Smug as a Bug in a Rug (Back on the Chain Gang)

The Blog Chain has circled back to me again, so I’m postponing my usual “In Deep Smit” posting (unless y’all will buy the deeply-smitten-with-the-chain-gang thing two weeks in a row. 😉 )  This chain’s topic was selected by Kate Karyus Quinn.  If you didn’t already find your way here from Leah Clifford’s blog, be sure to check out her post.  And Mary Lindsey will be up next.

The topic this time:

How as a writer do you find the balance between having too much or too little confidence in your work?

So, I’ve titled this entry, “Smug as a Bug in a Rug.”  And by “in a Rug,” of course, I mean “wearing a toupee.”

Rubber Tree Plants aside, have I done what the topic question asks?  Well, I will answer that with a strong, confident “Maybe.”

If you’ve followed our chain since it started, you’ve seen that most of us don’t really have a “balance”– more like a teeter-totter of ups and downs.

I have to say, this blog topic is not the first time I personally have pondered about my confidence.

In April, I attended my first writing conference, The Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling. (Posts about that here, here, and here.)  I did NOT anticipate the nervousness I experienced there.

I’m a physician and the director for a hospitalist program.  I think we can safely agree that a 35-year-old woman does not get where I am without a healthy portion of professional self-confidence.  I am an experienced public speaker.  From Speech and Debate teams in high school to delivering medical lectures, I’ve never been uncomfortable talking to anybody.

So I was as surprised as anyone to find myself picking at my conference lunch, envisioning myself puking on the agent’s shoes during my pitch session.

I’m a powerhouse, I told myself.  Why am I terrified of a 7-minute conversation?

The answer to that, I think, comes from the blurring of “professional” and “personal” that comes with writing.

To write a great story, you need to pour yourself into the work, so professional detachment gets a bit harder.

There are some components of writing that I am quite confident about.

  1. Professionalism. Business letters come easily to me.  I interview well.  I’m comfortable with public speaking.  My work requires skill in starting and conducting much more difficult conversations than any I could have about my writing. I know many authors are less comfortable on the networking/business side and would prefer to stay comfortably behind the keyboard.  This is thankfully not a concern for me.
  2. Stories. I love the story of The Edge of Memory.  I may need to revise some of the nuts-and-bolts of how the story is told (and I am always willing to consider ways to tell it better) but the story itself is solid.  I think about my stories for a long time before writing them, so the web of connections is already well-defined before the first draft.  This helps me weave in the details that eventually come together more naturally into the narrative.
  3. Communication skills. I’m not talking here about my writing, but more about my comprehension.  It is a running joke among my family and co-workers that I translate English to English.  Quite frequently, I am called upon to explain when folks have “a failure to communicate”.  I’m fluent in Mother-in-Law to Son translation, as well as Resident-Physician to Nurse.  When I receive feedback on my writing, I believe I’m good at understanding and then acting on it to improve my story.  Beyond a good story foundation, that might be the most useful skill I have.

Every writer has crisis moments. I know I have. All of us have reached the point where we’ve announced we were ready to give up.  We didn’t.  That makes all the difference.

I once read a quote from Erma Bombeck.  It’s not really about confidence per se, but more about perserverance:


When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, “I used everything you gave me”.


I’m a writer.  I am going to have crises of self-doubt.  I’m going to think what I’ve written is the worst drivel ever to be strung together.  I’m going to believe my test readers are just being nice when they tell me they stayed up all night to finish my novel.  I’ll convince myself that I’ll never be good enough to make it in this industry.

And then I’ll get over it and write.


8 Responses

  1. I love the Erma Bombeck quote! And yes, in the end, we have to get over our crises and write.

  2. “And then I’ll get over it and write.” I think this is one of the best things anyone has said yet. At the end of the day whether we’re patting ourselves on the back or kicking ourselves in the ass – we still have to just write.

  3. Great post, Heather. I love hearing about your “other life” besides writing, and I loved your last quote. We all need to get over it and write. I’m going to take a page from your book (ha!) and think about things a little deeper before I write. That really struck a chord with me when I read it. Thanks!

  4. Ahh! I was going to comment on your last line too!! I seriously think I’m going to cross stitch that and hang it above my desk (seriously!). Because whether I am flying high or struggling to keep my head above water, no matter what is going on in my personal or professional life…..I gotta get over it and write. Wow. My new motto 😀

    Excellent post!!!!

  5. I love the word, “drivel.” Really, I can’t think when I last saw it written. I also love your quotes and smileys. Only you could find a doctor smiley like that one.

  6. The Erma quote says it all, doesn’t it?

    Now, I will admit, that picturing you puking on an agents shoe was hilarious (okay, so I’m warped).

    Love your post, you of all people have the tools to be uber-confident, and yet you struggle just like the rest of us do. Glad to know you are human too!

    🙂 Terri

  7. I LOVE that quote! Great post Heather!

  8. Oh, Heather. I just loved your post, because I could relate so well to it. Sometimes I find myself feeling about two inches high, and then (when I’m lucky), another part of me sets arms akimbo, gazes down at the little me, and says “For God’s sake, Carolyn, you got your doctorate. You teach large classes of tough-to-entertain-and-educate college students. You are confident about your nonfiction writing skills. So why are you feeling two inches tall?! Pull it together, girl!”

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