There may be no useful advice for a writer who lacks confidence because it is impossible to write without it. Writing without confidence is like pushing a wagon without wheels. Yet, even if you brim with brio about your talent and skills, it is important to set realistic expectations about where they will take you. If your confidence is predicated on unrealistic expectations, it will be shaken.
“Life is short, art is long,” is a useful proverb to keep in mind.
It suggests that art grants immortality, but also takes time, so you should not put unreasonable deadlines on your work, or think less of your talents because you are unable to meet the provisional ones you set. When we start a project, we always tell ourselves it will take less time than we have any reason to expect it will. A sanguine timeline is a trick we play on ourselves so that we will not be demoralized by the magnitude of our undertaking. It is a provisional psychological aid, like training wheels on a bike. Once we become immersed in a project, the deadlines become vestigial. Only our results are important.
Commercial success is another saboteur of confidence. The fact that wealthy writers exist and that there is money to be made in publishing can undermine any writer’s confidence, if he or she is struggling even for a shred of success. One must always keep in mind that art and money rarely mix, and few writers “make it.” There are many writers, and few readers, and a dwindling number of opportunities to display one’s work. If you seek financial security, writing is not a vocation I recommend.
A writer is often beleaguered by two emotions fatal to creativity—narcissism and self-doubt. You give yourself a candid look in the mirror, you like what you see, until you notice a wrinkle, perhaps a weariness in the eyes. You’re unsure. By the same token, you have a great idea, but you think you may have seen it before, or it’s too weird and no one will understand it.
This is the paradox of Samson. The two pillars to which he was chained were absolute narcissism (the hair) and crippling self-doubt (blindness).
The two pillars support the same structure—ego. Ego is a drug. It seems to make you strong, but if you overindulge in it, it can weaken you with self-doubt and fear. If you write in order to justify your existence or to prove how smart or important you are, you may be digging for precious ore, only to find that the hole you’re left with is your own grave. It is far better to write because you have something to say that you have never read before, wish to speak in a voice that has gone unheard, or tell your side of the big story of life. If you write in this spirit—to inform and inspire others—confidence should never be your concern.
About the author: ERIC JAY SONNENSCHEIN
Eric Jay Sonnenschein is a novelist, essayist, poet, journalist and blogger living in New York City. He has had two novels, Ad Nomad (2012) and Mad Nomad (2015), three volumes of essays, Making Up For Lost Time (2011), All Over the Place: Essays from A to Z (2013) and Sartre in the Subway (2017), and a collection of poetry, The Lost Poem and Others Like it (2011) published. He has also written more than 50 articles on a variety of topics, including politics and culture for Newsday, The Village Voice, and Art News, as well as more than 100 essays for LinkedIn Pulse. He is currently at work on a political saga set in the future.