Thursday, February 16, 2012

4 ways to bounce back when your confidence takes a beating

Whether you're a writer, a botanist, or a lag screwer, one thing is certain – there will be times your confidence in your ability to do the job is so shaken, it could double as a dirty martini.

As much as I enjoy that beverage (and not just for the name), finding myself in a confidence-shaken state is no fun at all. In case you've landed there yourself, here are a few tricks I've found for getting the mojo back:

Lick your...wounds
Whether you're hit with a bad review as an author, or a bad case of chlamydia as an escort, chances are you won't feel like getting back in the saddle right away. Don't. You need time to process, to heal, to formulate a plan, and to drink a few medicinal sips of that dirty martini. It's a vital part of the process to make time for these things, so don't feel guilty about it.

Punch something
You can do this literally (though I suggest choosing your pillow over a steel door) or you can do it figuratively (a good bitch session with a pack of girlfriends is priceless). Either way, give yourself a chance to cycle through the emotions of the setback. While I don't advise calling your boss or editor at 3 a.m. to sob that he ruined your life, it can be therapeutic to vent to a pal with a sympathetic ear. If you'd prefer to keep the harsh words to yourself, there are plenty of physical ways to blow off some steam. Hit the batting cages, buy a voodoo doll, or play Whac-A-Mole at your local video arcade (my personal favorite).

Do something you're great at
It's important to start building your confidence up again, which means you shouldn't go near the project that set you back in the first place. Think of a task you know you perform exceptionally well and do it. For some of you, this may mean finding a willing partner and retreating to the privacy of your home. A recent setback for me in the writing realm had me doing the "I suck" tango (I swear that's not a reference to the previous sentence). Instead of continuing to fling myself at the same wall, I switched gears – and genres – and poured my energy into a different project. Making a deliberate choice to focus on a type of writing I feel more skilled at has been slowly rebuilding my confidence, not to mention making me laugh (which is another crucial part of the process).

Find friends to stroke your...ego
Long before I ever had a book deal, I went through a string of bad rejections. Determined to keep moving forward, I wrote a new manuscript. My critique partners and beta readers were aware of the rejections, and though I never asked any of them to go easy on me, something shifted in that next round of feedback. Instead of focusing their criticisms on things that didn't work for them, every single reader went out of her way to flag elements of the story that did work. Not only did it give me a much-needed confidence boost, it helped me pinpoint what I was doing well so I could keep doing more of it.

What are your favorite strategies for rebuilding your confidence after it's been shaken? Please share!

And feel free to belly up to my imaginary bar for that dirty martini. Extra olives?


Andrea Mack said...

Don't forget lots of chocolate! Actually, I usually take a break from writing and do something different, then come back and work on a different project, one that I have lots of enthusiasm for.

Sarah W said...

I have a folder of compliments comments about my writing that I drag out whenever I'm sure I stink. On occasion, my husband brings it to me and tells me to snap out of it.

I also have a couple of kids who like to hug.

It works.

Nan said...

Thanks for the pep talk, Tawna. I've been letting a double rejection email from my agent make me so depressed this week, even though I got a gorgeous cover for the book that's due out in less than two weeks. What's up with that? I want to be happy and celebrate the book release and yet all I can do is perseverate over the the rejections. I'm going to work on my edits (something I totally rock at), lick my wounds, and I've already found friends and crit partners who'll stroke my ego.

Matthew MacNish said...

Scotch for celebration. Vodka for drowning sorrows.

Patty Blount said...

Ah, Whac-A-Mole. My son used to have that game.

I broke it.

I used to come home from work and imagine the moles were my boss.

Beating the hell out of him sure helped!

Jessica Lemmon said...

I think I've been reverting to this bit of advice lately: Do something you're great at.

While waiting on submissions and contests, I made the mistake of re-reading my MS. TWICE. (tip: don't do this) Focusing on a new project wasn't working so I started drawing and crafting. Until I read this, I just thought I was screwing around (not literally, you understand), but it did make me feel better, probably because that is something I have always excelled at doing.

I love this post, Tawna, keep the advice (and giggles) coming. know what I mean.

Unknown said...

A much needed post because I snag myself into the "I suck" swamp often. Now I need to buy myself a punching bag and lots of sudoku magazines. And a voodoo doll.

cam.robbins said...

At one job, my boss basically told me to start looking for something else. I was crushed, but my dad's wife suggested that I solicit positive thing about me from my friends. She claimed it would help me find new things to put on my resume AND make me feel better. I thought it would make me feel like a loser begging people to like me. Instead, I felt blessed by the wonderful friends I had and learned how others saw me.

"calm in the face of adversity" is one of my favorites because I get all panicky least I can fake it (and not in *that*way.

Kristen Lamb said...

I always look to find the treasure in the trial. If something really knocks me back, it is time to ask "WHY?". Every failure is an opportunity to improve, to address areas of weakness. I ask the hard questions. Why did this make me angry? If there isn't truth to something it shouldn't bother me, so what is true about said criticism? If it is a setback, then I trust that there is a bigger picture I might be seeing. I don't have the God's-eye perspective and maybe if I did I would see the trial is really a redirect on to a better path.

Great post and at least feel better knowing that loads of us love you no matter what :D.

miaohdeux said...

Ms. Tawna, are you psychic? I just got a rejection from an agent who was looking at my MS, so I REALLY need this post right now!

I like the idea of working on something you're good at. I write theatre reviews on the side, and people seem to like them, so I'll try to concentrate on that this week. Also I will take a look at my most recent first draft.

Anything to keep from rereading and subsequently trashing my MS!

Roni Loren said...

I'm all for the licking the wounds advice. After my debut came out last month, I found myself allowing a bad review to ruin my entire day even if I had five positive reviews that same day. It's kind of soul crushing being held out for public criticism. So after about 2-3 weeks of reading everything out there and googling myself (sounds dirty), I realized I had to step back. Life has been much better since. :)

Kathleen said...

Thanks Tawna, some great constructive advice. Especially the licking wounds :) I needed this today.

Amy Denim said...

This blog couldn't have come at a better time. I had a really rough round with my crit group last week. I'm talking tears here.
Glad to see I followed a few of your steps on my own. This is good stuff.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

This is all great advice, especially the part about punching something. I've never used the punching bag at my gym, but exercise is a good way to let off some steam.
As far as getting my confidence back, I treat myself to something small, like a Frappuccino at Starbucks or a walk around my favorite neighborhood. It usually makes me feel better. When I feel good, it's easier to get my confidence back.

Creepy Query Girl said...

thanks for this Tawna. Great advice!

Stina said...

Who knew my husband's punching bag could be so useful???? :D

Geoffrey Cubbage said...

Back when I lived in Illinois folks served a "dirty lying governor" martini...was just an extra-dirty martini, except someone had already stolen the pimentos (or whatever) out of the olives by the time it got to you.

True story.