I had the opportunity to hear a business coach talk about the mental aspects of success recently, and the speaker talked at length about the importance of being confident in yourself and your work and believing that you are the absolute best at what you do. Cue the mental cringe from me.
This speaker does a lot of work with salespeople, and I can see the point of needing to project confidence whether you have it or not. There was even a reference to the importance of faking it if and until you have it for real.
But it got me thinking about how this applies to writers and other creative artists.
Certainly, there is huge value in believing in your writing and loving the stories you create. I expect it’s helpful to your self-promotion and marketing to project confidence, or at least to infuse confidence into your sales efforts and reader interactions.
However, I also think there’s a potentially deadly downside of confidence in writers. And that would be when it becomes over-confidence or false confidence.
Being convinced that you’re a fantastic writer to the exclusion of being able to take an honest critique is a problem. (I’m being polite here. In reality, this one is an epidemic among first-time authors.)
Being convinced you’re so good that you do not need to learn and grow…big problem.
Being so confident that your book will be the one to break out big that you spend money you don’t have to produce it or quit a job that you’d otherwise need or spending promotion money that you can’t reasonably expect to make back…yikes! The more insidious manifestation of this one is when a writer is so convinced their book is the next big thing that they invest their entire ego and sense of self-worth in how the book performs.
I’m not trying to say to anyone that you suck as a writer. I love you all and think everyone has a fantastic story locked away inside them trying to get out. But I am saying two things:
1) The publishing industry is NOT logical. Great books often flounder and horrible books occasionally sell millions of copies. You may be absolutely correct to be confident that your book is outstanding. But that’s no guarantee of success. In simple terms, confidence does not necessarily equal success in the publishing business.
My January release, FEVER ZONE, is by far the best book I’ve ever written–this book kicks butt and takes names. It ROCKS. But it’s not selling well and nobody’s reviewing it. The few reviews it has are raves, but for some reason, this terrific story is not gaining traction. I have huge confidence in the book. But that does not automatically translate to success.
2) Being an artist is an ever-evolving process. Confidence is not a steady state of existence for a creative personality. It is not something you can “be” or “not be.”
I find that my confidence is tied to periods when I am being highly productive, when I know where my story is going, and when I have learned something new about my craft that I feel like I have mastered and am being able to apply to my work. I am less confident in periods when I’m struggling to produce pages, don’t know where I’m going with a story, or I feel like I’m stagnating or have some aspect of my work that I need to improve.
At the end of the day, you need to believe that a) you do have a story to tell, that b) you are the right person to tell your story, and c) you can work hard and tell your story in the best way you know how.
You cannot control your sales, your reviews, your financial success, or your fame. You can have all of the confidence in the world and never achieve tangible goals that equate to success (as measured in traditional business models).
Confidence matters. It can help you finish your book or, maybe, help you achieve your goals. But do not let yourself become a slave to any false promises of “having confidence.”
Do not let confidence blind you to your flaws as an artist. Believe me, we all have them. Do not mistake having confidence for being blind to the areas in your creative expression that need improvement, growth, and old-fashioned hard work.
Use confidence as a tool to help you be productive and to help you put yourself out there in front of the world with your story. Make it work for you and not against you.