Dispatches | May 09, 2007

“What do you do when you lose your confidence as a writer?” Joshua asked.

We were in the mailroom, adding our stack of rejection letters to the already healthy pile of envelopes in the wire basket.

If you are both a writer and work for a literary magazine you give about as much bad news as you get.  So Joshua’s question is a good one.  How does a writer keep the faith in his abilities to create art and the likelihood of publishing it?

What can you say?  At the time I told Joshua to keep on writing and reading a lot, lukewarm advice from a writer who’s about to come face-to-face with her computer after nine jam packed months of teaching.  I write something every single day — blogs, forewords, book reviews, comments on my students’ papers — but it is not the same as writing creatively.  My big writing muscle is well used; while my smaller, more refined, exotic muscles that move me beyond heavy lifting into the light touch of metaphor and unique phrasing have atrophied over the school year. 

So his question is personal.  What can I do to re-build my confidence as a writer?

First I can be thankful that I am a writer and not an actress or model with a narrow window of time to make it big before her beauty fades.  Writers have all the time in the world.  In fact, some believe that age is an asset rather than a liability.  I can look old, tired, and out of shape but still sound pretty on the page.

Nor am I an athlete.  For years, to support myself during graduate school, I worked for the University of Missouri Athletic program.  Many athletic careers-wrestlers, swimmers, volleyball players to name a few- are over after graduation.  Saddest of them all are the gymnasts, mayflies that flit wildly for a few days and then are no more.  Poor girls; they peak at thirteen and are has-beens by the time they enter college

Thankfully, writing is not a youth profession.  Nope, we are in it for the long up haul, a haul that’s mostly up hill.  Writing bad today?  Well, there’s always tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.  And from time to time, you might actually like one or two pieces you’ve written.