Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How Do You Know?

Okay, so when I went to type in this title, I'd already blogged it once. So I sort of had a mini-freak-out, but decided to write this post before I even went to look at the other one. You never know, right?

Today I wanted to answer a question I seem to get asked a lot: How do you know?

When you get feedback from a critique partner, how do you know if it's something you should do or not?

How do you know when you're finished with your novel? With your query letter?

How do you know which agent to query?

How do you know if you're doing the right thing? On the right path?

My answer: Author confidence.

I think it all comes down to how confident you are as an author. If you get notes back from a CP, and they "sound" right, they're probably right. You gotta trust your gut.

You know you've finished a novel when you've written it the best you can. How do you know when that is? Author confidence. For me, it's the point when I go, "Well, I've read this $&%(#*! thing forty thousand times. This is as good as it gets without help."

Then I subject other people to reading for me, to spot the problems I've somehow missed.

I think almost any question with the words "How do you know?" can be answered with author confidence. Listen to your gut. And trust yourself.

So, how do you know? Do you have author confidence? Do you trust your gut?


And here's my first How Do You Know? post. Interesting.

47 comments:

Christina Lee said...

Oooh, I like the "idea" of author confidence. I'll take it...and use it! :)

salarsenッ said...

Confidence is huge and its worst enemy is focusing on others instead of itself. (Can you tell I've been there?)

Natalie Aguirre said...

I'm hoping after my beta readers read my manuscript and I finish the revisions after reading their comments that I'll feel that author confidence. I have a good critique partner and that is really helping my confidence.

Renae said...

Love the idea of author confidence! Of course some days I have it and others...not so much!

SPinneo said...

The gut is a great indicator. But I would add: "when you get notes back from a CP, and then... after you wait a couple of days... if they sound right THEN, they probably are."
My internal confident author needs a couple days to sort out criticism!
Sarah P.

Matthew MacNish said...

I think it comes down to knowledge-of-self. Know what you can do. Know what you can't. Know your strengths. Know your weaknesses. If you know these things, and are honest with yourself about them, it will be easier to realize when you reach that point when you've taken it as far as you can without help.

There is nothing wrong with needing help.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Oooh, that's a hard one. Sometimes I just 'know' when something is right or wrong for my manuscript. But once it's done? Am I ever confident it's ready? Eeeh.:) Great post.

Tracey J said...

I'm struggling with this right now. I think I'll know once I hear back from my beta readers.

REINHARDT! said...

I think you always have to trust your gut, and also trust that you have a reader that is thoughtful and sensitive to where you're coming from. If they're being honest with you, you can be honest with yourself. Between those is that gut instinct nudging you the right way.

Lydia Sharp said...

This is as good as it gets without help.

That right there says it all. I tell myself the very same thing. And after I've gotten all the feedback I think I can from beta readers, I say it again, except like this:

This is as good as it gets without professional editorial feedback (meaning, from an agent or editor).

And that's how I know I'm ready to move on to the next step.

Christine Fonseca said...

Author confidence...yea, I don't have a lot of that! But I am gutsy...and sometimes you just have to jump off the cliff, you know.

Liza said...

I'm getting better at trusting my gut, but that takes time and experience.

Stephanie McGee said...

When it comes to critiques, I absolutely trust my gut. Well, maybe not so much gut as brain. Any time I get a crit, I read it and leave it. Whatever sticks in my head is what I need to address. The things that I keep circling back to are what need to be dealt with.

Brenda Sills said...

Boy was this ever timely! This stuff has really been driving me crazy lately. I spent 9 months running my finished manuscript through a critique group. Then I participated in a boot camp at a writer's con and they advised different things than anyone ever had before. I was so frustrated - thinking will the day ever end when someone finds something wrong with it?

Your Author Confidence mantra is just what I needed! The strength to trust myself and go boldly where I have never gone before!

AUTHOR CONFIDENCE! - I'll just shout that and let it echo through the room for a while. And smile.

Liesl Shurtliff said...

Oh, so wonderful Elana! I remember some author (I can't remember exactly but I'm pretty sure it was a Newbery winning author) said "When you have confidence, then you will write." Or something to that effect.

It then struck me that writing, both in the actual writing and the business, is a very mental thing. So much of our progress and success has to do with our own confidence and perception of ourselves.

Well said!

Gretchen said...

Pretty much, I listen to my gut. Mostly on things that I know have worked for me in the past or teachers have told me about. But even on other things, it's all about how I feel with the piece.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

LOL. Did you and Shannon M. plan this topic today? She blogged about the same thing! :-)

Abby said...

Such good advice. I wonder how I should know. This is great. Plus, I think we need to realize, it will never be absolutely perfect, so we need to stop - say this is a perfect as its going to get - and allow ourselves to move on to the next project. Otherwise we write the same book for a lifetime.

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

LOL this is too funny. We have almost identical blog topics today. Get out of my head, E! (Especially since you did a better job!) :)

Tiffany Garner said...

This is some great advice :) I think what I'm struggling with the most right now is how do you know when you're query's ready to send out, and how do you know who to send it to? It seems so hit and miss sometimes....sigh. But eventually it will work out :)

Windy Aphayrath said...

Go with your gut. Harder to do than say sometimes, especially in this business, but if you don't you're just gonna be on the endless revision loop. :) *wanders off to go find gut*

Angela Brown said...

In my paying gig, we occassionally have to make "judgement calls", you know, make the decision and live it. The same for writing. You are right that you must have author confidence. People can tell you that you're ready until they've turned into a blueberry like the brat from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. But until you believe for yourself, it won't matter.

Janet Johnson said...

So true! If you can't trust your gut, what can you trust?

Patti said...

I loved your answer to knowing when you've finished your novel, priceless.

I'm still learning author confidence. It just takes some time.

Jessie Humphries said...

I think some of the choices we make come down to staying true to our voice. For example, someone may say its breaking the "third wall" to use words like "yeah, I'm not that girl." But to me that is voice, and is valuable. I dont think this comment makes sense out loud. Sorry:(.

Alice said...

Excellent advice. I've been trying to learn to trust my gut more lately and go with it.

Martha Ramirez said...

Great advice and very true. The gut usually never lies.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I'm feeling it with my MG fantasy. I know that this version is the one. Can't wait to be ready to send it out to readers!

Heather said...

That's an excellent answer to a tough question. My author confidence is developing quite nicely. I realized the more manuscripts I get under my pen, the more confidence I have. :)

J said...

I'm slowly acquiring more author confidence, and it feels pretty good! Great post (as usual), Elana! :)

K.T. Hanna said...

I'm still working on getting this author confidence you speak of ;)

I have extreme confidence in my ability to outline a story, my characters, places and things. I also have great confidence in my ability to plot in detail and whirlwind write a first draft. That first draft is the most fun time for me http://www.kthanna.com/2011/09/outlining-plotting-my-first-draft-process/ See- I can even write about it lol.

When it comes to revision is where I lose some of it. Revision has me questioning myself and usually coming to the conclusion that I ruined everything and need to start again.

However I've recently come to realize this isn't true. My plot and outline are as solid as ever, I just have to polish and rewrite sections until they gleam.

As long as I sleep on a crit (wait until the next morning) I can now always separate the yes this is good advice, to no, this clashes with my character. Slowly but surely, I'm gaining my confidence, but it's a long process.

Thank you for writing this. Your articles always make me think

Krispy said...

Yep, at some point it just comes down to instinct. I think the more you do this and work at it, the better and sharper that instinct becomes. :)

Meredith said...

I've learned so much about trusting my gut these past couple of years. It really is the only answer sometimes.

Bish Denham said...

Yep, I have to go with my gut.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Not sure if it's confidence or an attitude of 'Sure! Why not?"
And most of my critique partners' suggestions felt right to me. Made it easy.

Amber Argyle, author said...

Practice, practice, practice. It's like cooking. After you've made chicken noodle soup enough times, you don't need to measure out the ingredients. You just dump it all in there until it looks, feels, and tastes right. All of that from previous experience.

So if you can't tell yet if you're there yet, you probably need more practice. ;)

June G said...

This is timely. Some YA authors read pages of my manuscript. Parts that some felt needed a change, others didn't have an issue with or even notice. Who's right? I realized I had to decide based on how the advice resonated with me--or not.

I decided to be true to the voice of the character and utilize that factor as one of the things to consider when deciding--then if I ever get a book deal--see what the agent, editor have to say. So many people put their stamp on a book before the public gets it, it's unbelievable!

Nichole Giles said...

I am learning a lot about this lately. My gut is telling me to do stuff, and I'm doing it blindly because, well, my gut hasn't failed me yet. So yeah. Great post.

Angie said...

Yep. It took a little while to develop, but I always trust my writers intuition now.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Confidence. One of those amorphous things, like Voice, that you just have to work hard,then work some more, until you find it. :)

Great post!

Jeff King said...

I believe I have author confidence, now… it’s been a long road. I still have a lot to grow, but I know what it should look like, read like, feel like.

You’ll feel it in your heart, mind and soul when your WIP is finally there.

I couldn’t agree more with this post!

Sorry, I haven’t had internet for a while, I am trying to catch up with all the blogs I follow.

John Waverly said...

Great advice. I also find that in the absence of confidence a hard-and-fast deadline is a passable substitute. Make a commitment with someone to send them a beta copy on a certain date then do it. If you keep doing stuff (even if you don't think you're ready), you'll gain confidence and a thick skin.

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm getting there. I've got more confidence in my author skills than I have in my 'treading the publishing waters' skills at the moment. :)

LynNerd said...

"Author confidence" is a good way to put it. I'm fortunate to be part of a great critique group, and when I feel like a piece is ready, I get their input to point out the weak spots, revise the things I agree with, rinse and repeat until I know in my gut that it's time.

Brenna Braaten said...

I admit most of the time I have these fears, but I think my gut (and my critique partner) is really good at helping me get over the fears.

Amy Richardson said...

This is great. When I was reading it I was like "DUH!" I really thought this was great advice!

Katrina L. Lantz said...

This is tricky for me because I sometimes have too much confidence until someone points out a flaw, and then I get kind of crippled and don't trust my own judgment anymore. But eventually I get over it and have too much confidence again. It's a vicious cycle. Lol.

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