Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In Which Maggie Muses on Self-Confidence

I know I blog a lot about self-confidence (or at least it feels like I blog a lot about self-confidence), but I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I got back from the Gothic Girls retreat. I've actually been thinking about it so much that the word 'confidence' no longer looks like it's spelled right. For a lot of reasons. For starters, the Gothic Girls were a very self-confident bunch. Also, we talked a lot about ambition and what we would need to accomplish to feel we’ve “arrived” and what we saw ourselves doing in five years. (Me: "Taking my long-awaited position as Queen of America, reinstating That 70s Show, delivering all state of the union speeches in 30 minute claymation television specials involving hedgehogs, and continue making a living writing") All of this while revising LINGER, the sequel to SHIVER (which, as you might guess from my last SHIVER post, inspires NO pressure whatsoever), and generally standing next to incredibly talented and accomplished women.

And so my musings came round to three big points. Which I've made into a list because man oh man I love me my lists.

1) Self-confidence has absolutely nothing to do with your accomplishments. People in the writing world seem to think this more than other people. Part of it, I think, is trying to apply an objective value (getting an agent, landing a book deal, getting a tour, getting a manservant to oil your back and throw cheetos into your mouth) to a subjective pursuit -- writing, which is creative and subjective and difficult to quantify. We all work so hard to validate our time spent writing that we start to think that these milestones make us better people, better writers, whatever.

It’s not true. And it leads to huge let downs if you have poor self-confidence, because guess what? On the other side of that book deal, you’ll still have poor self-confidence. Because there’s always the next thing. The bigger deal, the more popular blog, the private waffle breakfasts with J. K. Rowling. You'll never get to that magical honeypot that makes you feel like a Real Person.

And the Gothic Girls (oh yeah I’m going to tie everything back to this retreat) were a perfect example of this, I thought. I mean, we were all a different spot in our careers -- from having just sold a debut, to having just signed with an agent, to having their debut just come out, to having 25 books under their belt. If self-confidence = what you’ve accomplished, this retreat would have been a certified mess. (Which I would’ve had an absolutely fabulous time photographing and blogging about. Just sayin’.) But every one of these girls had confidence in themselves, some sense of self-worth that existed quite apart from their writing. They were confident as people, and that meant that Tessa and Carrie or me and Dawn or Jackie and Jackson could have endless discussions on important things such as plotting and which bits of interior decorating we could use to play zombies without so much as a single raised hackle or wound licked.

And that’s important.

2. Self-confidence is not the same thing as ego. This is not to say that the two don’t (frequently) dance hand in hand down the street, pushing over old ladies in crosswalks and kicking baby kittens. But they are definitely not the same entity. Ego is thinking you have all the answers. Self-confidence is knowing you don’t have the answers, but being pretty sure that you will be able to find them. Ego is often related to accomplishments: I have a big book deal, look at my peacock feathers, I can barely fit my head through the door stuff. (again, I would have great joy photographing and blogging about this). Self-confidence is unrelated to accomplishments: I don’t have a book deal yet, but it’s a goal and I’m sure I can find the tools to get there in the end. Or: I do have a book deal, but you know, I’m not any different from the person I was before I got that book deal. Ego is also very transitory. It has to be pet and propped up and requires other people to bask in it. (I’m thinking like the king of the lemurs in Madagascar). There were no warring egos at the retreat, something for which I was eternally grateful. Because there was alcohol and small sleeping quarters involved. And I would not like to see Jackson and Carrie go to bat on a sleeper sofa using Spanish moss and Macbooks as weapons.

Okay, I lie. I would totally like to see that. But I didn’t.

3. Self-confidence is a very . . . internal thing. I was not a self-confident girl in college, despite being a successful competitive bagpiper, having a 3.8 GPA, leading a band that toured all over three states, winning writing and art contests, having exceptionally shiny hair, being Future Princess of America, blah blah blah. These were all things I did, but the only thing they really ever bolstered was my ego, which was temporary. While I was thinking about this, I was trying to decide how I made the leap to being a confident person and the weirdest thing is . . . I think I just decided I was going to be one. I’m a big believer in goals and the idea that if you say things out loud, you make them true. And so even though it sounds silly, I think that if you make the decision to be confident, it really makes it happen. Especially if you surround yourself with the trappings of confidence. That room that is just for you and your writing, because you are going to make it your living. The people you surround yourself with: confident, make-it-happen people, because you will always rise to the meet the expectations of the people around you, and you don’t want to be the one-eyed king of the blind.

Okay. So Maggie's Nebulous Thoughts About Confidence, paraphrased.
1. Don’t be bitter about other people getting on Oprah. Success in the book world is not like cheese dip, where one person will get the last dip and then it’s gone. It’s more like pinkeye. The more people who get it, the more there is for everyone else.
2. Don’t be a prick. Nobody likes pricks.
3. Make it happen. Surround yourself with cool people. Live your life as the person you’d like to be, and you’ll become that person.

Now . . . I think . . . I'm done. Anyone have any other thoughts?


Anonymous said...

hahahaha. Success is like pink eye. Never thought I'd say I want to catch pink eye, but I really do want it now.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

LOL. Glad I could . . . inspire?

Anonymous said...

Don't talk trash about other writer's books. Or "critique" them. Unless you are talking to your priest or your mother.

Don't think getting a book published will change your life. As you say, we are all still who we are.

Maggie! I grew up competing in Highland dancing. I never relized you piped. Weird!

Carol Anne said...

Maggie...this made my day. It's the best thing I could have read. THe universe is clever - sometimes you get presented with just the things you need. Your post was "it", baby. Sage words.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Teri, really? I always think of it as so self-evident I guess I forgot that most people don't know! And yes, your points are excellent!

Carol Anne, I'm really glad I could be inspirational (especially first thing in the morning)

Making A Mark said...

Maggie - Nice post! Here's a few thoughts for you to ponder on.

Confidence is about being able to get started; to move in a direction knowing you're going more or less in the right direction but without knowing exactly how you're going to get there or even what it'll look like when you get there.

You may think novels, I'm sitting here thinking abour driving across France on my own!

It's like having an internal satnav - but without the screen!

It's also about being able to say "Whoa" and to stop and review where you've got to and whether it looks/feels right.

I also think being self confident is a lot to do with being confident in your own skin (not somebody else's or one that needs war paint) and being able to be on your own. You're confident that you're an original not a carbon copy - and you like that.

In fact I'd go so far to say that being able to be on your own without that being an issue or being able to cope without needing other people is a lot to do with developing an insight into who you are and what you're about. When you get to be on your own and get rid of the noise, you can think straight!

So - when you decided to be confident, had you by any chance developed the ability to be happy in your own company?

Maggie Stiefvater said...

EXCELLENT, Katherine. Also: "being confident in your own skin (not somebody else's or one that needs war paint)" resonates very well with me -- some people need trappings or BMWs to be confident, and that's not real confidence - it's just a form of ego.

And yes, liking myself and liking being around me and being myself went hand in hand with confidence.

Unknown said...

*sigh* I'm so jealous... I didn't have exceptionally shiny hair in college.

I find you very inspirational, Maggie! Though it took me about 3.5 hours to read this post start to finish (with my *darling* children interrupting every other word), I'm glad I took the time! I do think I need to boost my confidence, if I'm every going to get anywhere with my goals. Thanks!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

You're welcome! I know the feeling -- I am missing school immensely right now!

vivien said...

that sounds pretty comprehensive!

and very good

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtfull post on self confidence.It should be very much helpfull

Karim - Creating Power

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