Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Confidence and Joy - Kafka was a riot at parties

Sorry for those writers who identify with the anxious, tortured Franz Kafka, but his friends told biographers that he was fun, a great conversationalist and a quick with. His humor bleeds through in his stories, if you're paying attention.

And I think, even though he didn't sell much during his lifetime and he asked that all his papers be burned (they weren't), he had a good sense of his own worth as a writer. He rushed in, wrote in an eccentric voice, took on his worst demons, and triumphed. And by triumphed I mean he got the work done, and I strongly suspect this gave him joy and built his confidence.

Confidence when you sit down to write and joy when you finish a manuscript are what drive the life of a writer. More than money and fame and publication. In fact, money, fame, and publication without confidence in your talent and a sense of accomplishment can actually stop (or corrupt) your writing. Think of Ralph Ellison and Harper Lee. Or the many stories about Hollywood destroying writers. Or Salinger hiding in his fortress (though there are rumors of books hidden away there).

Don't let this happen to you. Remember the first time  you eagerly sat down to write a story that burned within you and seemed to fill pages effortlessly? And how great you felt when you wrote "The End"? I hope you still have that confidence and joy everyday because it is jet fuel for the writing experience.

But maybe not. Part of the confidence and joy came from a lack of perspective in your early years. If your parents teachers and friends loved your story, chances are that it was not greeted by editors with the same enthusiasm. Reality checks can grind away at confidence and crush the joy. Sell something, even a book that becomes a bestseller, and the trolls will come out to point out glitches, call the work derivative, and make vulgar comments. Authors live in a public space filled with people who have high expectations, the need to pull someone down, and absolute clear views of your faults.

To have a writing career, you need to maintain the confidence and hang onto the joy despite this. Here are a few suggestions.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people.
  • Don't let doubters read your stuff. (If possible, don't let them know you write.)
  • Don't feed the trolls.
  • Promise yourself celebrations when you succeed, and keep those promises.
  • Don't read negative reviews.
  • Created and keep things around that remind you of accomplishments. (I keep a portfolio of work I'm proud of, check off what I complete, and somewhere have a nice note from Michael Crichton about a speech I wrote.)
It is up to you to find ways to maintain your confidence and to allow yourself joy. Dedicate a portion of your creativity to coming up with specific actions that will support your outlook on writing. Then follow through on them.

Oh, and it is okay to create an angst-ridden persona. It might even be good marketing, but you'll have to avoid putting a lampshade on your head at parties.

What about you? How do you provide yourself with the positive emotions that fuel productive writing?

NOTE: This blog is one month old today. I'm having terrific fun, and I appreciate having so many readers. Thank you.


  1. Nice, Peter. It's always fun to hear about the oddities of famous writers and imagine that they struggled with the same things I have.

    I do try to stay away from negative reviews but some are also constructive in their feedback--many are not. I had one UK reader say that Savage Cinderella was "rubbish". I was like, "really?" Then I laughed and patted myself on the back for having readers in the UK! I'm totally a glass half-full kind of girl. When a positive boost is needed I even get a smaller glass:-)

  2. Ha! Thanks for sharing that story. I'm a naturally dour person who has to work at being positive (or even pleasant). I got a great lesson when I was given an office mate at IBM. On the face of it, the guy had a life that would bring anyone down. Problems with kids, ex-wife, job, and health. He had played baseball in the minors for years, got close enough to The Show to have a baseball card made, but missed because of politics.

    And yet, he was the most optimistic person I ever met. Every day was a delight. Glass half full? He celebrated if the glass was wet. When I have a disappointment that is 95% loss, I think of him and the 5% win.