Sunday, March 01, 2009

Some thoughts about determination versus confidence

I'm not quite sure why I got started thinking about this today, but I did. I have an acquaintance who is a very gifted writer but suffers crippling self-doubt that has, so far, prevented her from achieving her dream of writing -- and publishing -- a novel. She soul-searches a lot and goes in cycles, up and down, and the ups are beautiful and full of epiphanies, the kind of epiphanies out of which beautiful writing blooms. Just, so far the ups have not been sustained long enough for an entire book to make its way into the world. Doubt rolls back around and derails her.

I suffer cycles too. Really, every writer I know has them: the peaks and troughs of good writing days versus bad ones. Euphoria to despair and back again.

For those of us who have made it through and finished a book as well as we possibly can . . . how did we? I was thinking about this acquaintance, rooting for her and wondering what it might take for her to pull it off, and the word "confidence" entered my mind.

But no, I thought. That's not it. Confidence is not what it takes to finish a book. I mean, it's great if you've got it, but you don't need it. What you do need is determination, and that's something that's easier to come by. I think, anyway. Confidence is this kind of full trust in one's abilities, and I most certainly did not have that when I was writing Blackbringer. I did, however, have a mulish determination to do it. It wasn't that I knew I could do it, it was that I really really wanted to. I mean, really really. Really.

Really.

And that, as it turned out, was enough. You don't have to believe in yourself all the time; you don't have to read self-help books and fix your self-esteem problems before you can succeed. You just have to be stubborn and keep on and keep on. Instead of the Little Engine saying "I know I can, I know I can," you can, to be cornball, instead be the Little Engine that says, "I won't quit, I won't quit." It's kind of easier. For me, anyway.

So that's what I was thinking about.

Now, today I began a new-old regimen of getting up at 6 to write for a few hours before breakfast. It's a small change; lately I've been getting up at 7:30-8. But back when I decided to get serious (and mulish) about Blackbringer and really write the sucker at last, I started the 6 am thing and it worked for me -- the quiet morning dark, and just the sense it gave me that I was doing something with a strong sense of purpose. But I have let that slide, and for this month at least, I'm getting back to it -- just to renew the sense of purpose and hopefully have a kick-ass writing month. I did have a good writing morning, yay, and so the month begins.

Just to confess a little something, even though I love my w.i.p. and want to smother it with kisses, I still got tempted to start something else last week! What the hell??? It has GOT to be evil gremlins! Temptation-imps? An anti-muse? I don't know, but it's bad, bad, bad. BAD. Temptation averted, I am back on track. But geez. Really? I even placed an unnecessary Amazon order for books related to the evil new idea. I've shelved that interloper-idea before the order even arrives. Ha ha!

I read on somebody's blog that these interlopers can be called "slutty new ideas," tee hee hee. Stephanie and I call them "newts," which comes from NWT, or New Weird Thing. The thing is, my w.i.p. is a newt! Seeing how IT started life as a temptress and lured me away from another perfectly decent novel, how can it ever trust me to be faithful to IT? It's a conundrum! But it needn't worry. I'm not going anywhere. I'm writing this book. I am DETERMINED.

23 comments:

Kim Kasch said...

Okay, I've always been a cornball - no news there :)

And Newts, I never knew they were called that but I have them all the time slutty new ideas. Yep, yep, yep, pulling my attention away from my true love ;)

Deb Lund said...

Oh, Laini. This was timely for me. Remember when we prided ourselves in being able to multi-task? I'm back to my novel tomorrow, and yes, I too have books on the way. Evil, evil.

Lisa Nowak said...

I agree with you about determination, but for me it almost presents itself in the form of obsession. It's like I can't give up on my projects.

I don't have a problem with newts, though I did have a cat by that name once. :)

giftsofthejourney said...

Love this post and the timely topic. Thanks for putting these thoughts in particular on paper.

Rachael King said...

You are so right about determination. I would call it perseverance. I often say that it's not the most talented people who get books published. You can have all the talent in the world but if you don't have the stamina and perseverance you will never finish a book. the less talented, however, just have to work hard and learn their craft and they will eventually get to be as good as the supernaturally gifted.

Marianne said...

I agree completely with you Laini and with Rachael. I do not consider myself to be a naturally gifted writer but I almost perversely determined. So I will write this book, but it will take me some time as I learn my craft.

Great post!

tone almhjell said...

Six, huh? I feel like the greatest slob of the universe now. Eight, okay, but six?

How many writing hours do you get out of a day? I can barely squeeze out three, maybe four, and then it dries out, sort of. I keep thinking about it throughout day, but I don't actually write.

Maybe I simply need to get out of bed earlier. But at six, I don't even know my name.

Steve Brezenoff said...

I'm exactly the same way, with new ideas constantly screaming for my attention. My wife and I actually had a meeting about it some months ago and decided Thursday night would be my night to find a coffee shop and work on one specific project until it was finished, over many weeks. So far I've finished one novel in this method, and can now move on to the next slutty book.

So yes. Determination and good old BIC, indeed.

Laini Taylor said...

Rachael, I agree with you completely -- and not just about writing, but anything. I have seen tremendous athletes squandor their natural gifts while the less *gifted* surpass them out of sheer determination. (Tortoise and hare?) The ability to finish things is, I think, the greatest gift :-)

Marianne, I'm glad to hear you're *perversely determined* because I am eager to read your book!

Tone, tee hee, don't know your own name in the morning! The mornings are a pretty good time for me to work. Evenings, however? I can try, but I am ridiculously unproductive later in the day. As for how many hours, it totally depends on how the story is going. If I'm into it and know what's going to happen, etc, I can squeeze out a lot more hours than when it's labored and not flowing. Then I just want to do other things!

Steve, nice to meet you :-)

Jacqui said...

It's a battle, isn't it? The determination vs. the self-talk. Send some determination my way...

Wyman said...

Brilliant post!

Heather said...

I am always inspired by you!

Teri said...

Great Post and wonderful advice. Here is what I have learned. When I think I have written my worst drivel, it turns out to be my best work. When I am in love with the prose, it is usually a stinker. So now I just write. The blog is like warming up and then on to the real work. Thanks for sharing! Teri

Amber said...

"You don't have to believe in your self all the time; you don't have to read self-help books and fix your self-esteem problems before you can succeed. You just have to be stubborn and keep on and keep on"--

This will be going in my book of quotes. Thanks.

I love "slutty new ideas". funny.

:)

etherealgraphics said...

I SO feel determination is it! Not necessarily the creative fuel to proceed and keep on keepin' on, but most certainly the strand of beads I reach for to rub from one to the next to the next . . . perserverance is part stubborness and part holding one's hands beside the eye sockets in that way that says, "No way! Not seeing the give-up path, not not not seeing anything but what's forward"

Stephanie Perkins said...

Perfect timing, as usual. (Are you a mind reader? Should I be concerned?) I'm trying to adjust to my new schedule, and I'm finding myself easily distracted already. I slept in an extra hour and a half today, which makes me feel guilty. Shamed. And I want to nip this in the bud before it can grow into a spiky, nasty weed.

Determination. Keep moving forward. Yes, thank you.

And I'll keep you in check with the newts, if you keep me in check, okay? (Next time you log onto Amazon, I'm blasting a bullhorn into your ear!)

I hope your friend finds her determination. I'm going to go look for mine...

Amber Lough said...

I just blogged about this and put up a link to your post. You are completely right: it's about determination.

I have to wake up super early too, it seems, or I don't get any time at all. Maybe this will be something you'll be really great at before the baby comes. Writing before the kids wake up might be the only way I can manage, right now.

Katie said...

Wow. Your blog is always such a blessing to me! I was having just that EXACT kind of day. A doubty one. So thanks!

I am in revision confusion. Which way to go?

Kiersten said...

This is SO, so true! And wonderful.

As far as NEWTs, the only time they ever break in is when what I am writing simply is not working. Otherwise I'm too obsessive to let new ideas in. If a NEWT starts nagging, I know something is wrong with my WiP.

Natalie said...

Thanks for this. I've been struggling lately and these words mean a lot to me.

Tina Anderson said...

Thank you so much for these words of wisdom. I too have found myself in that place of self-doubt with my work; simply putting it on the back burner rather than pushing through. I am going to write down the quote above to remind me of what I need to do. This is exactly what I needed to hear today. I might even try to get up earlier, although I will have to get up at 5 get anything done before my four-year-old awakes.
Nice to meet you. Tina

King of my Throne said...

Loved your thoughts on determination v/s convidence. Could relate and it even increased my confidence!
Thanks

Aspen said...

Great post! One quote I always have hanging above my desk and always pushes me forward no matter how stuck I feel is by Lance Armstrong: "Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever."