Thursday, January 8, 2009

Confidence Block

The idea of writing about writer’s block is actually giving me a bit of, um, writer’s block. I don’t normally get writer’s block in a traditional sense, where I sit in front of the computer screen and stare at the blinking cursor. When I’m in the middle of writing something, often the most important thing for me is to allow myself think time, time to work it all out in my head before I get it down on paper. I generally won’t go sit in front of the computer unless, in my brain, I’ve already got things figured out. And, if I haven’t figured it out yet or can’t figure it out yet, I make myself skip ahead to some point in the story where I do know what will happen. This is why my first drafts are plagued with highlights and brackets telling me to finish a chapter, include a flashback, add more information, etc.

The biggest “block” problem I’ve had as a writer is something I’ll call “confidence block.” As in, I sometimes have trouble believing that my writing is or ever will be good enough. And once I start internally freaking out about this, I stop writing. This has happened to me twice for a span of several years. After I got my MFA and my first novel got rejected by dozens and dozens of agents, I stopped writing for nearly two years. I felt paralyzed by all the rejection – unable to think creatively or even consider the possibility of writing something new. In fact, I was convinced that wasn’t a good enough writer, so what was the point? But after months and months of rejection, I received a very nice personal letter from the editor of the Atlantic Monthly. He (of course) rejected my story submission, but he also said he thought I was “awfully good.” Those two words gave me an oddly renewed sense of confidence, and suddenly, I could write again. I spent a few months in writing mode and cranked out the first draft of The September Sisters. But when that too got rejected by about a dozen agents, I gave up and didn’t write again for nearly two more years.

Eventually, I took the book out again and revised it, and once I got an agent and she started sending The September Sisters out, I started writing again. Though I was still getting rejected – by some editors this time – having an agent, having someone else, one other person, believe that my writing was good enough, gave me a confidence boost.

Since The September Sisters sold last January, I have pretty much been writing non-stop. I wrote my second YA novel, which will be out from HarperCollins in winter 2010. And then I spent most of the past four months writing a draft of an adult novel, which I just completed and mailed off to my agent today.

Writing all the time has made me realize how much I enjoy writing. And that’s really why I do it. Yeah, not everyone is going to like my work, and I’m still going to get rejected. And sometimes, still, my confidence waivers. I’ve been getting so nervous about what the soon-to-come reviews of The September Sisters might say, that I’ve actually begun to feel nauseous every time I think about it. And there are still many moments when I question if what I’ve written is any good – sentences, paragraphs, pages, entire novels. I felt terrified this morning, at the post office, after I handed the boxed draft of my adult novel to the postal worker and realized it was actually, in a small way, going out into the world.

But I’ve learned to separate doubts from my writing. I tuck these things away when I’m sitting at the computer, and focus instead on only what is there, right in front of me, the things I love, the words, the story, the characters. And in the other moments, I’ve learned to shrug it off – even my doubt this morning was quickly replaced by excitement over a new YA story idea I’ve been tossing around. In fact, by the time I made it home from the post office, I was already thinking up a synopsis in my head.

PS. I’m having a contest over at my personal blog this week, so if you want a chance to win a signed ARC of The September Sisters, head on over there and check it out!


lisapatton said...

Jill, I can tell by your posts that you're a great writer. This is beautifully written and I hope to be as prolific as you some day soon!! 3 books in the can already. Fabulous!

lisapatton said...

Also, I can totally relate to the confidence block. Oh yes I can!

Jillian Cantor said...

Thanks, Lisa! Though, I wouldn't exactly call that third book in the can -- it still remains to be seen whether it's any good or if it will sell.

Maureen Lipinski said...

Definitely keep us posted on the book updates! I'm getting ready to turn my revised third book into my agent on Monday!

Let's bite our nails together...