Monday, November 08, 2010

Confidence, Ego and Optimism

I spend a lot of time thinking about ego and confidence and the differences between the two and until recently confidence was the better of the two because, in my opinion, confidence is something you earn. Trying to make yourself better, seeing improvement in your work, being open to criticism and understanding how to cherry pick opinions to match your voice and idea - those are all skills that lead to confidence.

I'm pretty confident in my work. Not confident about my place in the industry, but the work I do - yep, I feel good about it.

Now, optimism is just something we all must share as a whole. Maureen and I get together and bitch a blue streak about the industry, but we're optimistic about our work and it's place in the industry. Not confident, but optimistic. I don't know how to make myself optimistic or how to tell other people how to optimistic - I think optimism is key ingredient to the writer's make up. Otherwise how would we face the blank page every day?

Ego, I thought was kind of bad. Because it was unearned. Or perhaps a false by-product of confidence. But here's the truth - I think it's the most important ingredient to success. We have to believe that the project we are working on is IMPORTANT. Not just to use but other readers. We have to believe, with absolutely no proof that what we're doing is not only good enough - it's great. And while I used to think that ego was something I had to get over and push away - perhaps we have to protect it. We have to quietly with great discipline, nurture it. Because no matter what people say about our work, our faith has to come from some secret place inside ourselves that we can't put a finger on and we don't like to talk about.

I think ego, confidence and optimism are the most important things a writer can have going for them, and they are the first to be crushed and taken away by this industry.

So - where do you stand on those three things? Are you lacking in one area with a surplus in another? Do you agree? Disagree? Want me to shut my egotistical mouth?

14 comments:

Eileen said...

It's the optimism thing that keeps me going. I'm not so great on the ego thing (although I want to be) or the confidence thing (I'd like a little more of that please,also). Sadly I always think the next book might be the one that breaks out.

I tried being cynical for awhile. Or maybe cynical tried me on for size. It didn't feel good. Even if I'm delusional, I think I'd like to stick to optimism.

Maureen McGowan said...

Interesting post... I do think it's important to have all 3.

There are many things to be pessimistic about in this industry, but a lot of great things happen too.
Why not believe that we will be one of the ones to whom the good things happen?

Problem is, the longer I'm at this, the harder it is to believe. The deeper I have to dig for it. The more I have to remind myself that I'm on the right path, and a path leading somewhere great, even if it's been a windy and bumpy one.

I think 4 or 5 years ago I had way more confidence and ego than I do now. And as a result, more optimism.

But I do think optimism is the key. Because combining ego and confidence with pessimism can be toxic.

That's when you get the writers who think all the disappointments they've faced are all someone else's fault--the publisher, their agent, the in-house publicist, the guy driving the truck from the warehouse.

It gets old really fast listening to those complainers...

Maureen McGowan said...

Not claiming never to have been one of the complainers. LOL

Stephanie Doyle said...

I also think I have the optimism thing nailed. Deep down I do believe that eventually I'll have this "great" saleable idea. I have hope and I think optimisim and hope are tied together.

But after coming to the end of the book I've just written my confidence and ego are at an all time low. I don't know if that's the fear kicking in or what.

I have to start reading it now and I'm afraid that when I get to the end I will have failed this idea.

So confidence. Yeah, that's what I need. GIMME some. And a big side of ego.

I mean after all I just finished a freakin book. That's something right? Not everyone can just write and finish a book.

That's what I'm telling myself today...

Eileen said...

Oh, Maureen, we all fall into that trap at some point. They didn't send out enough review copies. They didn't buy me coop space. They marketed my book wrong.

I was feeling pretty pessimistic about everything earlier this year, but had turned it inward. I decided I simply wasn't good enough. Now I'm having a rising bubble of optimism based on nothing more than an idea of a book I want to write. I'm also terrified that I'm still not good enough and still won't be able to express what I want to tell people well enough, but I also feel I have to try.

Maureen McGowan said...

Eileen, yes, I don't think I have an author friend who doesn't have a tale of woe that quite honestly was someone else's fault.

The difference is the people who let those things take over. Who can never find the silver lining. Who can no longer hope that the stars will line up better for their next release.

Sending confidence to Stephanie. Your new book is awesome. And the problems you find as you read the first draft? You are awesome, have mad skills, and you can fix them. :-)

Sinead M said...

For me it's a stage of the book thing. As I'm writing it, I have confidence, even ego, once I'm sending it out into the world, I have nothing except raw optimism. One rejection blows away all my confidence and ego..

I need to fix that.

Eileen said...

LOL, Sinead, it's like the stages of grief. Instead of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, etc. I go through Ego, Confidence and Optimist. :-)

Maureen McGowan said...

Love the stages of grief comparison.

Problem is, I feel like I've gone through all the stages twice a day, every day, for the past six months. ;)

Stephanie Doyle said...

Okay - I just had to say several things helped me today. I took a vacation day to finish the book. I'm a chapter away from being done.

1. Molly's post.

2. Eileen being terrified about not being good - because that's what I'm terrified of - and I know she really is good, so maybe I'm good to. Thanks Eileen.

3. Maureen's encouragement that I can fix what I screw up.

4. Sinead reminding me that I shouldn't lose everything at the writing stage... I'll wait for the rejections to do that.

5. Reading a really horrible book.

I decided to take an hour break, and I picked up this book. It's a category book - but written by a USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR... I know because it says so inside. It was awful. Really awful. Just a big bad mess.

Then I went back and started to read my book from the begining. It wasn't as bad as the awful book. It was much better!

As horrible as this sound - that really made me feel better.

Maureen McGowan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patrice said...

I think all 3 are important. Plus, bull-headedness, a martyr complex, frugality (to survive on little financial recompense), competitiveness, and the list goes on.... I have all of these to varying degrees, depending on time of day, progress of WIP, weather, amount of chocolate recently consumed. I, too, used to think "ego" was bad, but I don't anymore. Doing ANYTHING big and demanding in life requires an ego that sustains you through the hardships and the nay-saying of others, esp. "well-intentioned" others.

Eileen said...

Do you wonder if our reticence about ego is a girly thing? I know just about the worst thing when I was a kid was to be told you were getting a "big head." It's not like I don't know any guys who are unwilling to toot their own horns, I just seem to know a lot more women who are like that. Or who will denigrate their accomplishments.

Dallas Kitchen said...

This is a really great post, and it's so true. When I write something, I often think "Wow, this is brilliant, this is the best thing I've done to date and people are going to really be able to relate to this," So i guess that's the ego thing; 'believing what I'm doing is important to everyone'

As for confidence, I'm like Sinead, one rejection and it hurts. I think I'm getting better at that though, once again, the ego thing comes into play with that with "Well, they just can't recognize the work for what it is" (after all the Beatles were rejected their first time around too and look what they turned into). Confidence is acquired slowly, and anything I can do to get the ball rolling is what I see as building confidence. Even if it's just a publication in a local university newspaper, it's SOMETHING.

Optimism, I've come a long way with this. I've become a much more optimistic person in recent years. I used to be a bit more negative, as much as I hate to admit to that. It's so easy and convenient to be negative. But I understand optimism is an ingredient for success and now I do my best to always find a positive in everything. I'm a firm believer that even the worst of circumstances has a positive and rather than focus my energies on the negative, I focus on finding that positive guiding light.

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