Giving Ourselves a Little Credit

Photo of Crater Lake at Dusk, by David B. Coe

Storm Clouds at Dusk, Crater Lake, photograph by David B. Coe

As I’ve mentioned to all of you too often, I’m an avid amateur photographer.  Or not quite amateur anymore, if we use the International Olympic Committee’s definition of the word.  I’ve sold a couple dozen photos out of galleries over the past few years.  I’ve had a few photos published in magazines and have been paid for them.  But when it comes right down to it, my photography is more hobby than profession.  I’ll probably never sell a picture to the Sierra Club for one of their calendars, and I’ll never make enough as a photographer to do it full time.  And that’s okay.

I take pictures because I enjoy it, but also because I like being able to look at the work I’ve done.  I use my photos as desktops and screen savers for my computer, I give them as gifts, I decorate my house with them.  Are they as good as the photos of Art Wolfe or David Muench or Jack Dykinga?  Not even close.  But they’re pretty good, and they mean something to me.

Probably you know where this is leading.  Or maybe not.  You don’t have to publish your writing to take pride in it.  You don’t have to be George R.R. Martin to enjoy your own work.  And neither do I.  I handed in the second Thieftaker book on Friday.  And I love it.  I enjoyed reading through it, even as I edited and revised.  I had several of those “Wow!  Look what I did!” moments as I read, and I think that my readers will, too.  I don’t know if the book will be successful.  It’s going to be so long until it’s published that I’m not even sure books as we know them will still exist when it comes out….  But it’s a good book, and I wrote it.  Nothing and no one can take that away from me — not reviewers or marketing people, not a cover art disaster or a disappointing royalty statement.

Of course, I intend to do everything in my power to make the book a success.  I’m working right now on revisions of book I, because if the first Thieftaker is really good, the second one has a better chance of succeeding.  I’ll attend conventions and set up signings.  I’ll do whatever my agent and my editor suggest as far as promotion activities are concerned.  I’ll blog about it and create a splashy cool website for “D.B. Jackson.”  And I’ll also continue to work on refining my skills as a photographer.  I’ll display my work whenever I can.  Maybe I’ll enter a few photo contests and submit my work to new places.

This isn’t a post about complacency.  If I contract a book, I’ll try to write an award winner.  If it wins an award, I’ll work to make it a bestseller.  If it becomes a bestseller, I’ll do everything I can to get it made into a movie.  It’s great to have dreams, and to do everything in your power to make them come true.  In fact, with the end of 2010 approaching, this is a great time for you to set some goals for the coming year.  I know that I’m setting goals for myself, and they’re incredibly ambitious (I’ll post them later this month or early in January).

But the point of this post is a little different.  You probably have a book you’re working on.  Maybe you have several.  And you probably also have books that are done, or stories that are finished.  You’re working to make them submission-ready.  Good for you.  May I suggest, though, that you take a moment to read them, not for a new round of revisions, not to look for your crutches or tautologies (though, of course, you should do that at some point).  No, this time I want you to read your work and look for all the great things you’ve done with it.  Take this opportunity to appreciate your accomplishments.  Because even if there is stuff in your story or book that makes you cringe (I have LOTS of stuff in my work that makes me cringe — that’s why I edit everything I write before I send it out), I guarantee you there is also stuff in there that will put a smile on your face, that will make you say “Wow!  Look what I did!”

I’ve often said that in order to be successful, writers need to learn to self-edit; they need to learn to recognize the flaws in their own work.  I think too often I forget to say that successful writers also have to recognize the things they do well.  Writers should be able to take pleasure in their own work.  There is nothing wrong with that.  It’s not ego, it’s pride; it’s not self-indulgence, it’s self-confidence.  So, take a minute today to look for those shining moments in your work.  Enjoy your accomplishments — they’re real, even if you haven’t yet met all the goals you set out for yourself.  And as you see all the great stuff you’ve done, remember that no rejection letter or naysayer can take them away from you.

David B. Coe

18 comments to Giving Ourselves a Little Credit

  • This is exactly what I needed to hear right now.

    Partly for self-motivation, and partly because I believe it’s true, I adopted the slogan, “Write the stories you wish to read in the world.” It reminds me that, for no other reason, and even if I never get published, I’m doing this because I enjoy it. Thank you for reaffirming that.

  • Unicorn

    To echo Moira – this is exactly what I need to hear. I’ve been having some trouble lately on keeping going with my WIP, and, of course, The Doubts started creeping in.
    And your photographs are beautiful! I love the How To Write Magical Words cover picture.

  • This is great, David. I felt when I was doing my “what I did wrong” post series that I’d really like to do a “things I’ve gotten right” which touched not so much business strategies, but plot points, character details or simply sentences that I was really proud of. I discounted the idea because I thought it was bound to sound insufferably smug! You’ve managed to make the point so much more deftly and without arrogance. We’re so preoccupied with fixing what’s wrong that we never stop back and admire what’s good about our work. Thanks for this (and for the beautiful picture).

  • Moira, I’m glad the timing of this worked well for you. “I’m doing this because I enjoy it.” Absolutely. That’s why all of us should be writing.

    Unicorn, thank you. Keep working, and look to what you love about your WIP to maintain your enthusiasm.

    A.J., thanks for kind words about the post and photo. I have to say that if I had done a “What I Did Wrong” series, I would have gotten lots and lots of posts out of it — even more than you did, no doubt. “What I got right?” That would have been maybe half a post….

  • Wait just a minute. You’re saying that occasionally we get things right? Really? Wow! I’ll have to look into that. 🙂 Actually, you’re point is very important, particularly for a beginning writer. I never did it and so for the longest time I thought I couldn’t write, that I was fooling myself, etc, etc (y’know, the thoughts we all have). Then one day I looked over my stack of rejection slips from the previous year and noticed that the majority of them had handwritten notes of encouragement. That told me I was on the right track. Had I read a post like this and been able to just pick out a few gems myself, oh the time and anguish I would’ve saved.

  • Stuart, I think you raise another good point. So often I look at even a good review of one of my books, and I pick out the one bad thing that reviewer said. Or I’ll fixate on a bad review, even though there are seven good reviews right beside it. Being able to look at rejection letters — or reviews, or editorial comments — and see the positive side of them is incredibly important. And yes, it’s a particularly good thing for aspiring writers to do.

  • This is probably my worst area; I can summon up every old negative thing, comment, moment, or occurence with frightening ease. But give myself credit? Why would I do that? It’s one thing to be driven, to want and expect the best from yourself, but there comes a point where you have to look at the good things you’ve accomplished and enjoy them. All of which is a whole lot easier for me to say than do…

  • Thank you, David. I needed this. (Shakes self. Stamps feet. Starts wrting.)

  • I didn’t mean to send that by itself. I meant to add —
    I love your photos. And I am so very happy that you let us use one on the MW How To book. Honored, really.

  • Edmund, yes, that’s part of the reason I wrote this post. I struggle with this all the time. I push myself hard to better, and I’m not always kind to myself when I do it. This post was very much me trying to get a message across to me.

    Faith, thanks. I know you have a deadline looming — best of luck with the WIP. I appreciate the kind words about the photos. I actually think that if I started to get more serious about my photography — if it became something more akin to a second career — that I would probably wind up enjoying it less and being more harshly critical of myself and my work. I enjoy it now, and I find it easy to give myself credit for my meager successes, because I don’t have to take it too seriously.

  • There is little to match that rush of warm fuzzies I got when reading through a passage of one of my novels and realized, “Hey–I’m one of my favorite authors!”

    It’s sounds terribly narcissistic, but it’s also essential at one level. After all, if authors and artists didn’t have the chutzpah to think that they are good and worthwhile, then they’d never create anything for others too to enjoy.

  • “If authors and artists didn’t have the chutzpah to think that they are good and worthwhile, then they’d never create anything for others too to enjoy.” That’s beautifully put, Wolf, and absolutely on the mark. Thanks for the comment.

  • Gorgeous photo and great post! I do enjoy reading stuff I’ve written, but it can be hard to do so. This is a great time for the post, too, as I’m waist deep (or various body parts depending on the day, not yet the top of the head, though) in work of all different kinds, and it is good to slow down and remember what good things in all of it I’m doing.

  • Thanks, Emily. It is hard to give ourselves that pat on the back, but not doing so can make the process far more difficult in the long term.

    Here’s hoping the flood of work doesn’t creep any higher.

  • Young_Writer

    This is something I need to work on. I asked one of my beta readers what he didn’t like about my work, and he said, “I hate that you don’t like it. It’s a good story.”
    After I let some time pass and I’m not in edit-like-crazy-mode, I can pick out a few paragraphs I really like.

  • When I get that buzz from writing something that I KNOW is good… I get up, make myself a cup of tea, (My drug or choice) and stare out of the window at my chestnut trees while I sip.(They’re all naked and asleep now) Then I sit back down at my computer, re-read what I wrote and if it’s still buzzy, I’ll kick back in my creaky old chair, grin to myself and say loud enough for the cat to hear, “Damn, that’s good!”
    These moments are worth savouring, that’s for sure.
    Cat will invariably give me that half-lidded dragon stare and return to whatever cat-ly realm of existence I interrupted.

  • There’s a scene in Mad Kestrel involving a bespelled playing card that I absolutely adore. If my editor had asked me to cut it, I don’t know if I could have, but fortunately that didn’t happen. I still go back to read it sometimes just to make myself smile.

  • Alexa, it sounds like you need to work on this a bit. It’s great to push yourself to write better, but you also need to have confidence in your work. You need to believe in your talent as well as your stories and characters and worlds. I recommend working on this.

    Widdershins, I love those moments. I used to tell my dog (when he was still alive and I’d take him on walks while working through writing issues) about stuff I was working on. I didn’t get the dragon stare. Instead I got the happy, carefree, “That’s great! Can I chase that squirrel now?” look.

    Misty, that is an issue for me occasionally. I will be faced with an editorial comment — a suggestion for a change or cut — in one of those “Look what I did!” scenes. It really is a dilemma. I know — we have to kill our darlings. But all of them? Really?