Friday, June 06, 2008

Self-Esteem and the Writing Life

This post was inspired by some information I learned through a circuitous route the other day. My friend K has connections – not in the industry, but to people who sometimes talk about me. [They’re allowed to talk about me, I guess, they’re family.]

She let on to me that some people I know are worried about my self esteem. Specifically because I have not yet sold a book to NY. [The 26 other titles I have available apparently are not withstanding but that’s beside the point.]

I had to laugh out loud at this one. Then I started thinking about self-esteem and being a writer and it occurred to me that to be a successful writer [and I define success as someone who keeps on writing until they get exactly what they want out of the industry] one has to have a curious mix of self-esteem and humility. You have to KNOW you’re good, and you have to accept it with dignity when other people disregard your work, ignore it, pan it or rip it to shreds. You have to expect to be stomped on.

Not an easy way to be. I thought about my own personal self-esteem level. It’s had an interesting path through my life.

Grammar School – academically way up, socially way down
High School – same as above, nothing puts your self-esteem in the toilet like High School
College – academically and socially – recovering
Work force – up, down, up, down
Marriage – up
Having kids – up, slightly down, up
Writing - ....

Well, writing is another story all together. My self-esteem was up enough for me to know I could write and down enough for me to fear submitting. Time and general exhaustion wore me down to the point that I felt I had nothing to lose and submitted, and from there things went up. It’s interesting that it took a complete break down of my self-esteem to get me to the point of actually sending my work out. I had to reach the point where I honestly didn’t care what people thought of it in order to begin my career. How messed up is that?

Now I find that in the writing life, self-esteem can yo-yo all day long. Finding out your book is on a best seller list can come moments before a rejection shows up in your e-mail. Good reviews are tempered by mediocre or bad ones. Faboo royalty checks are often followed by the laughably small ones. Up, down, up, down, up down. The self-esteem of a writer has to be round and made of rubber because it does a lot of bouncing.

Ultimately I decided that self-esteem isn’t really my problem. I’ve got enough to get by. What I need is more toner for my printer. Maybe I’ll drop that in the rumor mill around here and see what people say about me.


Jen said...

Okay, reading about your 26 titles just beat the hell out of MY self-esteem. ;-)

I really enjoyed the post. Thanks for sharing!

And to tie it into the previous post, you'll finally be a bride when you sell to NY?

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Okay, reading about your 26 titles just beat the hell out of MY self-esteem. ;-)


I suppose, being an editor, I do sort of feel like the MC in 27D. She spent a lot of effort helping other people attain their dream while her own never seemed to happen. Not that I'm complaining about editing, 'cause I'm not, I really enjoy it, but it is sort of a parallel.