.

I used to be here:

Literary Agent Purgatory: It took me four years to get an agent. FOUR YEARS. That's a Bachelor's degree. Almost half a decade. I can't tell you how many times I almost threw in the towel. There was always the doubt over whether or not my query was good enough. Is 4 requests out of 50 queries really good or am I crazy? That can't be good. Or can it? What percentage does that work out to? Crap. Math was never my strong suit. But what about Agent Z who said that the project sounded intriguing but wasn't for her? Does that mean my query is good? If it's good then how come more agents aren't asking for my book? Maybe I should revise it. Maybe I should revise my book. Agent X said she was halfway through it and loved it. Surely that means it's good. Then how come she didn't call me again for two years? Is it good or not? Agent Y said he loved it too. That has to mean it's good. But how come he didn't offer me representation either? Three revisions later surely the book is better. Surely these agents will sign me now. Or do I just suck? How can I tell? I can't tell but geez it's been a long time. If I haven't scored an agent now I must really be bad. Sure my mom says it's just my timing and this new revision will really knock agents' socks off but she's my mom. She HAS to say that. This isn't going to happen. I can't believe I ever thought I was good enough to get an agent. Who I am kidding? I must be mentally ill. What kind of person would do this for years and not give up?

Then there are doubts about your abilities:

Every word that comes out feels painful and awkward, like peeling off a scab. You're one sentence into the scene you're writing and already you're editing yourself, worrying over every word. "There was a tense moment . . . no that sounds stupid. It was tense in the car. No that sounds even worse. Tension filled the car. That's a little better. Now where was I? Oh crap. What's the point? I can't write. This is stupid. I can't put one sentence together. Forget about writing a whole story. The idea for this book is stupid anyway. Been done a million times. Mine will just go down in history as the worst version of this premise ever. What in the name of all that is holy made me think I could write?"

Then there is the inability to finish anything:

In my early 20s (and I've talked about this before) I started about 7 novels and I didn't finish a single one. In some cases I would start out with no idea where I was going, writing from an image or a character or a question and burning out when the plot stalled or when I realized the book didn't have a plot. Other times I would know the plot from start to finish and yet, I still couldn't finish. Sometimes the temptation of a shiny, new, exciting project was too great and I would abandon the fully plotted book for what author Heather Sellers calls "Sexy Next Book"--the idea for your next book. The one that is so fresh it's not going to be hard work to start writing it. It will be exciting and fresh and the words will flow like a waterfall from your pen. It's the equivalent of the novelty period in your dating life. You meet someone new. For a few weeks or months you're floating around on a cloud of happiness. Your feet don't touch the ground. You're so enthralled that you can't eat or sleep but you've never felt better in your life. Then, just like your writing project, it becomes work. That happened to me a lot with writing projects. Finally there were the books that I was too intimidated to write. I would write a few chapters, do an outline of the rest of the plot and then become paralyzed with thoughts that the book was far too ambitious for me. While it sounded great, I would never be able to pull it off. Lots of unfinished books . . .

No matter what stage you're at it's easy to become paralyzed by doubt, fear, frustration, even disgust. What kinds of crises of confidence have you had as a writer?


  1. *grabs bullhorn, climbs up on stump, points bullhorn directly at Lisa*


    *dismounts from stump, shelves bullhorn for another day, gives Lisa one more stern look, and walks away*

  2. Get out of my head!!

    Geez, I've been living the emotions of this post all week. I've been fortunate that most of my manuscript requests have come from pitches and contest wins, but now that I'm sending off query letters and getting stiff-armed at the door I'm not really feeling the love anymore. I think my story is too weird to get anyone's long-term attention. I'm told my writing is good, but my idea isn't marketable, which is the kiss of death if I want to find representation and get published. Sucks. discouragement usually gets overridden by the desire to write something new, which is what I'm doing now. What the heck is another year of my life, right?

  3. Bryce: that really made me smile! Thank you!

    L.G.: very frustrating but I wouldn't give up. Obviously you've got something. Yes, in spite of myself I keep writing new stuff.

  4. Lisa, I'm sorry you feel like doubting yourself. I think every writer experiences the "what the heck makes me think I'm a writer" moment. You posted your premise for "Finding Claire" and I think it sounds really exciting. Heck, I would love to see it in movie form.

    As far as cozy mystery goes, I think the purpose is just to reach a broader audience. I've seen enough crime to know that it isn't pretty and there's nothing funny about it. People suffer and bleed. One of my books offers a small glimpse at a serial killer. Since we all place ourselves in the minds of our characters, I have to tell you it was a difficult part to write...freakin gross.

    Don't give up on your dream. You have a gift and passion to pursue it as well as so much to offer the rest of us...and readers. I would love to see "Finding Claire" in print. :)

  5. I experience self-doubt at some point every day. I'm beginning to think that maybe it's just... I dunno, maybe a part of my process. Because all that doubting makes me write harder, and it keeps me from getting complacent - or so I tell myself. ;)

    The thing is though, whether I write feeling like I suck, or a write feeling like I rock, the writing in the end reads about the same in terms of quality. Actually, some of my best writing happened on some of my worst days.

    Go figure.

  6. Doubt is a normal human emotion. It is what makes us strive harder, even as it throws roadblocks in our way. One thing I've never felt about you, though, is is doubt.

    I've read your books and they are damn good. Why aren't the editors biting? Timing, I think. This new market sucks. No way around that. And the subjectivity of the gatekeepers is incomprehensible.

    Remember the ant colony story? How relevant is that? Now compare it to Finding Claire Fletcher and how it relates to the Jaycee Dugard story, or Elizabeth Smart or any of the others that have been profiled this week since Jaycee's book came out. That's subjectivity at work.

    You know I understand your frustrations. Not only do I have my own in that department, but I've been pulled right along in your journey for nearly a year now. I keep thinking, if FCF or Aberration aren't getting past the editors, what hope do I have? But then you never fail to remind me of my love of the craft, that I have a marketable talent. Well, I am nothing compared to you, Lisa. If you believe that about me, then your confidence in yourself should help pull you out of the swamp of doubt.

    I'll never forget when you said to me, "I can't believe this is your first novel. If you're starting here, you have a long, successful career ahead of you." That tells me what everyone else says is true, that as writers, we only get better with every subsequent project.

    Remember, John Grisham's A Time to Kill didn't sell until after his other books did well, and that was his BEST work! This business is fickle, to say the least. There seems be no rhyme or reason as to why things play out as they do, what sells and what doesn't.

    I think you just have to feel comfortable in the effort you've given and keep moving forward. Perhaps it is Jocelyn's story that will grab the editor's attention, and Claire and Kass will follow.

    Don't doubt yourself. YOU are a fantastic and gifted writer.

  7. Laila: Thank you for that. As for cozies, I think perhaps you're right about it simply being a way to reach a wider audience. Also I notice a lot of cozies feature the regular joe solving crimes and I can see why that would be appealing. It's just that in my own experience, when people you love are murdered it's a never-ending, soul-crushing siege that you never fully recover from so I'm still not quite comfortable with murder being presented in some cutesy form. At least that's how it always comes off to me. I'm not sure I'll ever get it.

    Jennifer: you're right! Usually after my worst days I will go back and re-read my stuff (several days later) and realize it's not so bad!

    Nancy: You are my rock. Thank you. I hope it's just my timing. Also I think your book is totally awesome. You have nothing to worry about in my book!

  8. Lisa, I've read your excerpt of Finding Claire Fisher and I have no idea why you're not published yet! When I finished reading, I wanted more. I wanted to know what happens. I suppose Nancy is right - the market sucks right now. Don't stop trying, though!

    I understand all about a crisis of confidence. I had one yesterday and it's carried over. I call it 'Insecurities of the Insane Novelist' or IIN for short. ;-) I don't know how to get over it except muddle through. What else can you do, yeah? Also, if you find a magic formula that ensures that a writer will finish what they write, please let me know. I'm having issues with that as well.

    Keep writing! You are very talented and I have no doubts that you will get published in the near future.

  9. TaraNator: Thank you so much! That means a lot to me. I greatly appreciate it. I love that--IIN! LOL. In terms of finishing stuff, I don't know what to say. I had to force myself to push through. I still do. I'm almost done a first draft of the book I'm working on now and I am having trouble staying on task! But I make myself do it. I force myself to just do it--even if I don't like what's going onto the page, it doesn't matter, it's something. I do it in small increments though so as not to get overwhelmed and before I know it, I'm done.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts