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!"
"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?