Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"Fear is the Mind Killer."

[Note: I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because I wasn't confident I'd catch all my own miss-steaks].

If you recognize the quote in the subject line, then you've likely read Frank Herbert's novel, Dune. It's a classic science fiction piece that examines politics (of the Machiavellian variety), economics, immigration, race relations, philosophy, family, love...well, pretty much life in general. It was made into a not-so-great movie in the 1980s, and a better mini-series in the 2000s, but as is always the case, the book is the best version.

The quote refers to controlling your emotions, particularly fear. The sentiment is that it is hard to think clearly and perform if you let fear take control.

How does that apply to writers? Well, I think it can easily refer to confidence.

Everyone performs well when confident. Athletes are a perfect example of this. A loose, confident athlete will unfailingly get better results than a tight, unsure or worried athlete. Same with musicians. Same with writers.

Same with everybody, really.

So what makes us confident?

Past performance certainly helps, right? If you've had something published, been well reviewed, or had good sales, that has to help. For myself, I've published thirteen novels so far, plus a textbook. That's through large publishers, small publishers, and publishing independently. I've got two more coming out within a couple of months. Not bad. I've also had stories in thirteen different anthologies, plus three collections of my own. That's over 50 short stories in a variety of venues. Three of those were finalists for the Derringer Award. Also not bad.

My work now appears in print, e-book, and audio book form. I've sold almost 81,000 e-books since I started in that format. At one point, I was ranked as the #1 Police Procedural author on Amazon, and my first River City novel, Under A Raging Moon, was ranked #1 in that same category.

Cool, huh? And reason to be confident, no?

Ah, but just like an athlete, maybe you're only as good as your last game. As of yesterday, I'm ranked as #72 in the Police Procedural category on Amazon. Under a Raging Moon is no longer in the Top 100.

A few days ago, I was sitting in a locker room full of hockey players and someone asked me if it was true that I'd retired from law enforcement. I said yes. Amidst the congratulations, someone else gasped in surprise, then blurted, "You don't expect to make a living by writing, do you?"


Should things like falling rankings and fewer sales and Doubting Thomases in hockey skates affect confidence?


Do they?

Yep. Sometimes they do.

The thing is, I think confidence is fluid, like a lot of things. Sometimes it runs high, sometimes it flags. It is dependent on so many things, from how well a draft of a new work is received by my #1 reader or my #1 critique partner to things that have nothing to do with writing, like whether or not I've lost any weight since starting to count calories. Confidence is fluid, and tricky. And when you've left a stable job to write full time and the importance of being successful is jacked way up, confidence becomes more important, and trickier.

Do you think Stephen King worries about how well his upcoming release, Doctor Sleep, will do? Will people say it's great, or will they say he's past his prime? Closer to home, do you think Jess Walter wonders about these things?

I think they probably do, at least to a degree. And like each of us, they find ways to overcome that doubt and to build that confidence.

Because this is a blog about my writing journey, I'm sharing with you what I've noticed about confidence. Specifically about mine. I believe in my work, or I wouldn't have started this journey, or been so open about it. But like every writer (and every other person, I assume), there are times when my confidence wanes just a little, and I have to take a step back and examine things again. I have to ask myself what I'm doing, and why. I have to ask myself if it's something I'm good at.

Ultimately, I always come away from these moments of reflection with renewed confidence and renewed enthusiasm. More than that, though, I remember something I heard a long time ago from an established writer, now deceased. It's as true now as it was when I first read it in 1987.

"Writers write."

What's that mean? To me, it means that writers write because we are writers. Like a musician who picks up a guitar or a carpenter who picks up a hammer, writers are drawn to this craft because it is who we are. A musician may make a dozen CDs, play in front of thousands, win Grammys and make millions, or s/he may play in the living room or at the campfire for family and friends, or even alone in an empty room...but the musician plays because s/he is a musician.

That's why writers write. That's why I write. Because I am a writer. So if I sell ten thousand books in a month or ten, I will write. Because that's one this I am very confident of -- I am, and will always be, a writer.

How about you? How do you feel about confidence, whether in writing or in life?