I’ve been on Facebook and Twitter now for over a year and a half, and I see a constant theme amongst unpublished and newer writers. And that is, so much self-doubt, hating their manuscript, constant worrying whether what they have written is good enough, and without any *validation* that they are, indeed, good enough. And it has occurred to me that, you know, really, I am very lucky in that regard. I kinda started off my writing career at the top of the heap. I had only barely started thinking about taking up writing seriously, turning one of my many, many partially written stories into an actual novel, beginning to end, when I made the decision to send the first chapter of one in to an RWA contest just to see what kind of feedback I got, and if it was any good. (There’s actually a long, rather funny story about this… you can read it here if you’re interested)
Truck Stop was the story I chose to enter, and it won the contest. The prize was that the winning manuscript was to be read by a senior acquiring editor at Silhouette. When I called her, per the instruction letter, as soon as she heard my name she knew it, and the title of my manuscript and that it had won the contest. Just like that! She KNEW me! And she requested the partial… and then the full. And they held onto it for months, deciding. In the end they passed on it, but only because the heroine, Teri, was 17 for most of the book. We even debated various ways around this key plot point, but there was just no way around it. But the point is, they wanted to buy it enough to have this dialogue with me, and they *would* have bought it if we could have found away around the heroine’s age.
During this time, I finished my second book, Dancer, and submitted it to the same editor. Again… she was extremely interested, except… it was written in first person. A number of agents and editors also turned me down flat for the sole and solitary reason that it was in first person. I was advised that it was good, and to re-write it in third person. Again… Silhouette kept it almost a year, trying to decide, and in the end only rejected it because it was written in first person. (As a side note, some years later I did rewrite it in third person, and renamed it SwanSong.)
I had a lot of interest in both books from various agents. In fact, I particularly treasure one rejection, in which the agent wrote “There’s no question of your ability. I think you have a very fluid, commercial style which is remarkably polished and self-assured… I think your writing has a lot of commercial potential…” I was assured by a multi-published friend that “Sometimes this takes years of writing to generate a rejection letter of this quality!“
More recently, two of my paranormal romances have finaled in RWA chapter contests in 2017… a 2rd place for Wishes in a Bottle in the Melody of Love contest, and 3nd place for A Cat For Troy in the On the Far Side contest.
So… the validation is there, giving me a certain amount of confidence in my writing that others in the same point in their fledgling career may not have… I *am* good enough, I just have to persevere.
This does NOT mean I have an ego that gets in the way; I’m more than willing to listen to ideas, advice, critique, and I try hard to look impartially at input to see if it has merit, and would improve the story without deviating from the course of how I perceive the story.
As a for-instance, I’ve had feedback of Jacinth being “too accepting” of being a Djinn and “having to” fulfill wishes. But the whole trope of being enslaved to the bottle and wanting to be freed, that’s someone else’s take on Djinns, not mine. My Djinns choose to be “Wish Bearers” because they want to fulfill wishes, and not all Djinn are Wish Bearers. I’m not changing Jacinth to fit in with someone else’s expectations of how Djinn should be. Now, Julian, hero of Wishes in a Bottle, fits into this trope, but he’s not actually a Djinn, he’s a mage trapped in a spell that went awry. So… not the same thing.
So although I may not have an offer from an agent yet, I’m not being dragged down by the self-doubts plaguing many aspiring-to-be-published writers. My writing is good; I just have to keep on writing, and never stop working on learning and improving.
Upon rumination, there are actually advantages to having a certain amount of confidence in my writing, besides, obviously, the confidence itself.
- For one, rejection letters don’t hurt so much; they don’t make me wonder if I’m any good.At least… they still hurt, but I’m far less likely to take it personally, and definitely not a slur on my writing ability. I’m far more inclined to think it just wasn’t the right agent, wasn’t the right time, wasn’t the right story. Somewhere out there is an agent who’s going to see value in my stories and think they are saleable and want to sign me on.
- Critique and criticism doesn’t send me into defensive mode as if it was a personal attack. As mentioned above, I’m able to separate my “self” and look at what is being said impartially.
- Failing to win, or even final, in a contest doesn’t send me into spiraling despair. There are, after all, LOTS of great writers out there. Confidence doesn’t mean I don’t think I’m better than anyone else, and it allows me to be honestly happy (okay with a tinge of envy) of those who do final and win.
- It makes it far, far easier to do such things as enter contests and query agents (or publishers), because I’m not crippled by self doubt.
- It keeps me motivated to keep writing… because *this* book, might be *the* book to capture the attention of an agent or a publisher. And when I do finally capture someone’s attention… I’ll have plenty more to show them when (not if!) they ask!
After some thought, I want to add an addendum to this, because I have something to say to other aspiring authors who are struggling with confidence in themselves, in their writing: More than just luck was involved here. I didn’t start out with confidence, FAR from it. In fact, I expected rejection. I really didn’t think I was good enough of a writer, or even be able to write a whole book. The confidence didn’t just happen, in fact it was many years before I actually realized that I’d grown this level of confidence… and it grew from having put myself out there! Despite all the doubts and fears, I entered my fledgling manuscripts in contests. I queried, both agents and publishing houses. I got rejections, I cried, and I kept on querying. I took classes and workshops. As I finished manuscripts, I built teams of beta readers, some of whom are complete strangers, others are friends yes, but friends who also write, and who I can trust will be honest with me. If I wanted a “oh you’re such a wonderful writer” I’d send it to my mother. I even send them to my daughter, who isn’t afraid to come back at me about such issues as “Mensa words, Mom!” So… your manuscript might be that “good enough” that you want it to be… but you’re NEVER GOING TO KNOW if you don’t send it out into the world.