Fourth Wish : Day 34
I’d intended to write about something else today but after receiving two starkly contrasting messages on Friday I’ve decided to write about confidence instead.
Having passed the 50-page mark in the first draft of The Fourth Wish, I let a couple of trusted readers cast their critical eye over what I’d written so far. I felt it was going well but I wanted some unbiased feedback to reassure me that I was on the right track with this novel (or to flag up any early problems which I’d failed to spot). Back came the responses – a text and an email – within an hour of one another.
The first praised the opening chapters to the hilt and said this book was shaping up to be my best yet.
The second cited the (very fundamental) things the reader didn’t like about it and suggested I ought to give up on the idea and write something else instead.
I could spend several hundred words describing my response to their responses, but “flummoxed” sums it up pretty well. Not least because, in the past, both readers have not only proven to be insightful and valued critics of my work-in-progress and both have invariably been in tune with it. By that I mean that they’ve always liked the aspects I felt good about and raised concerns about the aspects I myself was unsure about. Unaware of each other’s feedback, they’ve almost always been singing from the same hymn-sheet.
Which has left me in a dilemma. Any writing student will know the problem: how to square the circle of two diametrically opposing critiques? And any writer (any writer of a certain disposition, that is) will also appreciate that, faced with good news and bad news, it’s the bad news that wins out. In an overwhelmingly positive review which contains one quibbling or critical sentence, it’s that one sentence which nags away at you, puts you in a grump, wakes you up in the middle of the night.
Which dents your confidence.
Right now, with only 24 hours to digest yesterday’s messages, my confidence – in this novel, in myself as a writer – is around my ankles and heading floorwards. This time yesterday I was feeling upbeat about The Fourth Wish, I had a metaphorical spring in my step. After spending most of last year grinding through rewrites of Never Ending, I was writing with an enjoyment, a freedom – and, yes, a confidence – I hadn’t experienced since first draft of Flip. I loved this book. I loved writing it.
Now, I glance at the typescript in its folder as if it was a plague-riddled rat squatting on my desk.
My gut instinct tells me I should keep the faith with this novel. My self-doubt tells me it’s a pile of shite. Of course, I’ve been here, or somewhere similar, before. But despite having written seven previous novels and encountered crises of confidence of all shapes and sizes, each new crisis reduces me to the status of a novice fumbling blindly for a way out of it.
from The Book of Ruminations, by Qi Tinh (AD 151 – 203)
Qi Tinh has just one thing to say about the relationship between confidence and creativity. It comes in an epigraph, right at the beginning of the book. Here it is: “The artist who has no confidence in himself should stop here, at the threshold of this book. It has nothing to offer him. The artist who is replete with confidence should keep him company.”