I used to be unquestioningly confident in my writing. As a kid, I would pass a freshly printed short story across the table to my mother, tucking it directly on top of whatever book she was already reading, and wait eagerly for the flood of praise and encouragement. I was rarely disappointed. Not once did it cross my mind that my stories could possibly be improved.
In those days, when one of my readers (ie: whichever one of my sisters had not found a good enough hiding spot to avoid me) was confused by a tangled nest of grammatical errors, or by a word which did not exist in the English language, I would respond not with embarrassment or humility, but with indignation. Obviously that’s a real word. Probably. I’m pretty sure I heard Dad say it once. My story is brilliant—you’re reading it wrong.
I still have those moments of pride and vanity. Sometimes I fantasize about my book hitting bestseller lists, about signing copies for adoring fans, and becoming best friends with Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and PG Wodehouse (I don’t care that Wodehouse died in 1975, it’s my fantasy, not yours).
Other times, the pendulum swings in the opposite direction. The worst of the nail-biting hits shortly after I send a draft to my editor. I find myself slowly crumbling into a coil of nerves and hiding beneath a blanket while I await her response.
As useless as those moments of paranoia are—a little healthy humility is a big part of writing. The biggest change between my childhood style and the one I’ve grown into is that I have learned to edit. I’ve learned to edit and edit and edit. I’ve learned to listen to feedback and take it to heart, learned when to stay true to an original vision and when to concede to a better one, and learned that writing (contrary to what one might have thought as a child) can be improved. I’ve figured out that I need the confidence to write, and the humility to write well.
Until I work out the precise balance, if you need me I’ll be rocking back and forth beneath my comforter… or possibly high-fiving J.K. Rowling. We’ll see how the day goes.