GRETCHEN HAERTSCH: ON CONFIDENCE
After nine years of teaching writing to undergrad and grad students, I see the battle between overconfidence and under-confidence played out in the classroom each semester. First there is the poor writer who is sure his last minute scrawling needs no embellishment save the predictable “A” plastered on the paper by his professor. In the same classroom — typically hiding in a corner – is the under-confident writer, sure she will fail freshman English and be booted right out of college for her poor writing skills. Yet her work is logical, clear, even creative. It is an easier task (and a much more pleasant one) to make someone believe their writing is good, then to force them to see it is not. Often, I never quite convince the overconfident student that additional craftsmanship is required. Confidence is good – up to a point – but not if it gets in the way of reality and hard work.
Professional writers have a difficult time navigating this path between attitudes as well. The niggling voice at the back of our brains tells us this could be better – I must make it better. In most cases, that voice needs attention. It’s honest. But when our lack of confidence gets in the way of progress, it can be debilitating. Fear of failure can make us afraid to start. It can freeze us in place. It can make us shudder at the very thought of revealing our work to public scrutiny. And that decidedly is not a good thing.
The antidote to both overconfidence and under-confidence would seem to be the same elixir – one four-letter word: work. Work on our writing – the plodding, keep- your-backside-in-the-chair, every-single-day kind of work can set us free because it improves our craft so much. So to all of us writers: if we keep at it, firm in our determination to make our writing the absolute best it can be, we’re bound to continue improving. And that means we will have navigated the tightrope between overconfidence and under-confidence – a perfect place to be.
What Gretchen’s reading now:
HUCKLEBERRY FINN and TOM SAWYER by Mark Twain
FALLEN ANGELS by Tracy Chevalier