Falling: A crisis of confidence

This is a really hard post for me to write. Gotta be honest.

See, all around me, wonderful things are happening – to other people. Friends of mine are getting new book deals and new contracts for existing series. Friends are getting agents, people are raving about their work. They are submitting to editors and small presses.

And I, well, I’m not. I feel a little like the kid on the playground standing off in the corner, not really belonging to any other group. In fact, just yesterday I got an edit on a beloved project that was very much a mixed bag and I’m not really sure where to go from here.

Now, to be fair, these are all people who are much, MUCH farther along in their writing careers. And I’m truly, wildly, ecstatically happy for them (no, seriously, I am). My husband tells me this should make me feel better because it shows publishers are still willing to grant book contracts, which is good for my future (we will skip over the part where I think about how 98% of the people I know are finding success in the cozy mystery sub-genre, which is not what I write). And this is all completely true.

And still, I find myself at my computer, a little demoralized and desolate this morning.

See, somewhere in the utopia of my brain (and this place only exists in my brain), I write something so fabulous, so perfect that it is snatched up with glee by a publishing house and I become everything I ever wanted to be as an author. Life is good.

Except that place only exists in my mind.

It’s days like these that I remind myself of a few things. One, every single author I know experiences this crisis. Authors who have written scads of books and earned multiple awards sit down convinced that this time, the magic is over. They’re done, finished, kaput and will never be able to complete a book. But they do. And it’s wonderful.

I pull out the comments and emails from writer friends and editors (again, some of whom are award-winners) who say, “I read this and love it. You are very talented. Keep going, you’ll get there.” I remember the readers who’ve told me they loved something I wrote and they want to read more.

The writing life is not easy. We torture ourselves with visions of what we want to be and distorted pictures of where we are. Our closest loved ones shake their heads, but other writers get it. Every day is a crisis of confidence – or every other day at least.

But at lunch, I will take out my computer. I will go back to the open of the latest project that my critique group said had moments of excellence, but starts too darn slow. And I’ll continue revising, putting pixels and words on the screen. Because this is who I am. I’m a writer. For better for worse, falling confidence or not.

And writers gotta write.


Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She survived growing up through reading, cutting her mystery teeth on Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark and, of course, Nancy Drew. As an adult, she finds escape from the world of software documentation through creating her own fictional murder and mayhem. She lives near Pittsburgh with her husband and two teenage children, and fantasizes about owning a dog again - one of these days.

14 thoughts on “Falling: A crisis of confidence”

  1. Mary, I just wanted to say that I understand. I really, really do. You’re brave for writing about how the joy you feel for others couples with an envious stab: Why not me? I was stabbed with that knife for 11 years while I struggled to get published. Truthfully, it still sticks me from time to time. You’re right that we’re always looking ahead…”Can I reach that milestone?” instead of looking around at where we are, and realizing all we’ve accomplished.

    You have a work-in-progress. You have a critique group that is able to hone in on where your novel is working, and even more valuable–where it’s not. You have the skills and the depth and the talent to make it what it wants to be. What *you* want it to be. You have a rhythm…you know you will write at lunchtime. People whose work you admire also admire yours.

    All of this is the makings of a writing career. Your husband’s right–take heart from all the thriving activity of this industry…from where I sit, it’s more buzzing and accomplished than ever. (And I don’t write cozies either). You’ll get there because you’re emboldened by the words and you have a story to tell. Try to enjoy the moments along the way…and write posts like this when you lose heart, as all of us do.


  2. Mary, It’s the truth. We’ve all been there. We’ve all stood and watched other people’s success and been genuinely happy for them, and wondered when our turn would come. I watched someone go from small press publishing to publishing them herself, to being offered an incredible NYC contract with a top agent and editor, to being unhappy about that and not getting returned calls or emails from said agent to . . . . I realized that with publishing, you never really arrive. I came to the same conclusion you have. I write because that’s what I do.

    P.S., I don’t write cozies either.


  3. This post took me right back to that same feeling. When everyone around me was experiencing the milestones of writing (getting agents, selling series, winning awards, etc) and I was finishing one book and starting another. Trudging on. And it hurts, and you’re right, even when you’re honestly happy for your friends, it’s human nature to wonder why them and not you. But you will get there and it’ll be sweeter than you imagined!

    Your critique partners want the best for you. If you feel that they didn’t get what you did this time (it happens), try a manuscript swap or a new set of betas. Read the one star reviews of your favorite authors to remind yourself that there are people out there who don’t love what you do. And power on. But like Jenny says, try to enjoy the moments along the way. Sometimes it’s hard to see the small milestones on the way to our goal, but they’re there.


  4. Yes. Writing is a curse, because we gotta do it, but we face these crises that you have pointed out so well. Have faith! We’re in a new golden age of storytelling.


  5. Thanks for the encouragement, all. Jenny, I think your story is an amazing, inspiring tale of perseverance. And your books are fabulous. And you’re all right. The completed ms can be fixed. So can the opening for the new WIP. Some days it’s just harder to see the progress than others, you know?


    1. Hard to see progress, for sure. It’s almost a Zen thing (if I’m understanding the philosophy correctly). You have to stop, breathe, and focus on what you’ve accomplished. It doesn’t nudge us for recognition somehow–instead the ways we accuse ourselves of falling short do.

      But once you’re a writer, we’re either always falling short, or never falling short. We’re engaged in this pursuit. All of us–no matter where we are in it.

      You’ve brought a group together, and I agree–the community of writers was one of the ways I was able to keep going. Theresa, Sue, Diane, Pamela, I read your comments as avidly as I did Mary’s post.

      Write on, I say. Write on.


  6. Yes, yes, yes! Mary, I feel you were writing for me in so many ways, and I love that you shared such honesty. I don’t write cozies, either (although I do love to read them), and it’s a hard road for sure. The upside is that the writer community is such a lovely, supportive, encouraging one (as we can see by these comments). Sometimes we all need our tribe to remind us of how far we’ve come, when we only see how far we have to go. Great post, great comments.


  7. Jenny, the next time you are in Pittsburgh, absolutely NOTHING is going to stop me from seeing you. Kids or no kids. 🙂

    Pamela, thank goodness for that tribe, right? Otherwise I shudder to think of where so many of us would be.

    I was really nervous about posting this blog. Thanks for the kind words.


  8. Mary, I completely understand! For me, it’s been really helpful to know that most writers feel the same way. And I try to remember to tell myself that as long as I keep moving forward, I’ll get to where I want to be. I might not get there exactly when and how I imagined I would, but I’ll get there. So will you. 🙂


  9. Beautifully said, Mary! And I love all the comments here, too. “Have faith,” as Sue said. Your simple words, “I’m a writer,” are so powerful and meaningful. No matter what happens around you, you know the truth. You’re a writer. And that will take you a long, long way. Thanks for writing such an honest piece.


  10. What a wonderful post! Oh Mary, it is gorgeous, and all the comments. It took mega courage to write this, my hat is off to you. I felt exactly the same way. It was the support of other writers that got me through, cheered me on and helped me fix the rough spots – my first book lost the first three chapters and the next three became the first 2,000 word chapter. The writing community is amazing. You’ve got the two most important components for success. Perseverance and courage. Can’t wait to see your name on the NYT Best Seller list. It will happen.


  11. Hi Mary–Jenny Milchman shared this on her Facebook page and I must say, from the honesty and beauty of your post, you are a heartfelt and passionate writer. This can only serve you well as you keep going–and succeed. And you will–though there always seems to be another staircase to climb. Maybe that’s why we writers do what we do: we keep looking for that perfect story inside of us. And there really isn’t a “perfect” story–there are just a lot of really good ones that take lots of time and effort to bring out. Whatever you do, never, ever give up. We’re all rooting for you.


  12. Mary, what a wonderful post! Thank you for articulating this and please know that you’re not alone. Keep on keeping on. It will happen. And I, for one, can’t wait to read your books. Hugs.


  13. Suzanne, first, she did? Wow. Okay, well, that’s a boost right there. Second, thanks for your comment. I think you’re right. We all have the “perfect” story inside – but the problem is that story can never exist in the real world as perfectly as it exists in our brain. But we keep trying. Thank you for the encouragement.

    Cynthia, thanks. It means a lot.

    Gosh, I’m getting weepy eyed and it’s only 7:33am!


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