It seems to me that the best kept (or not so best kept) secret of life is to be confident. Whether it’s during a job interview, learning to ski, trying to get a date, and even in artistic endeavors, it all seems to boil down to confidence. And not necessarily honest confidence; it seems that even faux confidence put on as an act will work just as well.
But how do you balance even faux confidence and humility? Arrogance is off-putting; meek to self-consciousness is self defeating. It seems that finding that right balance and maintaining it is one of the hardest challenges a person can face. But then, it’s those who seem to care the least about confidence who come across as the proof of its success. The less you worry about it, the more confident and content you become.
For me, the idea of confidence plays most strongly in the fiction writing field. I finished reading SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne and Dave King* a little while ago, and it struck me that so many of the common errors writers make seem to stem from self-consciousness. Whether it’s over-describing characters (she was exactly five feet, two and a quarter inches tall, with blond-red streaked hair falling in one stiff sweep of right-tilting bangs from her left eyebrow down to the lower right of her heart-shaped face) because the author feels the need to control what the reader sees and fears they won’t see a given character the same way, or telling when you should be showing, or using too many words, or relying too heavily on adverbs (I added wearily, knowing that the adverb thing has been beaten to an unjust and early grave), or explaining huge passages of back story via dialogue between two characters who already know everything… I could go on. The point is, writing seems to either succeed or fail due to the author’s confidence. Editing is for taking the self-consciousness out of the rough draft, and making the next seem more confident and more professional.
Likewise, my experience reading short fiction submissions for Apex has shown that over-confidence can be just as detrimental. Over-confidence seems to lead to verbosity (everything I say is vitally important, and you should sludge through it all), an affected and overly dramatic writing style, under-description (you should know what’s in my head), and condescension toward the reader. Also, not promising.
It seems to me that the stories which get accepted and do well are stories which have that undeniable confidence. They’re telling you a story, and while you may not necessarily love the story they have to tell, it’s hard to argue that these tales feel professional.
What interests me the most is that the stories I love, the stories I read in the slush pile and go “OH YEAH! WE GOT A WINNER!” ooze that authorial confidence. I feel like the author knows what they’re doing. It helps if the manuscript is obviously edited and formatted properly, but the charisma of confidence comes through on top of that. I sort of wonder if it doesn’t have to do with the selection of the authorial voice.
Authorial voice makes all the difference between banging your head into a wall trying to get a single page out or writing a few paragraphs at the drop of a hat with ease and relative pleasure. The right voice tells the story itself without needing to be forced, and the right voice can make an amateur idea blossom into a very professional-reading tale (even if the idea is still a little weak). A good voice breathes confidence and clarity.
And I think this is what I find missing so often in stories we’ve passed on at Apex: a nervous author writes in an unsteady or weak voice. They’re hesitant, second-guessing. A manuscript that reads like a pro wrote it (I say “like a pro wrote it” because very often it isn’t a pro at all, though someday the author might be) are the ones with a definitive voice. They know the story, they’re just relating it to you as best they can. But it feels real.
Now if only I could find that confidence myself so that it will carry through in my own writing! ^_^
*SELF EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS–A Note: I highly recommend this book. I’m a bit mule-headed when it comes to being told how to do anything, so I usually avoid most how-to-write books if only to keep myself from putting up walls against potentially helpful suggestions (though I usually have to reinvent the wheel just to learn the importance of such advice). However, this one works for me. First, it’s not about “how to write”, it’s about “how to edit”. It approaches drafting in a completely different and–for me–compelling way. Its explanations are clear and logical, and while I never agree with absolutely everything a how-to book suggests, I found their sections on “show don’t tell” and adverbs very, very useful, if only because they don’t outright vilify any one technique (they never say “never do this”).