5 Stages of Confidence in Writing a Book
A funny thing happens to a writer’s level of confidence in writing a book. It shoots up and down seemingly as erratically as weather.
Part of what makes confidence so unreliable is what we base confidence on. We try to base confidence on nebulous emotions such as passion and a blind belief in our own abilities & authenticity and bull-headed willpower.
If I just believe in myself, I can write this stellar book. Just gotta believe! Just gotta write, write, write. Practice, practice, practice.
What if your confidence in building your book could be grounded on something solid, authentic, and heart-opening at the same time?
In working with literally thousands of writers and professionals with book ideas, I’ve identified 5 common stages of confidence. See what resonates with your own experience.
Stage 1: The Meteor Moment
When the lightning bolt idea for your book strikes, confidence shoots up. Your own story. Your Big Idea. Your dazzling novel plot. This is the Meteor Moment. You’re certain you’ve got this baby. This is your book, the one you’re destined to write. You set off. Tidy your work space. Start writing.
This confidence is built on novelty and passion. It doesn’t last long.
Stage 2: The Fizzle
Meteors fall. The Fizzle ensues. Why? Because “the reality” of the rest of your life sets in. You don’t have time or super-heroic stamina. Other factors of life – making a living, raising kids, aging parents – make greater demands.
The Fizzle is where most people with book ideas let themselves get stuck. The story that you don’t have enough time or energy to write your book is more than likely in part that – a story, lower-case “s.” With 9 of 10 people with whom I and my team have worked, we have found pockets of time, useless activities to slaughter on the book’s altar, and simple ways to maintain stamina to write books.
The Fizzle, sorry to say, can be an amateur’s story to keep him in his secure bubble of excuse-making. And it’s a convenient and convincing one.
Stage 3: The Firemaker
If you persist, shape time, and take care of your well-being, you start to hack your attention and energy and write, write, write despite the world seemingly being too much with you.
You join a one-month challenge to write every day. You find a writing buddy to hold you accountable. You hire a coach to tell you to write.
And you study. You gather the best books on writing like your personal counsel of advisors. You attend writers’ conferences. Maybe you invest in a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program to learn the nuances of craft & theory and to feel part of a scene.
You outline. You fill in the buckets of your chapters with scenes or information or great ideas from your own programs or workshops. You have 150, 200, maybe more pages drafted.
Maybe you finish your first draft!
Maybe you have completed your book proposal. Maybe an agent has expressed interest.
These are admirable milestones, mind you – milestones that many people never reach.
You think with one or two rounds from an editor, you’ll be set.
The Firemaker nudges that Confidence Curve upward. This is confidence built on willpower.
But something happens even at this stage.
Stage 4: The Crisis
With or without an MFA in hand, with or without a published book on your belt notch, you might recognize that you still have not finessed a bit of the author’s magic.
You realize that just because someone can move her body authentically to music day after day does not mean that her moves merit strangers putting down money to come and watch her “dance.”
That is, you realize that just because you have ideas on the page, just because you have figured out intuitively or otherwise a few things about writing coherent paragraphs or craft techniques, just because you have constructed a semi-decent manuscript or book proposal, your book does not yet do what the books you savor do.
It does not captivate. It does not work its magic on strangers.
That lack in part has to do with the psychology of reading and then finessing your writing accordingly.
We can get so fixated on our Big Idea or our complicated plot and drama or our authentic aesthetic sensibility that we lose sight that a book that merits a reader’s time and energy and $10, $20, or $30 should offer an experience for the reader.
Novelists like Barbara Kingsolver, memoirists like Elizabeth Gilbert, and thought leaders like Dan Pink love their readers. Then they craft to design experiences for their readers. These experiences on the page engage readers’ curiosity, their own desire to put things together. These experiences on the page tweak readers’ sympathy. They awaken outrage or surprise them with astonishment.
There’s both an art and arc to shaping a book with such finesse. It’s within your reach.
It begins with true empathy and psychological understanding of a reader’s journey through your book from beginning to middle to end.
It’s humbling to come to this point.
But this stage is achievable for any writer ready to dismantle her armor.
Stage 5: The Deft Touch & Lift
…but when you’re suddenly the catcher of a ball
thrown by an eternal partner
with accurate and measured swing
towards you, to your center, in an arch
why catching then becomes a power–
not yours, a world’s.
–Rainier Maria Rilke
Imagine you can humble yourself and write in a way that “gets” your reader’s point of view. Imagine you have a repertoire of tools you can employ to engage your reader and give her the experience she hungers for with your book.
Imagine each part of your book – each scene, each section within a chapter – feels like a clay pot in the making. You shape and fire and paint it. You know part of its beauty is left to chance or the elements, but you also know your material and your craft so well you can give each section like a gift to your reader.
The experience is rich with curiosity and revelation.
Each section of your book leads your readers on a journey that engages their hearts, wonderment, and intellect.
When as an author you can articulate why you have made the choices you have for your readers’ benefit, something beautiful happens.
You feel confidence that is grounded on something more than passion and chutzpah.
Your authorial confidence is grounded on your capacity and tested ability. It’s grounded on your deft touch – your astute skillfulness aligned with your own sensibility, not your own stubbornness.
It’s grounded on you learning, finessing, if not mastering the craft of engaging your readers infused with your signature voice, style, and thinking.
That’s a gift you give to your best self. It’s a gift you give to the world.