Monday, October 12, 2015

Where does Rebecca Rosenblum's confidence come from? (Part 2 of series)

I discovered the writing of Rebecca Rosenblum two years back when I read a short story of hers about co-workers who go out for drinks. I was so impressed that I made a point to search out more of her work, all of which I kind of adore. Plus her blog is full of charming meditations on writing; it's one of my favourite things to read when instead I should actually be writing. But enough about me. Here's Rebecca's insightful take on the question Where does your confidence come from?

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I think most writers have a basic confidence—we know we are capable of writing something captivating, entertaining, enriching. However, we do not always know WHEN we will be capable of doing this, or how often, or even which of the things we have written were fueled by this ability. Which creates a lot of confusion: I am simultaneously aware that I have talent and that the thing I just finished might be crap. It’s a hard way to live.

I think the thing that saves us is that it seems most of us like our own work, even if it is crap. The applause of our own little audience of one is, and often has to be, enough—I write what I write because if I don’t, no one will. External validation is exciting, and at certain points tremendously important but it remains external. In order to actually work hard, I need to feel, internally, that I’m doing something worthwhile.

My parents were very supportive of my writing when I was a teen, and I got a lot of validation from other sources, too. My teachers, writing contests, even peers said nice things about my work, and that was very motivating. But I got too caught up in it and published in a journal when I was too young (18) to properly deal with the editorial process, and that put me off publishing anything at all for pretty much 10 years. All that encouragement and support kind of backfired, in a way.

Was this a lack of confidence thing? Maybe—I’m getting so old now that sometimes it’s hard to get inside the mind of my younger self. I like to think that I was just smart—that I knew that I wasn’t yet strong enough for harsh criticism, and in order to save my fragile little creative soul from being crushed, I just removed criticism from strangers from the equation. I was actually confident enough to know that this little smidge of confidence was worth sheltering, in order to keep working. Does that make sense?

I kept on writing, at least some of the time—some years I wrote nothing and felt bad about myself. I took writing classes and began to accept a bit of gentle critical feedback from peers and professors, but importantly these were people who were invested in helping me get better. I eventually went back to school for my creative MA and that was also a supportive environment. And I kept improving. I couldn’t always see it, but I felt it. I finally learned something about structure; I learned about voices; I learned about the sort of stories I valued and those I was capable of telling (a Venn diagram with significant but not total overlap, to be sure).

So when I started sending out work, with a trepidation bordering on nausea, I did basically know I would be ok. I knew I could work when no one cared because I had. I didn’t need anyone to like my work but at that point, I did need someone to read it. I was tired of being alone with my stories. I figured even rejection letters would be a ping from the universe, signifying that my words had arrived somewhere.

There are significantly different pressures once your work (my work, anyway) is out in the world. I have to have the confidence to know that I can write something good and the thick skin to take all the addenda to that, most specifically, “…but it’s not there yet.” I’m still in that part of the struggle, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be perfectly comfortable with the editorial process. I actually really do love my work, and it’s hard to be told that parts of it aren’t good, even by someone I really respect. But that balance—confidence and not confidence—are what it takes to not only keep writing, but keeping getting better.

Rebecca Rosenblum's first collection of stories, Once, won the Metcalf-Rooke Award and was one of Quill and Quire’s 15 Books That Mattered in 2008. The Maclean’s blog called Rebecca  “Canlit Rookie of the Year” in 2008. Her second collection, The Big Dream, was published by Biblioasis in 2011 and was long listed for the Frank O'Connor Short Story award. A novel comprised of stories called So Much Love is forthcoming from McClelland & Stewart whenever she can manage to finish it. Her website is www.rebeccarosenblum.com.

Stay tuned for the third "where does your confidence come from?" post coming soon!

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for your post, Rebecca! I always love reading your take on things.
    Here's a follow-up that will really put your confidence to the test! ;)
    What do you like most about your own writing? Meaning, what do you think you do particularly well?

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  2. Thanks so much, Emily! Erm, this is indeed an uncomfortable question but any writer who says she doesn't know the answer is lying. I'm good at endings, which doesn't help all that much because I often have to write the whole rest of the piece to know where it needs to end. Still it's satisfying to feel the ending ring true and now I've got it. Often, at that point I need to go back through the entire piece and rewrite huge chunks to earn the now-right ending, but I take what I can get.

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    1. Haha. So uncomfortable, right?
      Endings are so interesting! I think they're my favourite thing to talk to other writers about.
      Thanks RR! Hopefully you'll make other writers think about what they're good at too, which is one of the reasons I'm doing this little project.

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  3. "I think the thing that saves us is that it seems most of us like our own work, even if it is crap." Hahaha. I love this. So funny, but it's at the core of how we're able to do what we do!

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    1. Absolutely. When I get rejection letters sometimes I think, well, I'll just read it to myself then.

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  4. I like your point, Rebecca, that the surest way toward confidence as a writer is by actually becoming a better writer.

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    1. Absolutely, Kerry Clare. Part of my fear of criticism in my early years is I often really didn't know how to fix the problems people were pointing out. I'm better about to hear negative stuff about my work now because I know that I can (usually) make use of it and improve the work.

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