Crisis of confidence

There comes a point in the writer’s life when you are no longer capable of seeing anything good in your own work. Overexposure has sapped the joy from your words. All you can see is the dark patches of underdeveloped concepts and ridiculous attempts at purple prose. Be reassured: it’s just a sign that you’re getting better as a writer and that you’re more aware and free in your craft.

But I’ve reached that point where I can’t see anyone wanted to publish Night Shift, nor can I see the agent for whom I’ve spent the last year rewriting being the slightest bit interested. That does not, in itself, break my heart. What bothers me is that I’ve spent all this time on one project and it still doesn’t feel anything like finished. I’ve spoken before about how I want to move on to other things but once again I find myself upon the endless treadmill of editing, sending out, re-editing…

I had been thinking that my best option was, once this final line-edit is done with, that I would give the damn thing one last shy around the agents and publishers I’d not yet hassled – and, if I got nothing from them, to seriously look into self-publishing. Now I find myself wondering if I can bear to put this out at all – not, at least, without yet another series of major revisions.

The fact is that I don’t know if I’ll ever be confident enough to call a book finished – done, once and for all completed to be put out of mind forever except as a memory. I get the ghastly image of myself in the same place in ten years’ time, still writing, still scratching away, with a pile of books under my metaphorical bed, all waiting to be polished ‘one last time’ before I send them out. Let’s face it, I’ve been telling myself I’m ‘on the edge’ of publication for at least five years. Why should today’s delusion be any different from yesterday’s?

My comfort is that other people have read my work and not hated it. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that no writer can accurately judge their own work; I hope that I’m not just surrounded by a shield of ‘don’t hurt his feelings’-ness and that I can draw genuine comfort from positive feedback. I have had my literary viscera drawn out before me on enough occasions already and I know how painful it can be – but for all I am a vulnerable and precious flower, I would rather be pilloried for my incompetences than bloated with a diet of flannel and hot air.

The other positive is that I’m still able to work, even when faced with the barbs of marginal comments and footnotes designed to point out my failures. I can take them, and I can decide myself whether to listen or not. This is the job of writing; choosing to work on what wounds rather than on what sends our hearts a-soaring. It is another thing I take a measure of comfort and (yes) pride in. I can work. I can put in the hours. Even when I’m feeling bleak I can still plough on through.

Self-doubt will never go away. But every revision I make will (hopefully) save me from one more slab of pain in the future. After all, these doubts are caused by people who at least in theory like me. Soon, if I’m a good boy, eat my greens and do all my homework, my work may be placed before the harshest critics: the public. Best to harden oneself before the slings and arrows are trained in earnest.

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