(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)
I'm preserving the original flavor of these two chapters (Taking the Road Less Traveled, The Secret Ingredient: Confidence) written just before my leap into indie publishing. Partly because they show what I was thinking before I knew self-publishing was going to give me monthly paychecks that would replace a job in engineering within a year. Before I knew people would give my books hundreds of five-star reviews on Amazon. It was before all the success I've been lucky and worked hard to have. And I think it speaks to the experience that many writers go through during that transition time when they step back, gauge the gap, get a running start, and make the daring leap into their author careers. Then we'll tie things up with a retrospective chapter on Making the Leap.
Ch 3.10 The Secret Ingredient: Confidence
"The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." -Sylvia Plath
When I Was Thinking About Announcing I was Self-Publishing to the World, Including My Writer Friends Who Were All Traditional-Publishing Bound
[Ed. Note: I am still wrestling with the decision here, but have realized that only first hand experience will tell me if it's the right decision for me.]
Plath's quote is one of my favorites, and time and again, I feel the strength of it (especially given how she ended up committing suicide). If I wrestle with the path I'm on, self-doubt creeps in and my ability to write takes a hit. While there are many things that can cripple your confidence, there are only a few that can truly build it.
In my book, Life, Liberty, and Pursuit, David goes through confidence training in boot camp. As a sailor recruit, he trains on emergency exercises including a gas-mask drill that leaves him with lungs full of tear gas. It's called confidence training, because only by experiencing it first hand can you avoid panicking when the real emergency comes.
Experience = confidence.
At some level, you must have faith in yourself as a writer. The navy recruits had faith in themselves enough to enlist in the first place. This is fundamental, and something I expressed to the teens in my Writing While Teen workshop this weekend: You are unique. Your take on the world is valuable. Bringing your stories into the world is worthwhile.
Note, this is not saying "you have talent." I think telling someone they have talent is akin to telling them they are smart. Rather than instilling true confidence, it actually limits their ability to have a growth mindset that leads to actual improvement, which leads to real confidence based on experience.
Faith in yourself as a writer is the start, but it will not give you the confidence to take risks, whether with your storytelling, or in offering up your work for critique, or daring to publish (whether traditional or self-publishing). Confidence has to be grown, through effort, experience, and accomplishment. The sailors' confidence was grown only by sucking in great gulps full of tear gas and surviving.
(Sounds a lot like querying to me.)
When I look at writers who break the rules (whether in craft or in publishing), I see people who are confident. They may be fearful as well (the two are not opposites), but their confidence carries them through the wall of fear to the other side, where experience can help them learn. John Green is brilliant and funny and fun, but all of that would be nothing without the confidence to post 900 vlogs and share them with the world. John Locke is irreverent and prolific and possibly a genius salesperson, but all of that would be useless without the confidence to break all the publishing rules and do things his own way.
I want to be one of those writers.
No, I'm not changing my name to "John" or starting a vlog or adopting Locke's hyper marketing plan. I'll learn from them what I can and make it my own. But most importantly, I'm going to try to hold onto the confidence that I'm unique, that I have stories worth telling. And grow that confidence bigger, through effort, experience, and accomplishment.
With that confidence firmly in hand, I finally decided to take the leap. In the next chapter, Making the Leap, I'll give a retrospective on how I made the decision, the Big Lie in publishing, and how to know if you're ready to take the leap.