Guest Blogger: Brad Parks
A dear friend of mine walked out on me yesterday, just left without word or warning.
It happened around 8 o’clock in the morning, shortly after I sat down to my keyboard to write. I didn’t even hear him go. He just scooted out, leaving me alone and, quite frankly, screwed. Because I can’t seem to write unless he’s around.
For the first little while, I kept listening for the squeak of the front door that would tell me he’d returned. Then I went looking for him in some of my favorite writing haunts, hoping I might find him along the way. But I never did.
The friend in question? My confidence.
Yeah. Him. I’ve learned through the years he’s indispensible to my work. Every day I sit down to write, I have to believe my story is worth hearing, that I’m the best person to tell it, and that I’m telling it in the best way possible.
It’s an act of hubris, but as writers it’s one we perform repeatedly. And I can’t do it unless my confidence is somewhere nearby.
Mind you, it’s not always easy to keep him around. Especially when I, say, make the mistake of comparing myself to other writers. (Did you know I’m not even the most famous Brad to guest blog for Janice this month? That effin’ Brad Meltzer was here two weeks ago. Luckily, this is the last Tuesday of the month, because if she got Brad Thor, I’d be shoved back to third place).
As for yesterday? I’m not sure what, exactly, made him flee. Probably it’s because I’m in that most nerve-wracking stage of the publishing process. My next book, EYES OF THE INNOCENT, drops Feb. 1, a week from today, which means I have spent the last few months promoting the spine off the thing: Blogging and being blurbed; making postcards for librarians, posters for bookstores, bookmarks for everyone; committing to a thirty-something stop tour that will single-handedly wear the remaining life out of my tires and ensure my children will look at me as a stranger when I return.
Yet, for all that, I harbor the doubt—that is apparently shared by authors great and small—that it’s still not enough, that this will be the book no one will want to buy, that the cherished dream of continued authorship will come crashing around me.
So, yeah, my confidence decided to take a vacation, dooming me to a day of wallowing and moaning to my wife about how worthless I am.
I know self-loathing like that can be a valuable part of the writing process—we all have moments when we are quite certain we have just shamed the language—but I’ll argue that, whether you realize it or not, developing your confidence as a writer is every bit as important as working on your plotting, characterization or dialogue.
In some ways, it’s far easier to do: It only takes a second to make that great-yet-small leap of faith to believe in yourself.
It really is that simple. And that necessary. Look, even if you harbor the suspicion you suck; even if you’ve been rejected by every agent, literary magazine and publishing company in creation; even if you are currently barricaded in your office by the moldering pages of your multiple unpublished manuscripts, I will argue the only time you’re truly done as a writer is when you stop believing in yourself.
I was done yesterday when my friend left me. Thankfully—for my wife and everyone else around me—he came back today.
Damn, did I miss him.
Brad Parks’s debut, FACES OF THE GONE, became the first book ever to win the Nero Award and Shamus Award, two of crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His next book, EYES OF THE INNOCENT, releases Feb. 1 from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books. Library Journal gave it a starred review, calling it “as good if not better (than) his acclaimed debut.” For more Brad, sign up for his newsletter, follow him on Twitter or became a fan of Brad Parks Books on Facebook.
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Thanks for this post, Brad. Sometimes when I walk into a bookstore and am surrounded by books, I can’t help but think there are so many good reads, why would the world need mine. But when my confidence is there while writing it feels like my story is a unique and wonderful thing that can’t help but exist and in due time will find it’s place in the world.
Julie — There have been times when I have to ban myself from the bookstore. Part of it is because I might tend to spend my children’s entire college education fund. But part of it is that overwhelming, look-at-all-these-great-books-I-didn’t-write feeling. Sometimes it’s best just to stay in the cafe. Safer there.
Good luck with your work!
Good post, Brad. When workshop writers critique my work I’m most gratified to hear them label it as “strong” or “confident” if it’s impressed them that way. Continued success to you. — Chris Bauer
I appreciated that, Brad. So entertaining, but yet, so poignant. I’ve shoved my first Great American Novel under the bed and have now completed my second historical thriller. Instead of drop kicking it out into that cold ‘agent’ world, something kept me riveted in place. Now, thanks to your Post, like the Lion in “Wizard of Oz”, I realize that I’d lost my confidence. Thanks a million for bringing it to my attention. Best of luck, you talented writer, you!
Chris — There’s no substitute for writing with authority.
Eileen — Reading a comment like that makes my day. I’m so happy for you. Remember: The one thing ALL published writers have in common is that they never gave up. (I believe the Other Brad’s post about that on Janice’s blog earlier this month rather nicely made that point).
Thanks for the post Brad. Sometimes when I’ve sat at booksignings at large conferences I’ve felt invisible, or that I was the last one picked for kick ball. Readers walk by heading for the big name authors like JR Ward, Charlaine Harris, etc. They might stop to ask where the bathrooms are, not to check out my stuff. If a reader does stop and says she loves my books, then that makes it all worth it. Persistence and keeping faith in your work is the way. Good luck with your new release.