Saturday, July 04, 2009

A Confidence Game

This morning, I read a post over at Kameron Hurley's blog that really resonated with me. In it, she talks about her flagging confidence in her writing, and comes to a conclusion that sort of rocked me back. Here's an excerpt (italics mine):

I worry these days that my writing isn’t as good as it used to be, because all the choices I make seem to be poor ones. I’ll go through a story or a scene and realize that what I chose during the first pass was totally inappropriate. I keep thinking I’ve lost touch with the words, that there’s some kind of innate feeling for plot, character, structure, that went by the wayside. It’s made the last year of writing incredibly slow-going and difficult.

It wasn’t until tonight, as I went through and worked on the heroes story, that I realized what I was doing. There wasn’t anything different about the choices I made the first time through now than there was three years ago. The difference is, they’re *transparently wrong choices* now. As I go through and clean up the words, I’m seeing the errors – and where those errors will lead – a lot sooner than I would have a couple years ago.

Her conclusion really resonated with me because I've been struggling with precisely the same thing. I've found that I've completely lost the ability to plow merrily through my manuscript, tossing words about willy-nilly with nary a care as to where they land. Instead, each and every word, phrase, character, and plot element in a scene is carefully placed, nudged, tweaked, turned, and then angrily toppled like a child's stack of blocks, only to start from scratch again until the scene is right. The result is a first draft far cleaner than any I've written, but written at a far slower pace than I'm used to. I suspect, in the end, this book won't take any longer than the last two (in fact, it may wind up finished quicker), but much like being stuck in traffic instead of cruising on the open road, it sure feels like it's taking longer.

For the longest time, I've just assumed my issue was one of shaken confidence. Shopping two books that represent several years of effort and brain-space is an arduous task, and no amount of truly wonderful feedback can do much to lessen the strain the process puts on you. The whole process is nerve-jangling and nausea-inducing, if only for the fact that I've put myself out there, and I'm really freakin' invested in the outcome.

But Kameron's post managed to reframe my current manuscript-angst. I've come to realize the book I'm working on now may be the best I've written yet. The only catch is, it is that way because I've learned a thing or two in the course of writing my last two books, and that knowledge comes not without a price. Rather than sailing obliviously on through my first draft, only to panic while working on the second, I'm meeting those problems head-on early in the process. Which, frankly, kinda sucks.

So yeah. I'm not entirely sure what to do with this little borrowed revelation o'mine, except to put my head down and soldier on. But I take heart in the thought that this weird crisis of confidence might simply be a rite of passage. As Sam Beam'll tell you, "There's no way to grow that don't hurt." Long as you realize that, the hurt don't seem so bad.

And with that, it's back to the WIP for me...