Windy with a Chance of Tartar Sauce

It’s said that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, and that’s the perfect metaphor for my writing. March, or a new writing project, begins with blustery confidence, but that bold self-assurance rarely lasts until the words: The End. Somewhere along the voyage I’m blown off course, my sails in tatters from a storm of criticism and self-doubt. That’s when I lose belief in myself and drift away like a whimpering lamb. (Okay, I’ve officially over used the metaphor.)

But why does this scenario happen? Why do I lose my confidence?

Confidence is the foundation of all great success and achievement, yet we as writers often struggle to maintain our conviction in the face of rejection and negative criticism. Motivational writer Zig Ziglar said, “Confidence is going after Moby Dick in a rowboat and taking the tartar sauce with you.” What I want to know is: How can we writers cultivate the confidence to bring the tartar sauce?

I’ve gotten to know many writers and I always ask them, “Where do you get your confidence?” And the answer is invariably, “What confidence?” Yes, even successful writers suffer from self-doubt. The only difference is that, although they too are running on a confidence deficit, they still have enough faith in themselves to keep going. They have the ability, if not to silence, at least to ignore their critics and adopt a fake-it-‘til-you-make-it attitude.

How do they do that? Well, here’s the best answer I can come up with.

Imagine that the inside of your head is a bar. You decide if it’s classy or a cheap dive. In this bar self-confidence is sitting quietly working in a corner while nursing a club soda, when loud-mouthed self-doubt, drunk on Happy-Hour half-price cocktails, falls off its bar stool and begins shouting, “Hey Confidence, give it up. You’ll never be any good.” Now here’s the money shot. Confidence simply continues working despite the noise.

But how does a writer do that when just one negative comment can negate ten positive ones? When the critics speak at 600 decibels and confidence speaks at 60? You can start by understanding the real purpose of confidence. It’s not to pump you up with enough chest-pounding bravura to drown out your critics; its purpose is to gently urge you to keep going despite your critics.

Recently a writer told me, “Confidence doesn’t come from always being right; it comes from not being afraid to be wrong.” And I know it’s hard, yet accept the fact that writing with confidence doesn’t always mean you’re writing well. But confidence does spur you on to keep writing, to keep reworking, which is the only way to get better.

Greek playwright Aeschylus said, “I’m not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship.” And to that I say, “Sail On! And don’t forget the tartar sauce.”