As a writer and illustrator I sometimes struggle with frustration. There is a certain degree of self-doubt and lack of confidence that finds its way into my thinking on a regular basis. Thoughts of needing to be better at what I do are quite common and often so loud in my mind that I prevent myself from getting anything done.
What I didn’t realize, is that this self-doubt is part of what every writer and illustrator goes though. The 2014 Summer SCBWI conference in Los Angeles this year really drove this concept home to me. You might have heard me gushing about the conference over the past few weeks, so you will know that the faculty was simply phenomenal. The keynote speakers in particular shared incredibly inspiring advice and insight. The one that struck me most was:
No matter how famous and successful an authors or illustrator might be, they suffer from the exact same self-doubt and lack of confidence periodically that I do.
This realization was quite the epiphany for me. Who in the world would have thought that someone of Linda Sue Park’s caliber would ever not love their own work? Linda shared with us that her creative process of every of her manuscripts include times when she ADORES her work, but many more time where she ABHORS it. I found this rather refreshing because not only do I feel this way quite often, I never imagined that such a critically acclaimed author would ever ABHOR her own writing. In fact Linda said that it works like this: She adores, adores, abhors, abhors, abhors, adores, abhors, etc. each manuscript. It is a process after all.
As the conference progressed, more keynote speakers shared similar struggles. Sharon Flake gave one of the most touching and heartfelt keynotes that I had ever heard. She started her career at the top. Her first books were tremendously successful and flowed from her with ease. She is an intuitive writer and feels her way through the creation for her books. So when she hit the proverbial creative wall, she became immensely fearful and experienced intense self-doubt. She was terrified to let people see her insecurities and so struggled through this block on her own. She said that you need to let yourself be vulnerable when creating because it adds depth to your work. She also noted that one needs to be appreciative of one’s gifts and talents because your creativity is not a genie in a bottle that you can just let out at will. I applaud her for sharing such a painful time in her life so openly. It was an incredible gift that she gave to all the attendees especially all the pre-published writers.
You think that this was inspiration enough? Well, let me blow your minds by telling you that both Tomie dePaola and Judy Blume struggle with self-doubt and blocks to this day. After having written and illustrated over 250 books, Tomie says that he still has self-doubt when he works and he takes the pressure of creating for kids very seriously. He encouraged everyone to have courage and be brave when creating books because it is not easy to pour so much of yourself into something and then send it out into the world to be critiqued.
The marvelous Judy Blume amazed everyone with the admission that she gets stuck like everyone. It was such a tickle to see how much she enjoyed the skype session between Tomie and Lin Oliver and how much she agreed with Tomie’s advice to be brave and courageous with your work. She encouraged us to keep going and be determined with our work.
Both Judy and Tomie concur that as your success and career grow it becomes more difficult to create because there is an expectation of excellence that is difficult to live up to and also provides a lot of pressure.
As you can see, such moving talks and encouragement is very reassuring. Whether up are a writer or an illustrator, or you do both, it can be a very lonely profession. We mostly work in solitude with our own inner dialog to keep us company. Such dialog is not always the most complimentary especially when we get stuck. I draw comfort now knowing that the struggles with confidence and self-doubt that I periodically endure, are common to all creatives, whether one is new or a seasoned professional.
As always happy creating to you all and I’ll chat with you soon.