When you set your sights on traditional publication, at every stage of the process your success relies on convincing others of your worth: agents, publishers, reviewers, readers. You are constantly seeking external validation. And most of the time, when hundreds apply for every opportunity, that validation is not forthcoming. Rejections pile up, along with self-doubt. And if you do find success, you will inevitably shift the goalposts. If I can’t get this short piece published / make the shortlist of a competition / win a competition / impress an agent / secure a book contract / get a five-star review, am I any good? Should I forget about this foolish dream and move on?
The problem with getting on the treadmill in the first place is that you can’t stop moving for fear of falling off. It’s hard to gain perspective on how well you’re going, on the improvements you’re making, on why you’re putting yourself through this torture. And it’s even harder to feel good about yourself, to cultivate self-confidence, in the face of perceived failure and rejection. Especially when your confidence relies on the opinions of others.
For this reason, it’s important to find value in the process, and in yourself. Novelist, Charlotte Wood, says it better than I ever could: ‘Confidence is a decision. You will never earn it. It won’t come from publication, or awards, or sales, or reviews. It will come when you decide to have it.’ If you’re interested in reading more of Charlotte’s excellent advice for writers, I recommend ‘Seven Enviable Lines’, on her website.
This month I’ve decided to take back control. Periodically, I like to reflect on my achievements and everything I value in life. Without writing, my life would be far less colourful. I would crave an outlet for the thoughts that swirl through my head, the emotions begging to be processed. The stories that whisper to me when I’m drifting to sleep at night. Without writing, I wouldn’t have met all the generous, kind, intelligent friends I’ve discovered online and through writing groups. Friends who enrich my life and support me through disappointments. And I wouldn’t be moving through middle age with shiny hopes and dreams that, with a bit of luck and a lot of work, might just come true one day.
But even if those dreams never come true, I have confidence in my writing ability. Not because of publications or long-listings. I have confidence because I know how much work I’ve done, how many steps I’ve taken to improve my craft. How open I am to seeking advice and developing my skills. And because I continue to feel joy putting words on a page, with or without external validation.
In an attempt to immerse myself in the excitement of creating a new imaginary world again, and take back the joy, I’m embarking on NaNoWriMo next month. Wish me luck!