I recently received an email from a fellow scribe that hurt me to read. She wisely suggested I answer her in a blog post, because she is not alone in this. Here's her note, printed with her permission:
I am a fiction writer and I'm having a confidence problem. And I was recently telling my beloved mentor that my confidence is still shot from my creative writing classes in college! Harsh criticism from my peers, a professor who was more concerned with the publication of his own work rather than molding young minds, etc. (And I should note that I'm now in my mid-30s.) I write, because it is what my heart demands, but when it comes to showing people my work or talking about it - I'm terrified. Given that I've started devoting a lot of time to my creative life (I'm in a WONDERFUL writer's group, I've attended some classes on the craft, I try to write daily, and I read voraciously), my confidence problem is verging on ridiculous. Do you have any suggestions? I am proposing a blog post, because I have a feeling that I'm not the only person who has/is going through this.
And my response:
Hey, we all get scared. Getting your work out there, running the risk of rejection, is hard. But think about it this way. What's the worst that could happen? Someone says no. Just a little word. They won't attack you, or physically beat you up, or laugh at you to all your friends, or theirs. Honestly, we all get rejected. It's part of the writing life. You can't let fear dictate your life.
Two books for you to read: The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, and Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way.
And go read my post on Rejection on my website.
You must live your life with reckless abandon. It's too short to allow fear to stop you from pursuing your dreams.
But the more I thought about it, I see how very easy it is for me to say hey, it's all cool, you just keep plugging away and screw up your courage and submit, and to hell with the consequences. That's not fair of me. I didn't feel like that when I started out, either.
As it happens, I'm one of those people who can let fear of rejection and criticism slide off my shoulders.
I didn't used to be this way. I too was in a hypercritical writing program that sapped all the energy and life out of my writing. So much so that I didn't write a single word of fiction for eight years. Do you have any idea how many invisible kicks I've given myself over that lost time? I didn't start writing again seriously until I was in my early 30s. My first novel was published when I was 37. If I'd gotten started back when I was 21, I'd have had a drawer full of manuscripts. Some might even have gotten picked up.
Eight years of being afraid. Eight years believing I wasn't good enough.
Don't make this mistake. Take chances. Jump off cliffs. The very worst thing that can happen is someone says no. Don't get yourself stuck into the vein I was in, afraid to even try.
Find yourself a good group of writing partners who you trust to tell you the truth. Listen when they tell you there's a plot hole, or something doesn't work for them. Then fix it, trust your gut, and send that puppy out into the world.
Yes, you might get rejected. But you also might get picked up! You'll never know until you try. If you're still scared, my advice from above stands. Read THE WAR OF ART. Do Julie Cameron's THE WRITER'S WAY. Both books will show you the truth behind your art - that it is glorious, and with purpose, and your fear can and should be conquered.
I used Cameron's book two years ago, when I was stuck in a massive writing rut. It was a life-changing experience. Same with the day I read THE WAR OF ART. It all just made so much sense. I was the one holding myself back. Me. My fear. My lack of confidence. My unrealistic concerns and expectations.
So I fixed that.
I still get scared. Of course I do. But my desire to share my stories supersedes the worry. So I get on with it, day after day, year after year. I pile up those words and fling them out into the world, and hope y'all like them.
And so should you. Good luck!