Mark Terry

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Writer's Con Game

March 14, 2007

Gar Haywood has an interesting guest blog over at Murderati where he talks about having confidence in your writing and having that manuscript in a drawer that you love and nobody else seems interested in.
I don't trust my own judgment enough to fight for this thing.
And I know what you're thinking: Who the hell does trust their own judgment? The writer has yet to be born who isn't shackled to some extent by insecurity. Self doubt is as much a part of our makeup as a need for wide-spread acceptance and, yes, the cash to pay our mortgage in perpetuity.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that the people who achieve large-scale success in our business tend to have a very healthy appreciation for their own work, if not a downright, pathological determination to see it take over the world. You talk to these people, you read and/or listen to the interviews they do, and what you hear is someone who doesn't give a rat's ass what their agents, editors or critics have to say, and probably never did. Their inner-voice has told them that their stuff is worth every penny of a six-figure contract and a fifteen-city book tour and, by God, they aren't leaving the room---or sticking their manuscript in any goddamn drawer---until they get it.
I often wonder about this. I suspect these people just fake it better than the rest of us. I suppose it's pretty easy to delude yourself (okay, perhaps believe is a better word) that you're a better writer than everybody else just because you got so much money, etc. I wouldn't discount luck and I suspect that in their heart of hearts, they don't either.
Still, if we're all totally insecure about our writing--from aspiring writers to neophytes to old pros--I wonder how we can find the confidence to keep sending it out. Doesn't every rejection letter feel like another nail in your creative coffin, confirmation of every single doubt you've ever had? Yes, I suck. I know it and now you're telling me to my face.
Somewhere along the lines you've got to convince yourself (and as a result, I think, the rest of the world) that you're pretty damned good. Of course, it helps to have success. A short story published, a novel published, a good review, a fan letter. Once we get published, we tend to cling to these confirmations when the wolves howl at the door and the voices from beneath the bed mutter how talentless we are, how can we believe anyone would pay to read our writing.
It makes us pretty damned bipolar, I think.
I'm a pretty strong believer in two old adages, though. One is the old alcoholics' creed: fake it 'til you make it.
The other is: believe it and you can do it.
Do you believe?
Mark Terry


Blogger Shannon said...

What I believe is that with every word I write or read or get rejected--I learn something. My hope is that one day I will have learned enough and will be in just the right place at the right time that I might get published. :-)

7:29 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I know that the first time I got a short story published and paid for the privilege (which came after paid nonfiction gigs) one of the things I felt was relief. I was able to take a deep breath and say, "Hey, I've got some talent after all."

9:04 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Most days, I believe it. I'm not sure where the horse and cart lie, though. Maybe I believe it because I know I won't stop until I am, or maybe I won't stop because somewhere in me, I know that this is what I feel I'm meant to do. Doesn't really matter much if I keep small-pressing it or make it to NY, I just know I'll keep writing.

I couldn't sleep last night, so I laid in bed and my mind wandered to your novel, Dirty Deeds. (I don't know how; I haven't read it since December.) You know, I'm really annoyed that the second novel doesn't have a home. You created some awesome characters. Meg was so perfect, and her sidekick, too. The perfect amount of sexual tension, and I loved how she was in charge but he was still all alpha and mysterious. A sidekick! You created a balance I can't find anywhere else.

It's incredibly depressing to me when I see something good go unpublished.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Joe Moore said...

“Of course, it helps to have success.”

I believe that before anyone can be successful at writing or anything for that matter, they must first define what success is to them. I’ve discovered a couple of things about success: it’s different for everyone, and the more precise it’s defined, the easier it is to obtain.

Regarding self doubt, I find that it haunts me only when I’m awake. Mercifully, when I sleep, self doubt is just a dream. :-)

12:55 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Yeah, Joe, another theme of this blog is "what is success?" but I didn't really want to get into it today.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Robert Kuntz said...

Confidence is a matter of degree, or perhaps of type.

As for me, I know for certain that I can "write." I was a journalist for a dozen years and have been a litigator for dozen more. One way or another, people have been paying me to write for 25 years. Golly, I've even got some plaques on my walls.

But I don't know yet if I'm an "author." And what threatens my confidence that I ever will be is my seeming inability (40 or so queries to date) to get anyone with an objective, commercial interest to read a meaningful portion of the damned book.

Rejection isn't the trouble. As Nuke LaLoosh said, some days you win, some days you lose, some days it rains. But it rankles to feel that I can't even get onto the field for a tryout.

In part, this stems from the particulars of this book. The writing's outstanding. (My wife says so, just ask her.) The book is satisfying scene by scene, character by character. (My good friend says so and he IS an author, so it must be true.) But I think most of the worth, most of the FUN, of the book comes from the way the reader's assumptions about nearly everything are overturned by the last page. (I love to read mystery/thrillers like that, and to look back to see where the clues were laid out if I’d only seen them.)

If I ever get to the point where an agent/editor/whomever actually reads the whole thing and THEN says, "Nope, not good enough," I'll be able to live with that. But it's hard to maintain much confidence when -- at least to date -- no one has had the interest to do that.

Of course, putting all this into writing makes me realize what a sniveling whiner I am. Of course everyone -- well, not Lee Child -- endures some measure of this. Of course I'll cowboy up. I'll re-draft my query letter. I'll send out another set of queries (at least until I hit 100 or so). I'll keep writing the sequel.

I'll do all that as an act of pure will.

But confidence? That's getting tough to come by.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Been there--

"I'll send out another set of queries (at least until I hit 100 or so)."

No. Change the mindset: "I'll send out queries until I get an agent."

2:24 PM  
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