QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Believing in Yourself as an Author

Every author goes through a cycle of self-doubt and reflecting on why they started writing in the first place. This is especially true when you receive feedback on something you’ve penned.

Some of you have asked how you can keep your own voice, your own style, your own uniqueness in the writing when so many others have their fingerprint on it. I believe it all comes down to believing in yourself as the author.

That’s right. You. Are the author.

Does that mean the insight of others isn’t valuable? Of course not. You just have to know how to take what they’ve said and use it in your own way. How do you do this? How can you become that cat up there that is prancing through what is clear dog territory? How can you navigate the rejections, the critiques?

1. Be confident. You’ve chosen the words to tell the story. True, sometimes someone will have a better one. Change those. But you don’t have to change everything just because someone suggests it.

For example, just a few days ago, someone told me I used “walking” too much during the opening scene of my novel where two characters are walking through the park. She suggested “strolling”. Um, no. My MC doesn’t use words like “strolling”. So while that’s a fantabulous word, it wasn’t for my story. I didn’t change it.

2. Be confident. You’ve chosen the structure for your writing. True, sometimes someone will point out the awkwardness of your phrasing or the repetitive nature of your sentence structure. Pay close attention to that, modifying as you see fit. But you don’t have to change your entire style and structure because someone doesn’t like it.

For example, a while ago, one of my critmates told me it really bothered her that I never used “and” in a sentence with a list. Like this one: The presence soared in my soul, called to me, promised me no harm would come.

I know it’s grammatically incorrect. And I don’t care. It’s part of my structure. It’s part of the storytelling. It didn’t change.

3. Be confident. You’ve chosen where to start the story. True, sometimes you can’t see a better place and someone might have a better idea. Listen. Ponder. Perhaps try a rewrite. But you don’t have to start your story somewhere else just because someone wants you to.

I have several examples of this, but I'll abstain from sharing another example. Just suffice it to know that you have to have confidence in what you’ve put to paper. If you feel like your story is starting where it needs to, don’t change it.

4. Be confident. Receiving feedback on your writing can be a tough gig. Getting rejected (over and over) can deflate even the biggest of egos. My husband said something to me the other day that set me stewing. He said, “Why not you?”

Indeed, Mr. J.

That boosted my confidence back to the level it needed to be to continue down this winding path toward publication (despite the rejections and/or critiques). True, it’s a bumpy, sometimes dark and treacherous path, but I can learn what I need to learn. And you can too. When you believe in yourself, you’ll do what it takes to reach the end of the road. I firmly believe that if you put in the effort to hone your craft, you will find the confidence you need to find success.

And so I ask you, fellow QueryTracker blog readers and aspiring authors: Why not you?

Elana Johnson writes fantasy and science fiction for young adults. When she's not doing that, she's blogging, facebooking, eating out, or wishing she could do any or all of those things.


Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you said here. The key is to listen to everything, look at it objectively, and take what works for you. I had someone suggest a recent re-wording in my YA that was WAY too 'grown up', there was no chance my MC would say it. So, I moved on. A beta-reader thought the romance came too easy. I talked to another BR about it and they disagreed. I thought throwing in another complication would just clutter the story, so until further notice, I'm leaving it.

That brings me to something that really makes me sit up and take notice though: if multiple people point out the same thing. It doesn't mean I will change it to their suggestions, but I will give that section a much more thorough look because something obviously isn't working there.

But it is your story to tell, so take advice, just don't let it kill your passion and love for the story.

Stina said...

Now that's one confident kitty!

I had cut a small chunk of dialogue out of one of my scenes based on one of my critters suggestions. But it didn't feel right. It needed to be there. Someone else just read the ms and told me she loved that small exchange because it was hilarious. Just as I had intended it to be.

Oh and Elana, I loved your example in #2. It didn't sound right with the 'and' added.

Great article!

Amanda Bonilla said...

You echoed my thoughts! Everyone has an opinion, everyone knows what they like. It's hard to get those critiques in the beginning but I guess you just have to pick and choose. Also, I like that you don't use AND. I think that in some circumstances, it actually sounds better without the 'and'.

Unknown said...

What a great post! I'm definitely needing to work on my confidence level and I appreciate this. I had been wondering how to balance other good suggestions with where I wanted my story to go.

Windy said...

I'm sure I am just an echo of all the comments above as well as what you've said, Elana. Just because someone says something does not mean you have to use it. You know who you are as a writer. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Though some degree of self-doubt may always be there (human nature, I'd say), you have to trust yourself.

Chas Hathaway said...

Thanks for the encouragement. It can indeed be deflating to receive criticism, even when it is constructive. It's nice to be reminded that while changes might help, the need for them does not mean that you are a bad writer.

- Chas

Stilton Jarlsberg said...

This is turning into a "me too" list of comments, but I wanted to add my agreement that the points you make are excellent.

In response to some suggestions made by a potential agent, I made a number of changes in my novel's manuscript - but also held firm on other points, and explained my reasoning. In the end, the agent agreed that making the additional changes he'd suggested would have actually weakened the manuscript.

In a perfect world, I'd then say that the agent agreed to rep the manuscript...but it didn't happen. Still, I walked away with some improvements to my work, and the confidence to (politely) defend elements I think are important.

Diane said...

I've been meaning to thank you, Elana, and the rest of the QT blogger team for quite some time. This seems like the perfect place to do it. I love QueryTracker; have loved it for a long time. But on the days I have to post yet another unhappy red face on my query list, it's SO nice to have a positive place to click to. You're doing an awesome job here. This is my favorite blog stop.

lisa and laura said...

This is a great post and one of our biggest challenges as writers. It's so hard to know when to make changes, so we always try to follow our gut. If we get some feedback from an agent or beta and it was something we were already concerned about or something that just felt right, we change it. Otherwise, we don't.

It's a fine line though because I've worked with people who ignore critiques and feedback and that can be very frustrating too.

Bottom line, there's no easy answer, but Elana is right, above all we have to be confident and stay true to our vision. However difficult that might be at times!

Angie said...

Thanks, Elana. Super post!

Danyelle L. said...

Wonderful post. I think the editing stage can be very difficult for just those reasons. It's sometimes hard to balance the humilty one needs to receive the criticism, and the confidence one needs to sort through the pile and see what fits with the story. I think that's why it's so important to be in tune with the story so you know what will work and what won't. It's possible to have a great story and a great voice that not everyone will adore, and not everyone will get.

mand said...

All the writers i know around the place (on- and offline) have had a crisis, or slow mini-crisis, of self-faith in the last few weeks. Must be in the stars!

Your advice is the same as mine: be confident, and when you're not confident, do confident instead. The difference is that you have experience of following that advice and i'm just practising! ;0)

Paul W. West, Author said...

I always tell people in my crit group that we need to have a thick skin. I've had so many crit comments on my books and rejections from agents, that none of it bothers me any longer.

The only thing that still bothers me a lot is that its taking so long to get representation and a publisher.

Elana Johnson said...

Wow! I'm loving all the comments. You guys have no idea how worried I was about this post. Having confidence in the face of criticism and rejection is a learned skill. I'm so glad so many of you have experienced similar situations. Thanks for sharing them! I really love reading and feeling like I'm not alone! :)

Michelle D. Argyle said...

This is a fantastic post. Thank you! Confidence and perseverance. Indeed, they are what make me stand up and say, "yes, why not me!"

Thanks. :)

Suzette Saxton said...

Fantastic post, Elana. I love the kitty pic.

Tara Maya said...

The fine line between overconfidence and suicidal depression is so hard to walk.

Jamie Grey said...

Thank you for posting this! It's exactly what I needed to read. I just posted my first chapter again for critique because I wasn't sure about it, and one of the first comments I got was that the story wasn't starting in the right place. That, along with the other comments, really shook my faith in my abilities as an author. I even briefly considered giving up, so this post comes at the perfect time. Thank you Elana!

Anonymous said...

Elana--great post.

(Great picture, too. I have a GSD but I think mine was absent from doggie school the day they took that picture.)

I liked your story about the walking/strolling crit and have similar stories of my own.

One crit of my first novel poo-pooh'ed my character's foreboding dream.

"I hate dreams," the critter critted. "They are annoying and contrived! Never let your character wake up--keep her awake and in constant action!"

Good advice, technically, unless the character happens to be an oracle. Dreams are an occupational hazzard, I guess.

I just smiled, said "thanks for the feedback" and strolled merrily on my way. :^)

It's how writers keep their sanity and confidence intact.

Tabitha said...

*Great* post! I'm a firm believer in this, because I know that I never would have gotten this far without believing in my work and my ability to learn and grow. And I do believe, with every fiber of my being.

Jewel Allen said...

Thank you!!

Why not me?

Why not me?

It gets easier with practice.

Elana Johnson said...

Tara Maya! You are too funny! That is totally true though.

Gillian, I'm glad it came at a good time. I think it's something we have to remind ourselves of over and over.

Ash, you're so right.


Bethanne said...

I love coming to this blog. Another great post. I couldn't have said it better! :D I think most of us go through that stage when we totally mutilate a ms in order to get it right. I was sooo frustrated last year, working on a vintage historical. It's completed but I just couldn't get through the revisions. I didn't have the insight yet to use only the stuff that would enhance my ms. :) Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Great post Elana...why not you...or me for that matter ;)

Randall said...


This is a great article. I needed to hear it and I found it through a fellow blogger, Valerie Ipson. I really appreciate your upbeat attitude and confidence.