Dani Shapiro
April 20, 2009

On Confidence

I think there is a difference between approaching the page with confidence, and actually possessing confidence about the work itself. One of the above is good for the writing; the other can be quite disastrous.

A writer has to approach the page with something like confidence, otherwise why approach the page at all? There’s a feeling inside all of us who write, as small but determinative as a gene, that one has something worth saying. That there is a possibility that wrestling with words will produce a result that might be worth reading.

But there is a different, deadly kind of confidence, in which the writer believes that if she simply commits her thoughts and feelings to paper, those thoughts and feelings will have a universal coherence–simply because she’s had them. I’ve seen this again and again–I can only call it a mess on the page. And I’ve come to realize that when a piece of work is impenetrable, often it’s because the writer suffered from over-confidence.

Sorry to say that self-doubt, bordering on self-loathing, insecurity and a general sense of terror are completely appropriate…no, more than appropriate, necessary for good work to get done. A contented writer is a deluded writer. Because the truth is that the work can always be made better. That a finished piece of work is simply the best the writer could do at the time. And confidence–while it might be a very nice way to feel–is no help at all. It’s only the queer, divine dissatisfaction as Martha Graham once put it, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the rest.