Tag Archives: confidence

Not By Any Other Name

For so long I struggled with a question of identity. Actually, struggle is the wrong word, because I wasn’t thinking about the issue at all, but by virtue of not thinking about the issue, I was missing out.

Okay, that’s vague as hell. Let me try again. Self-perception is a big deal. Not so much in thinking of yourself as a big deal (although I guess that’s maybe not a bad thing now and then), but I mean just the way you think of yourself in general. The way you define yourself matters.

Sounds obvious, right? But it’s the simple truths that are the most powerful. For a long, long time, I thought of myself in a really negative way. Not actively — I didn’t sit around thinking to myself: “I’m a loser, I’m never going to amount to anything, I might as well just not try.” But that perception was lurking in the back of my mind nonetheless. I hadn’t amounted to anything, so I didn’t know that I ever would amount to anything. I had aspirations, but I had no confidence that I could achieve them, so I didn’t bother even thinking of myself as being on that track.

Case in point: Writing. I always wanted to write, but the idea of actually writing a book felt so insurmountable I just took it for granted that I could never get it done. Without really thinking about it, then, I named myself not-a-writer. By the same token, I could define myself by virtually any yardstick you could think of. Not-an-astronaut. Not-a-millionaire. Not a super-genius. But there’s only so much you can learn about a thing by determining what it isn’t, and that goes for yourself, too.

So, a little over a year ago, I decided to try something different. I told myself, you’re going to try being a writer. And so I started thinking of myself as a writer. And lo and behold, I suddenly found myself more committed than ever to writing well and productively and regularly. Well, that was pretty cool, so I started thinking of myself as other things, just to see what effect it would have on me. I never thought of myself as much of a dad, but now and then lately I remind myself, you’re a dad now, and I find myself being just a little more conscientious with my kids.

I’m willing to bet that this works with almost anything, because as good as we are at fooling ourselves about life in a direction that hurts us (I’ve got plenty of time for that project, or a few extra cookies won’t hurt), we can fool ourselves in a positive direction, too.

So, this post is to remind myself that I’m a writer. And a runner. And a dad and a husband. And a teacher. And a thinker. And a goofball and a nerd and a reader and a slew of other things. Positive things.

The names we give ourselves, I think, become the names we make for ourselves. So pick good ones.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

A Complimentary First Review

So the first non-me reader of my novel has finished it, and gave me a pretty solid compliment. She said that she loved the concept, and wished there was more to the book because she was enjoying it so much.

Okay, so the reader is my wife, which perhaps makes her review a little less than perfectly objective. She does have several notebook pages of notes compiled, though, and pointed out some errors that I overlooked, and some that I downplayed in my own mind despite the fact that they are actually pretty significant.

In short, a mixed review, which is actually exactly what I was hoping for. Good news is she didn’t feel it was a waste of her time or mine, in fact just the opposite. She told me it would make a good movie, and that it would do really well as a series. All the things a wife is supposed to say to her husband who is thrashing around in the riptide trying to find an artistic identity.

In fact, her feedback couldn’t have come at a better time; I’ve started working on my next major project and, much though I love the raw rush of creating from nothingness, it’s leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. Maybe bitter isn’t the word for it: I tried to describe the sensation to my wife, and the best I could come up with (though I actually rather like the simile) is oatmeal.

Writing the new project, at the moment, is kinda like eating oatmeal. The right things are happening, I feel like I’m building a solid foundation for the story to come, and in general the development of the project feels good. But it’s lacking flavor, and I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m writing the story explicitly from one character’s point of view, but I’m writing it in the 3rd person. Like, if I got into the character’s headspace, I could develop her voice with a bit more flair and verve, but from outside, I’m stuck describing events simply as they happen, and it feels… well, like oatmeal. Also, there’s the fact that I haven’t 100% decided exactly where this story leads — I know some major landmarks along the way but I don’t yet have an ending in mind yet. As a result, I’m moving through it a little tentatively, and that makes me nervous to take risks, which leaves the writing feeling… yeah. Bland.

So maybe I’ll toy with some 1st person perspective over the next couple chapters, or then again, maybe I’ll hold off, since the action is about to start crackling. Blerg. Should I be focusing on infusing a bit more flash and style into this piece to complement the story, or should I just focus on the events first and nail down the delivery later?

I would have thought that, having written a 90,000 word draft before, I’d know what I wanted to accomplish in this new story when I tried to come around and do it again. But apparently not. I blazed a path through the jungle only to discover that writing the next novel will be a hike across the endless desert.

Writer problems. I complain, but these are good problems to have, because the words are flowing, and a lot of writers can’t say that. Nothing to do but press forward. No way out but through.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

To Extremes

This week’s prompt is “an emotion and its opposite.” Now, the obvious one is love/hate, and that would be an easy one to explore. As a writer, I swing back and forth between loving and hating my work like the tides. Hell, I swing back and forth between loving and hating the craft. But love/hate is obvious.

No, the dichotomy that seems most apt to me is confidence/doubt. These two phases, like the peaks and troughs of a ray of ultraviolet light, alternate with alarming alacrity (triple alliteration bonus, whee).

One minute, I feel at home in the me who is on this adventure. I know what I’m doing. I’m staying smart, looking sharp, making good decisions. Every new bit of text is a good one. Every cut makes perfect sense. Every edit improves the whole. There is no shaking me off the course I’m on as I work inexorably toward writing the best inaugural novel that’s ever been written.

Then the light goes out, and I remember that I’m miles deep in an unfamiliar jungle with the dark rustle of foreboding creatures of the night on all sides of me. That bit of dialogue I thought was scorchingly clever the first time around seems a bit hackneyed upon further review. The character arc I’ve worked so hard to create feels like a flamingo on roller skates; all awkward angles and feathers crashing everywhere. The cut that felt so necessary when I made it now looks like a gaping wound, and the patient is bleeding out.

Then I stop working for a while, and by the time I come back to the novel, I feel like I could drive nails with my forehead again.

Do any other writers suffer from the same up-and-down, hot-and-cold, bulletproof-then-made-of-glass feeling? Do all of them? I have a hard time believing that my sentiments on writing are unique, but by the same token, not every writer can be so schizophrenic.

In fairness, though, the ride is pretty fun. There’s something to be said for riding the roller coaster til you throw up the oversized cotton candy you just horked down while you were waiting in line. Then wiping the pink fizz from your lips and lining up for another turn. Some might call that crazy.

No, that would be me. I’d call that crazy. I’m too old for that sharknado. But the writing, okay. I can handle the swings of that ride.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

A Little Trim

I can’t be trusted with my own story.

In making a last push to work on the edit, I found myself thinking some truly troubling thoughts. In the past month, I’ve struggled through editing an entirely new character into the innards of the story, and doing so required some deft slices of the scalpel and some not-so-deft whacks of the axe to make room for. And now, like a maniac who’s tasted blood and now needs to slice open jugulars nightly just to feel some semblance of normal, I find myself eyeing that axe again and thinking… I could cut more.

Just a little more. Shave a little off the top. Clip the ends off, neaten this bit out. Trim the dead weight. Sure, the novel as a whole could probably use more trimming, but that’s not what I’m talking about. No, what’s caught my eye is a prize hog. One of the supporting characters looks positively ripe for harvesting.

I had this thought in the first stages of the edit, regarding another one of the supporting cast, but I didn’t pull the trigger. Couldn’t bring myself to wipe her out. Maybe because I was too cowardly to axe a major part of the work, maybe because I didn’t have the confidence to pull it off. For some reason, now, though, I find myself weighing the decision and seriously thinking it over… not because I feel the character needs to go — she’s been a part of the story since the first iterations, back when it was a stage play. No, I’m sizing her up like she’s some challenge, like that ancient fish lurking in the depths of the pond, the twisted ends of dozens of anglers’ hooks adorning its lip. I could cut her out like she never existed, I think… which, as Criminal Minds plays in the background here while I sit on the couch with my wife, sounds like an extraordinarily psychotic thing to say.

No, I think this is more editing loopiness setting in. Cabin fever is snaking its slimy tendrils up my spine after all the time I’ve spent with this story and it’s making me hallucinate. Making me think I see blood pooling behind her eyes, a dead albatross around her neck. She’s probably not so much cursed as I am looking for ways to drastically improve this story amidst my fears that it’s utter crap.

She’ll live, for now.

But I need to keep making progress, finish this edit, and get this thing off to some impartial readers. That axe is looking awfully sharp and awfully inviting.

The Neverending Edit

A couple of good (read: productive) days of editing the novel have got me feeling, well, productive about my time off from work thus far, but they also have me mired in doubt. I feel kind of like the horse… was it Artex? … from The Neverending Story, who wandered into the swamp of sadness or whatever and finally got so depressed and full of doubt that he was unable to move and just sank into the depths with hardly a whimper. (By the way, what the hell? Who puts something like that in a movie ostensibly for children? Let’s just have this horse — beloved by one of the main characters of the film — just fargoing give up on life. That won’t scar the children in the audience forever. Come to think of it, that movie as a whole is actually pretty bleak. The entire story world gets sucked up into The Nothing? This vast, invisible, intractable force? Okay, let me un-digress…)

Yeah. Mired. I feel like the leg of the edit I’m working on is a solid one, one that does good things for the story, but I’m afraid that I’m doing it all wrong, and as a result, I’m afraid to take much further action. Fearful of breaking the thing further. Fearful that I’ve sunk in dozens of hours working in the wrong direction. Which is probably why I’ve been hiding from the novel behind all those excuses for the past couple weeks.

But we all know that the only thing hiding accomplishes is wasted time, and running from the inevitable means you only die tired. No, the thing to do is to lean into the skid, embrace the suck, power through the rest of this edit, and brace myself for the feedback to come. Because I’m pretty sure that, after I can get all the sprockets and gizmos stuffed back into the chest cavity and do one more polishing pass, I’m going to send it out to some readers and solicit some feedback from a mind that isn’t mine.

And, boy, oh, boy. That was an idea I had pretty much already decided upon in my head, but actually giving voice to it and putting it in writing fills me with an entirely new sense of dread. For all that I think I’m telling a good story, that I think it works and will resonate with audiences, I simply can’t know.

A metaphor that gets tossed around in my life as a teacher is that “we jump out of the plane and build our parachute on the way down,” which always gets a few laughs but is really a horrible way to approach education. The metaphor is apt, though, for the writing world, I think. I just have to trust that this parachute I’m building won’t be shredded like my confidence when I finally unfurl the thing.

Trying for a short story by the end of the week, but outside of that, I may give myself a few days off from the blarg. All the cool kids are doing it, and there is a lot of action for our family (families) at Christmas. So, you know. This might be my last entry for a few days. Unless it isn’t.

Late-night indecision is fun!

Also, look at the lame-o who calls 10:30 late-night! What a sap!

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