I was at the Camp Mighty retreat a few weeks back, and one of the best talks was given by Ben Silbermann, co-founder and CEO of Pinterest.
He talked about a journey that I think would be extremely familiar to any novelist. He embarked on many false starts as after he quit his job at Google and built several semi-successful sites before finally arriving at one of the most influential designs in the last five years: Pinterest.
In his talk, he mentioned something that really felt familiar to me as a writer, which was that even after all the success he has had with Pinterest he lives at the intersection of terror and joy.
This struck a chord with me because it gets back to how you have to live as a writer. You have to be strong enough to put yourself out there, brave and confident as you share a part of yourself with the world. You do it because you love it so much you’re willing to risk everything negative that can possibly come your way.
But you also have to be self-critical enough to edit your work and fear failure and be worried that your best might not be good enough, which pushes you just that much further. You have to be scared of what will happen if you don’t do your best. You can’t ever get comfortable.
Terror and joy. Confidence and self-doubt. The best artists live right in that uncomfortable middle.
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Art: “The Progress of Poesy” – poem by Thomas Gray, art by William Blake
Matthew MacNish says
In most of my life, I prefer balance, but I will admit I've grown the most as a writer on those deep swings.
I constantly think my work is not good enough, and now agent feedback shows me that my work isn't quite there yet. I have better direction now based on their responses, but I can't seem to shake this feeling that my storytelling will ever be up to par. See, I just used a cliche…
Katherine Hyde says
I know all about the terror. Lately I've forgotten the joy.
Worst thing is, there are no gift cards out there for folks like us.
Plenty of Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary, With Sympathy etc — but no Happy Lifelong Terror/Joy Knife Edge Existence.
Khara House says
This is such a great and smart post. Writing, and living as a writer, is tough work; it's pain mixed with pleasure every day of every week of every month of every year. But it's also so very worth it. And who knows what moments of bliss those "roads of suffering" may lead us to eventually!
Cynthia Washburn says
I think these feelings are doubled when you self-publish.
You're right. It's always there…that balance between terror and joy and confidence and self-doubt. But if you do stick around long enough you do learn how to deal with it…and it does get better. That sounds cliche. But it's true. On the downside, you also get a little nasty and tend to suffer fools less 🙂
Jenn Patterson says
You had me at self-doubt. It is reassuring to know that others out there, and especially those that have in my eyes succeeded, have similar thoughts.
Peter Dudley says
Bryan Russell says
I doubt my self-confidence all the time, but I'm very confident in my doubt.
I think there's an Aerosmith song about this.
I read every post religiously. For some reason, this one prompted me to respond.
That razor's edge is so challenging. I am trying very hard to push beyond my own self-doubts and finally pursue publishing. All of the reassurance that I get in feedback from my blog, can barely dent the mound of anxiety I build for myself. But your post: I know this is true, and I need to just be brave and move forward. Thanks Nathan.
Rick Daley says
The higher the risk, the greater the reward.
Of course, the more likely and painful the failure, too, but let's not be pessimistic. It's the holiday season after all…
Nice post – this is so true.
I've found that being an author requires a great deal of almost continual courage.
Regan Leigg says
I've prob. been writing longer than most here, given my vast age and writing habits, so I know the feeling of despair when reading some old work. Lately, tho', I've felt some measure of confidence that Winter Roses Never Die (not a plug as it's not commercialy available) is hot and ready to sizzle. I think the concept and the inspirational side could make a difference for some – along with moments of quirkiness and unexpected plot twists. Don't we all need encouragement to be aware of the treasure trove inside while dissing the negativity that tends to bombard us? As the title of this blog entry says: we live on the edge of confidence and self-doubt. But I think for most of us, self doubt is more often where we're at unless we have an awareness of our immense potential and know how to tap into it.
Neurotic Workaholic says
I think this post is especially relevant because it could apply to other aspects of our lives, in addition to writing. I often hear people talk about what they want, but yet they're unwilling to put themselves out there and take that risk. And as a risk, they don't get what they want; they just keep waiting for it to happen.
It's strange then, that so many in publishing and writing (and in general to be honest) demand of you to be confident. I've been told so many times that I'm not fit to be a writer because I doubt my own skill. I've pretty much given up on writing because everyone tells me my PERSONALITY – with doubt, self-criticism, worries and sadness – isn't what it takes to be a writer. I no longer dare to open my documents because I know working on my stories causes "mood swings" that are wrong.
And right now I feel angry. Because if these emotions are just a part of being an artist, how can other artists be so cruel as to tell me that I – personally and solely – am not worthy, when they too must experience the same things.
Julie Luek says
It is a fine balance. And because, at least during the writing process, there is so little external affirmation or assurance that you're doing well, it takes a hell of a lot of gutsy courage to push through. I keep questioning if I was mad to leave my safe job to pursue this life.
my honest answer says
Oh how I can relate to this Nathan (see: my anonymous blog). In fact, by virtue of your Camp Mighty attendance you are one of about 30 people who know who I am! And it's only because I don't want to fail publicly. Privately is so much bearable, you know. Anyway, in the new year, I have big plans. I'll keep retreading this to remind myself the terror is good.
That is the most perfect explanation ever!
Maureen McGowan says
So, so, so true.
While I was struggling in those yet-to-be-published years, some family members thought I should stop. That writing was making me unhappy.
Funny thing is now that I have 3 books out and 2 more under contract, they expect/assume that everything is roses and I should be skipping around like a fairy tale character, and don't understand that in some ways the pressure and risk is now so much higher. Like I've been thrust into a new world without having the tools or a map.
Terin Tashi Miller says
You're absolutely right, Nathan, as always.
I was just reading in Matthew Bruccoli's biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald how Fitzgerald had the exact same problem–fluctuating between believing himself capable of writing in a way no one ever has before, and fearing that what he writes isn't really very good.
And Hemingway, the same problem.
Writing is an act of egotism–as is, likely, most art. It comes from a belief that you can or do have something to say that other people either want or should want to hear.
And then, once it is out there, or you're in the process of trying to make it be out there–published, available to others to read–comes the doubt, the worry, the concern.
I am always both heartened, and saddened, by the fact The Great Gatsby did not sell well when first published.
And Fitzgerald, who had great hopes for it, never really got over it.
And now, look. How many versions of it have been made as movies, or stage productions, and who, with his daughter no longer being around, is getting the money that Fitzgerald needed and spent and didn't have all his life?
D.G. Hudson says
I'm reading Tender is the Night, right now, by Fitzgerald. And some of it seems to be a bit autobiographical. He was very aware that it wasn't his money, but his wife's.
Yes, gift cards for writers and sympathy for the writers' angst. I love it, Whirlochre.
I chose you for the Very Inspiring Blog Award. Thank you for inspiring me with wonderful information to help me improve my writing. Read more about this award here: https://joanyedwards.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/i-gave-the-very-inspiring-blogger-awards-to-15-blogs/
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards