Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Being a SOUTHERN WOMAN (Yes, we are a specific species worthy of capitalization. Can I get an AMEN!) of a CERTAIN AGE (Capitalized because I've earned every damned year of it!) I was instilled from the time I was old enough to understand with what can be a crippling notion.

You Must Be Wonder Woman !
(But you must never brag about it!)

For those of you who were not raised Southern, let me explain.

1. A Southern woman must take pride in her appearance, but she mustn't be prideful. Even if she is wearing the prettiest dress and shoes anyone has ever seen and they are both in a Size 6 and that mean heifer, Alma Sue, who thinks she's hot stuff couldn't get one leg into a Size 6 with a gallon of Crisco and a shoe horn.

2. A Southern woman must always strive to be the best at everything, but she must never think she is the best at anything. There is always someone better at it (be it cleaning her house or making her husband holler "Oh, baby!") I consider this one to be the reason Southern women consume more wine per capita than all the Skid Row winos in San Francisco.

3. A Southern woman must be accomplished. She must be smart, well-spoken, kind, generous, well-read, beautiful, a wonderful hostess and a great cook. But the minute she is complimented for any of these she must immediately say "Oh, but your peach cobbler is so much better than mine. You must give me your recipe." even if the other gal's peach cobbler could be used to take out a zombie's head at 100 yards.

4. A Southern woman must DO everything, but she must share the credit with everyone. She must say things like "Oh, it really was a group effort. I had such a great group of ladies helping me." When she knows damned well Lily Sue sat there and did her nails the whole time, Lucy Alice whined about her bad back and her cheatin' husband and Lula Mae stayed on her cell phone all day with Lucy Alice's husband!

There is a thin line between arrogance and confidence. For many men, the line is almost non-existent. For women it can be a brick wall. Writing a book doesn't take confidence. It takes commitment, desire and an almost pathological need to get those words on paper. Publishing a book, or sending it out to an editor or agent - THAT takes confidence. Or a really twisted sense of masochism. The line between those two is pretty thin too. And when you have been raised to believe thinking your book is one of the best romance novels ever written is a mortal sin and just plain not nice your ability to send that book out into the world can become a hole out of which it is nearly impossible to climb.

It took me a long time to learn the art and emotional necessity of what I call The Butless Compliment Response. (Or BCR as it became known in the opera troupe with which I toured Europe.) A young Austrian baritone helped me understand that to respond to a compliment with any sort of caveat was an insult to the judgment of the person giving the compliment. Even if you don't speak the caveat out loud.

"If someone compliments your performance don't insult him by telling him you had a good night or your cast mates were wonderful or you got lucky with the high F. He knows whether he liked your singing or not. And he knows few women in the world can sing that aria. Tell him thank you and know his experience of your singing was wonderful. So you were wonderful. And it is okay to be wonderful. Wonderful is what you worked for and you achieved it. No buts!"

I never really thought about the confidence it took for me to walk out on that stage in front of all those people and sing my heart out. I did it because I loved it. I had worked hard to get there. I wanted the audience to love the music as much as I did. I was good at it. Eventually I was great at it. (You have no idea how difficult it is, still, for me to type those words.) And every time I received a compliment and gave a "But" response it took some of the joy out of the experience for me. And I did it to myself because we all know "Pride cometh before a fall."

I don't think that is how that particular Bible verse was meant to be applied. Yes, if you get too big for your britches and have no substance to back it up somewhere down the line God, Karma or whatever higher power you believe in is going to smite you. And nobody likes a good smiting like the people who said "She's not that hot." behind your back. However, I don't believe we are given gifts and the ability to refine those gifts and are not expected to take pride in what we and those gifts have created. Hey, even God was proud once he created the earth. "He saw that is was good." (He might be rethinking some of that now - like spandex, Honey Boo Boo and twerking, but he still has a right to be proud.)

We've all had those moments... days... weeks... when we've looked at our WIP and said "What the hell made me think I could do this?" or "Why am I wasting my time doing this when no one is ever going to buy it."  or "This is never going to be good enough to have Vin Diesel play the male lead in the movie version not even if I kidnap him and film it in my basement at gun point."

It's okay to have those moments, but don't you believe 'em! The more times you tell yourself not to be arrogant or prideful about your work, the more you will start to believe it isn't worth some pride, some confidence and maybe even a little arrogance. (Just a little now. I don't want you all going Kim Kardashian on me. No Kim, the white dress doesn't make your butt look big. Your big butt makes your butt look big!) Be confident. Dream big. Believe big. Go after your dreams because you've by-damned earned them.

Wait! Naima! Don't do that. Aww hell. Naima just hit Vin Diesel with a flying tackle and a copy of her book. Sorry, Vin. Damn. That's gonna' leave a mark.  But, hey, the girl has got confidence. And a restraining order against her, but I'm sure it'll be lifted before they make the movie.

"Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don't have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough."   Stephen King

He's right. (Stephen King is always right. Why? Because he's Stephen King.) I would, however like to suggest the person who has to believe in you first - is you. Confidence is  a learned behavior. It has to be practiced and nurtured. It has to be lived. I am giving you permission to blow a raspberry at your Mom and tell her :

"I look good in this dress because I deprived myself of Haagen Daas for six months and sweated like a virgin at a prison rodeo every day of that six months at the gym. I am smokin' dammit!"

"I just wrote a mind blowing sex scene in my new novel and it makes Fifty Shades look like a church picnic. Now I'm going to make my husband holler "Oh, baby!" Twice!"

"Yes, Nora Roberts writes great books, but you know what, so do I!"

and finally

"I have a wonderful critique group. I've attended some incredible writing workshops. I've entered some terrific contests and received some great feedback. I appreciate all of the help I've received. But I WROTE A BOOK! AND IT'S GOOD! AND SOMEBODY IS GOING TO WANT TO BUY IT!"

I'm giving you permission to be confident. I am giving you permission to be just as prideful as you damned well want to be for everything you've written, everything you will write, and every step you take along this journey. Don't worry about getting too big-headed. We'll smack you down if you need it. Just remember what one of my high school boyfriends used to say :

"It ain't braggin' if you done it."

(Shut up! He was REALLY good looking and drove a convertible.)

Writing is like swimming across an alligator pond. You might make it. You might not. You might get eaten alive. You might just lose a limb. Those sharp toothed bastards are going to surround you and nibble away at your confidence all the way across. If you let those rules about being humble and sweet and never taking credit for anything wonderful you've done you might as well be swimming across that pond wearing a dead chicken bikini. You're a writer. Put on those stilettos and march across that pond on top of those gators heads. They won't know what hit them. And when they tell you what a great writer you are and how much they enjoyed reading you book say "Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it." And don't even THINK of adding a "but" to it. Or I'll fit your ass for a dead chicken bikini. The alligator farm is always open.

What do you do to build your confidence in your writing? What methods do you use to remind yourself you are good at this and have a right to be proud of what you've done?


Laura Trentham said...

I always enjoy your blog posts so much! I know you write Regency, but have you ever, ever considered writing a humorous, Southern romance because, girl, you are entertaining and hi-larious!

And, regarding confidence, hitting 'send' on an email to an agent or even contest with your MS attached...terrifying. Every. Single. Time.

Cari Hislop said...

I love your analogy - swimming in a chicken skin suit across a gator pond! Several decades ago a friend gave me a compliment and I did the "but" thing...she very kindly explained that I didn't have to justify or share a compliment. That I could just say thank you without feeling guilty. She changed my life. It was probably the first time anyone had ever insinuated that I have the right to be talented and to accept acknowledgement with grace.

Saying that, sailing life's ups and downs sometimes leaves one struggling to maintain self-confidence (and this past year has been stormy). One of the ways I entrench is to occasionally re-read my finished stories. Reconnecting with my characters and reminding myself why I love them and that they still make me laugh helps dispel the gremlins.

Anonymous said...

That was a fabulous post, Louisa!! What helps me is that I tend to focus on what I want and do everything I can to get there. It took me years to bat naysayers aside like the flies they were. Tweeted and shared on FB.

Aidee Ladnier said...

Awesome post, Louisa. I totally needed that. And I'm going to forward it to all the women in my family.

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Laura! I am glad you enjoyed the post. I have never really thought about writing a contemporary romance as I love historical romance with my whole heart and have never wanted to write anything else. However, I am smart enough to say never say never. Unfortunately my belief in romance in the real contemporary world is just not strong enough for me to write about it.

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Cari! I am so glad your friend set you straight on receiving a compliment. It really is a life altering experience to learn you are allowed to be talented and to feel good about it.

Re reading your stories is a great way to bolster your confidence. I love the delight in reading something and thinking "Hey! I wrote that. And it's pretty darned good!"

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Ella! It does take years of practice to swat those voices in your head and the naysayers you meet in every day life aside and go after what you want. And I so admire the way you have done it these last couple of years. You are definitely my inspiration to keep trying!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks so much, Aidee! I am glad the post spoke to you. If we don't look out for each other and toot all those horns no one will!

Andrea Stein said...

The best confidence builder in my arsenal is a week once a year at nationals with my rookie :-) The 2nd best confidence advice - when a pitch goes really bad, I use it to tell myself if I survived that, I can do it again until I sell my stories.

Andrea Stein said...

Not my rookie - my ROOMIE

Louisa Cornell said...

Aww! Thanks, Roomie! Right back at you! I can always count on you to bolster my confidence and make me believe in my stories! And you are SO RIGHT about pitching. Once you survive your first disastrous pitch you know you can do whatever it takes to sell your stories!

Carla Swafford said...

From meeting your all time favorite writer (without crying) to sitting behind your books at a signing and everyone walking by (pretending they don't see you), it takes guts.

I'm a true SOUTHERN LADY and I don't mind saying, DAMN! I'M GOOD and BRAVE!

Louisa Cornell said...

YES !!! You've got this in the bag, Carla! You're one of the best writers I know, one of the classiest Southern ladies and one of the bravest people I've ever met. Give those gators HELL ! :)

Suzanne Johnson said...

Ah, yeah, that Southern Woman Perfectionist thing. Wonderful, wonderful post, and so very true. I just try to write the book I want to read, take a deep breath, and hit the "send" button. And once you've taken the leap and the book is out there, never, ever (well, hardly ever) read reviews.

Louisa Cornell said...

Ah, Suzanne, great advice there. Write the book you want to read and never, ever read reviews. Except the good ones. And let a friend read and decide which ones you get to read. :)

Cari Hislop said...

I second Suzanne on never (hardly ever) reading reviews. It doesn't matter how many good reviews with bells and whistles are on the page - the few bad ones are demonic fog horns drowning all the good ones out. Soul destroying!

If I need a strong pick-me-up I can read some of the lovely e-mails I've had from readers over the years (the people who hate my stories have never bothered to write and tell me they think I'm rubbish - I hope it stays that way!!!).

Louisa Cornell said...

You are absolutely right, Cari! Everything you allow into your consciousness tries its best to set up shop and sell you the idea you are rubbish. If you don't allow them in, they can't set up shop! Never let anything negative live in your head rent free.

I have a notebook where I have printed copies of great contest scores, nice things judges have said, even rejection letters that had good things to say about my writing. I pull those out when I start feeling the "I'm not good enough blues!" and it truly helps!

Ali Hubbard said...

Still waiting for you to write that contemporary Southern book!!!! So funny. And so insightful.

Coming from a career in manufacturing, I can say it was the exact same. Women always want to downplay their accomplishments because it seems bad manners to brag. But, your opera friend was right! Let people feel how they feel. Thank them without reservation. And in business adding a caveat makes people (bosses) think..."hmmm, maybe she didn't do as well as I thought she did. Looks like she had more help" Etcetera. And that contributes to other perceptions (what you should get paid/what the company should invest in you).

I also like that you separate WRITING from PURSUING PUBLISHING. They take quite different skill sets.

Thank you for cheering us on!

Rock on, Louisa. Rock on.

Louisa Cornell said...

Ali, perception is often everything! Publishers, agents and editors are a lot like bosses. And if you think they don't read your responses to compliments on Facebook and think about your responses at conferences and during pitches, think again!

Yes, writing and pursuing publishing take two different skill sets. There is some lap over, but being focused on one thing at the time increases your intensity and your ability to give that thing your all!

Meda White said...

Louisa, you should be a writer. :)Another entertaining and inspirational post. As a SOUTHERN WOMAN, I've always been afraid accepting a compliment was akin to bragging. I like your old boyfriend's advice and your friend from Europe. Thanks for sharing and giving me permission to be awesome just like you are.

Louisa Cornell said...

Aww thanks, Meda! You are AWESOME and it is okay to thank someone for a compliment. They mean it which means whatever they say is true!

Cindy Nord said...

WOW...What a fabulous post, Louisa. So enjoyed your wily words o' wisdom. Keep on keepin' on, that's me!

Biggest hugs,

~ Cindy Nord

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks so much, Cindy! This business is not for the sprinters. It's for the people who keep their heads up and run the long distance!