The older I get the more I see the importance of confidence, especially for writers. I started down this road 23 or 24 years ago as an awkward, physically wounded young man full of lofty ideas and grand ambitions. Please, allow me to give a little background to explain. On March 7, 1989, I was 16 and a pretty good athlete with the goal of becoming an officer in the Marine Corps. At roughly 3:30 that afternoon, during track practice, I was struck in the head by an 8 lb. shotput. For those who may not know, a shotput is basically a cannonball. I suffered a concussion, brain contusion, brain swelling, and physical shock. By that evening, I was literally fighting for my life, and all of my plans, dreams, and goals were suddenly gone. Obviously, I survived and recovered, but at 16, I had to reinvent myself completely.
As part of my therapy, I started writing poetry to deal with the emotions of grief, loss, anger, and fear. While helpful as a therapeutic exercise, the poetry I created was for the most part dreadful. Fortunately for me, however, it led to discovering fiction. By 20, I knew for certain that I wanted to write stories for a living and dedicated myself to learning the craft. I began writing fantasy but was soon taught by academia that genre work, all genre work, was for mindless hacks. If I wanted to be a real writer, a “serious” novelist, I needed to write mainstream, literary fiction. Being young, naïve, and impressionable, I listened and forced myself to abandon my love of fantasy literature in order to fit into the writing program.
At first, I flourished as story after story poured out, and my confidence soared as my skills developed. In 1995 at 22 years old and just six years removed from the accident, I earned my first publication credit in Aura, a small literary journal from UAB. Within the next year, I landed two more pieces in small magazines. In addition to the publications, I was also contacted by a well-established agent from New York who had seen my first story and thought I had tremendous potential. Those were his words on the phone, tremendous potential. My confidence has never been higher than after we hung up. I was going places.
Unfortunately, he didn’t like my novel, rejecting it outright, and the wind was sucked from my sails briefly. Though painful, as I look back on it today, he was right. The novel was immature and boring, so for the next year, I studied and practiced writing harder than any other point of my life. I wanted to improve. I needed to elevate my skills to a professional level, so I read and wrote and edited every single day. My confidence grew once again as I saw myself improving, and I created several stories in that period that I’m still relatively proud of. Then, I made the decision to return to graduate school.
From the outset, graduate school was a mistake. For the entire first year, my confidence was dashed by the pettiness, jealousy, and negativity of both peers and professors. Workshops ran as popularity contests and ego demonstrations. The writing was secondary. Personality prevailed, and anyone who stepped out of line with the accepted paradigms of the group was immediately squashed by an avalanche of bullshit. My confidence was shattered, and I left graduate school in 1999 feeling hopelessly inept and lacking any measure of creative drive. I gave up on writing as a career and felt hollow without that part of myself.
For at least three years, probably more like four, I didn’t write at all, not in a creative sense. From 1998 to 2002, my confidence was gone because of the conflicting advice and negativity of writing workshops. Then, sometime in 2002, as I watched The Two Towers, an epiphany struck me from out of the blue. I realized that I wanted to write fantasy and always had. Despite repressing it during my academic years, I still loved the genre, and since I’d abandoned any notions of being a “serious” novelist, I could entertain the concept of creating fantasy works without fear of academia rebuking me. But my confidence was still broken, so I didn’t start writing straight away. Instead, I pondered the idea of what I would create if I ever chose to write again.
For nearly a year, I mulled the concept, sketching notes and developing the world without a tangible goal of writing anything. At the time, I didn’t believe I had the skills to write one book, never mind the five it would take to tell this tale. Quite simply, I lacked the confidence to begin actually writing. Then, something magical happened. In July of 2003, I saw my first son’s heartbeat on ultrasound, the grainy speck fluttering at 150 bpm, and that long dormant part of me came back to life in a rush. Watching his heartbeat, I knew the only way I could be a good father was first and foremost to be true to myself, and at my core, I’m a writer. Within a couple of days, I sat down at the computer and started the first draft of book one.
When I look at the first couple of chapters of that book, I see my lack of confidence. The narrative is unsure and halting as I felt my way back into writing, and by far, the greatest criticism I’ve faced with the series is the opening chapter being too slow, too full of exposition, and to a degree, I admit I probably should refine it. However, I also see the subtleties and foreshadowing that lay the groundwork for the entire series, and I’m afraid of losing that foundation if I ever do rewrite it. More than that, though, I’m proud of what those early chapters represent for me – my rebirth as a writer, my rebirth as a man. Though not perfectly wrought, they are pure in their approach and mean more to me personally than just about anything else I’ve written in my life.
Today, my confidence stays at a fairly healthy level. For the most part, I strike a good balance between believing in myself and remaining humble. Occasionally, at conventions or online, I see other writers who remind me of graduate school, people more concerned with telling others how great they are than anything. They know the one right way to do things and everyone else falls short. Regardless of their levels of success, some considerably better than mine, these people annoy me because they are a reminder of those who crushed my confidence, and I have to stifle the urge to take them to task. Never argue with a fool, as the saying goes. People might not know the difference.
My point of this whole piece is for others who have been knocked down and worry that your voice is insignificant. Don’t let anyone rob you of your creative drive. If you fail, so be it. At least you had the courage and dedication to create something. If your work falls short, go back, learn more, and try again. If some ego-driven jerk insults your efforts, don’t let that drown you in doubt. Brush aside the criticism and listen to your creative voice. Put forth your best effort and believe that your audience is out there waiting for you because they are. There is no one right way to create. There is no secret formula. Success is arbitrary and fleeting. In the end, all that matters is what you create, whether or not you can live with your efforts, and the authenticity of your voice. Above all, believe that you and your voice matter.
D.A. Adams Bio
D. A. Adams is a novelist, a farmer, a professor of English, and in my estimation, a true gentleman. His breakout fantasy series, The Brotherhood of Dwarves, transcends genre and illuminates the human soul in all its flashes of glory and innumerable failings.
He is active on the Con circuit and has contributed writing to literary as well as fine art publications, and maintains his active blog, "The Ramblings of D. A. Adams". He lives and works in East Tennessee, and is the proud father of two boys, Collin and Finn.
His ability as a storyteller breathes life into every character, and his craftsmanship as a writer makes these stories about relationships; human or otherwise.
Between Dark and Light Synopsis
The stakes are higher than ever in the fourth installment of the popular dwarven saga!
The Great Empire has surrounded the Kiredurks and are preparing to conquer the kingdom, but unknown to them, Kwarck, the mysterious hermit of the plains, has his own plan in action. To the east, he has summoned an elven army and charged Crushaw with leading them into battle. To the south, Roskin will gather an army from the fractured Ghaldeon lands. But to the west, an ancient and powerful evil stirs.
The Great War is about to errupt, if Roskin can overcome the Dark One...
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