Deb: The Confident Writer

“There is in you what’s beyond you.” Paul Valery
As a self-doubting teen (weren’t we all that,
once?), I developed a passion for politics. For this I blame my parents, who
before I entered kindergarten took our family to march for civil rights in our
small Illinois town.
One of my deep childhood memories is holding a charred
fragment of a church burned by the Ku Klux Klan during the Freedom Summer of 1964. My parents, like many
others, were moved to action. My father traveled south to assist the civil rights movement there and brought back a piece of the
Though painfully shy, I grew up believing that activism
mattered. Impassioned by Senator George McGovern’s bid for President, I
volunteered, going door to door and making phone calls – lots of phone calls –
to get out the vote.
McGovern lost, badly, but I came out a winner. I got hung up
on and yelled at. I got scolded and ridiculed and cussed. In a word, I got
tough. I learned that people could think and say what they wanted. At the end
of the day, I was still me.
As it turned out, all that rejection was excellent
preparation for becoming a writer. Our calling demands courage and confidence,
even and especially in the face of all we don’t know. In this, it’s like
parenting. You’re never exactly sure that you’re doing the right thing. Sometimes
you’re not even sure what the right thing is. Yet you carry on. You don’t
falter. You give it your best, and you try to get better. You stay open. And in
the end, you let go.
Confident writers are not brazen or blustering. Even in
doing the necessary work of promotion, they don’t brag. Bluster, brazenness,
and bragging are thin disguises for the insecurity that accompanies a poorly
formed sense of self and, in the case of writers, a poorly executed manuscript.
In The Poet’s Companion, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux offer wisdom on the topic of
confidence. Though they address poets, their truths apply to all writers. Don’t
dwell on your failures, they advise: “In the literary life, which is full of
rejected manuscripts, lost awards and prizes, and critical judgments of your
work, it’s essential to develop some self-appreciation – to delight in your
successes, wherever and however they arrive.”
Eschew competitiveness, they say. “Poetry, ultimately, is
not a competition, in spite of the competitive nature of achieving publication
and recognition. If you see it as such, you’re likely to feel unhappy, instead
of being nourished by it.” Another pitfall to avoid: equating your self with
your writing. As committed as we are to our craft, as much as we may bleed on
the page, we must not wrap ourselves so completely into our writing that we are
crushed by rejection and criticism. “The truth is that good poems come from a
combination of things: awareness, talent, persistence, persistence, native and
acquired language abilities, luck, persistence, knowledge, imagination,
persistence,” note Addonizio and Laux. “Who you are contributes to your poetry
in a number of important ways, but you shouldn’t identify with your poems so
closely that when they are cut, you’re the one who bleeds.”
And finally, this good advice: “If you want to write poems,
you have to acknowledge that that’s what you want to do, and quit sabotaging
yourself. Don’t give in to doubt; feel it, recognize it, and then quit beating
yourself up and get to work.”
Check This Out: The study of poetry is good for all writers,
and this “guide to the pleasures of writing poetry” is among the best. Divided
into sections on subjects, craft, and the writing life, The Poet’s Companion also includes twenty-minute writing exercises
and four useful appendices.
Try This: In The Poet’sCompanion, Addonizio and Laux recommend this exercise: write down all your
doubts about yourself as a writer. Once you’ve got it on the page, counter that
voice. Argue back. Include why you write, and what you know to be true about
your creative self.

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