Saturday, May 15, 2010

30-Day Confidence-Building Challenge: Practice, practice, practice

Yesterday, novelist and writing craft coach Elizabeth Stark shared the basics of her creative and professional confidence. Today, she'll share the ways she teaches her clients to build confidence.

It's my theory that all creative people are insecure--it's the nature of putting something that really matters with you out into the world. How do you feel about that? Is that true for you, and if so, how?

Yes--I think you are right. It's amazing to work with successful writers. Of course, success as a label is so whimsical, so dependent on a bit of a particular kind of luck: Your film gets picked for a festival, your book gets published, reviewed, noticed . . .

The recent awarding of the Pulitzer Prize to a book which could not find a mainstream publisher is a perfect example. Paul Harding is categorically a success--even though many folks reading this blog probably still haven't heard his name. But who cares? He won the Pulitzer Prize for his book! Yet no writer says to herself, I just wrote and published this great book. I can really trust myself going forward.

Instead, writers are constantly reinventing themselves, imagining ways to change themselves into something better.

When you're working with writing students, what are the areas in which most people lack creative confidence?

People lack confidence every step of the way:
  • How do I begin?
  • Is what I have to say worthwhile?
  • How to I organize a bunch of ideas, images, characters into something as large as a book?
  • How do I write it?
  • How do I silence the critic who keeps telling me how bad every sentence is?
  • How do I know if the book is good enough?
  • How do I approach agents and editors?
Even after a book is accepted for publication:
  • How will I make sure my book is noticed?
  • Will it sell?
  • What's next?
This is why I've created The Book Writing World. We all need a team. Olympic athletes have a team and coaches. No need to go it alone.

Setting goals publicly is a key to success. Deadlines. Guidance. A feeling that practicing is worthwhile. Writers are the only artists or athletes who think everything we do should be the show-stopping performance. What about rehearsals? Muscle-building? Of course, I tell brilliant writers these things every day, and then when I sit down to my own work, it's hard to remember them . . .

What would you say are the biggest barriers to creative confidence in the craft of writing?
How do you help your students face and overcome them?

The biggest barriers to creative confidence in writing are the blank page and the fact that we are not taught to enter the void and fill it. It never gets easier, in certain ways. Our job as writers is to ask ourselves questions whose answers we do not know--questions that matter to us deeply--and then to answer them. That's it! Who wouldn't be terrified?

In a way, if you are not terrified, you probably aren't tapping a vein. Conversely, you have to take these brave and daring actions not when the mood hits you, but habitually, every day. It's hard enough to jump blindfolded into your own imagination. And it's hard enough to commit to a daily practice. But a daily practice of jumping blindfolded into your own imagination? That's a lot to ask of yourself.

On the other hand, (to paraphrase Mary Oliver) what else do you want to do with your one and only life?

No comments: