When Does the Confidence Come?

Yesterday my agent called. I was in the middle of a meeting, so I couldn’t take the call, but as soon as I saw it was him, the wheels in my head started turning. Why was he calling? What could it be about? I’d just sent a new draft of MAGIC AT 30,000 FEET to him on Saturday. Surely he couldn’t have read it already had was ready with feedback. It had to be something else.

Maybe something was wrong with MEMORY THIEF. Maybe something had gone wrong with the agency, and they had to trim authors. Maybe he was totally disgusted by my writing in particular. All of these thoughts literally went through my head. (There were a few other thoughts: “Maybe I have a new offer” was one, but my mind furiously throttled any potential good thoughts. Defense mechanism.)

I spoke to him today. He was calling to say he really enjoyed MAGIC AT 30,000 FEET, with the exception of the last 1,000 words. We had a good chat about the ending of the book and how it can be improved. I asked how the rest of the book was. “Typos here and there,” was the response. I kept digging. “The pacing was good? The action made sense?”

“Do you want me to come up with some major problems with the book?” he asked. “I could encourage the next reader to find something really wrong with it. Or maybe you should just realize you’re getting better at this. Better as a writer. Your responses from editors are more positive. You’ve had more practice. Be happy!”

Of course I was really happy to hear the book had gone over well. Since I stepped back from my writing group, I’m having less and less feedback from my new material, and clearly I need to have a bit more confidence in the work I’m putting out. So why am I not more confident?

I think a large part of it is that defense mechanism still going strong from my years of writing without “success.” (Success is in quotation marks, because it’s a bit of a red herring. It’s the rainbow’s end that’s never there when you get to where you thought it would be. Always one step ahead of you.) But I started writing in earnest back in 2000 or so. I’ve been going at this for 16 years. Even before 2000, I’d been working on books as far back as second grade. It’s been a life-long pursuit.

I sold VODNIK in 2010 and signed with my agent at the same time. Since then, it hasn’t always been the smooth sailing you picture as soon as you get published. There’s been ups and downs, and I know I have a tendency to focus on the downs more than the ups.

It’s easier for my agent to see the growth and improvement, I think. He’s been through this with many different clients, and he’s seen careers build over time and writers improve. So it’s nice to hear words of encouragement from him, but I do think I need to do a better job of having more confidence in myself. The books I write, I really enjoy. (Even the books other people don’t. Is it wrong to say I’m my favorite author? :-)

I’ve finished 14 novels now. 3 of them will have been published, 2 of those professionally. MAGIC AT 30,000 FEET will be my fifth book that my agents have given their seal of approval to and sent out on submission. Am I selling copies like hot cakes? Nope. Not yet. But I definitely am improving and growing as a writer, and I need to do a better job of having faith in myself.

Any pointers?

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