As a self-doubting teen (weren’t we all that, once?), I developed a passion for politics. For this I blame my parents, who before I entered kindergarten took our family to march for civil rights in our small
One of my deep childhood memories is holding a charred fragment of a Mississippi church that was burned by the Ku Klux Klan during Freedom Summer in 1964. My parents, like many others, were moved to action. My father traveled south to assist the civil rights movement there and brought back a piece of the church.
Though deeply shy, I grew up believing that activism mattered. Impassioned by Senator George McGovern’s bid for President, I volunteered, going door to door and making phone calls – lots of phone calls – to get out the vote.
McGovern lost, badly, but I came out a winner. I got hung up on and yelled at. I got scolded and ridiculed and cussed. In a word, I got tough. I learned that people could think and say what they wanted. At the end of the day, I was still me.
As it turned out, all that rejection was excellent preparation for becoming a writer. Our calling demands courage and confidence, even and especially in the face of all we don’t know. In this, it’s like parenting. You’re never exactly sure that you’re doing the right thing. Sometimes you’re not even sure what the right thing is. Yet you carry on. You don’t falter. You give it your best, and you try to get better. You stay open. And in the end, you let go.
Confident writers are not brazen or blustering. Even in doing the necessary work of promotion, they don’t brag. Bluster, brazenness, and bragging are thin disguises for the insecurity that accompanies a poorly formed sense of self and, in the case of writers, a poorly executed manuscript.
In The Poet’s Companion, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux offer wisdom on the topic of confidence. Though they address poets, their truths apply to all writers. Don’t dwell on your failures, they advise: “In the literary life, which is full of rejected manuscripts, lost awards and prizes, and critical judgments of your work, it’s essential to develop some self-appreciation – to delight in your successes, wherever and however they arrive.”
Eschew competitiveness, they say. “Poetry, ultimately, is not a competition, in spite of the competitive nature of achieving publication and recognition. If you see it as such, you’re likely to feel unhappy, instead of being nourished by it.” Another pitfall to avoid: equating your self with your writing. As committed as we are to our craft, as much as we may bleed on the page, we must not wrap ourselves so completely into our writing that we are crushed by rejection and criticism. “The truth is that good poems come from a combination of things: awareness, talent, persistence, persistence, native and acquired language abilities, luck, persistence, knowledge, imagination, persistence,” note Addonizio and Laux. “Who you are contributes to your poetry in a number of important ways, but you shouldn’t identify with your poems so closely that when they are cut, you’re the one who bleeds.”
And finally, this good advice: “If you want to write poems, you have to acknowledge that that’s what you want to do, and quit sabotaging yourself. Don’t give in to doubt; feel it, recognize it, and then quit beating yourself up and get to work.”
Check This Out: The study of poetry is good for all writers, and this “guide to the pleasures of writing poetry” is among the best. Divided into sections on subjects, craft, and the writing life, The Poet’s Companion also includes twenty-minute writing exercises and four useful appendices.
Try This: In The Poet’sCompanion, Addonizio and Laux recommend this exercise: write down all your doubts about yourself as a writer. Once you’ve got it on the page, counter that voice. Argue back. Include why you write, and what you know to be true about your creative self.