Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Validation has been on my mind a lot lately, as I rush to finish some projects in order to pitch them to agents, editors, and writers I dream about working with.

It all started with some observations made by various writer friends over the years. Every now and then, usually when the liquor was mostly drunk and the evening reached with ragged sleeves toward dawn, someone complained about how darn much self-esteem writer X had. How did X have bullet-proof confidence in all defiance of every objective measure of his talent?

Those pre-dawn venting sessions stuck with me. It’s always frustrating to us humble folk, who dash from gatekeeper to gatekeeper, hoarding the smallest compliment in our camel’s hump of self-esteem, to run into a lucky bum with a lousy book. How dare he be so proud of a limited vocabulary, of familiar tropes, of stereotypical characters? How dare he?

Well, actually, it was usually doing him a lot of good. When was the last time you bought something from a diffident salesperson?

Then one day I met a motivational speaker, who said she’d noticed that in her seminars, men most often looked to themselves for validation, and women looked most often to external sources for validation.  She went on to say that there’s two components to any skill: competence and confidence. Far too often, she said, women throw all their energy into acquiring competence and yet still feel that unless someone else says so, their competence isn’t valid—regardless of how skilled they might actually be. “Imposter syndrome” is another term for it.

I thought of those loud and preening gents who sold their first novel well before I did, who got contracts for books with plots as thin as onion skin.  Is there any way to be more like those fellows and less like me in the confidence department? Can I simply decide to look to myself for validation?

Photo of Helen Mirren
How can I harness my inner Helen Mirren?

Here’s a few things I’m trying:

  • ·      Every time I notice myself thinking “they won’t want to talk to me,” I imagine the roles are opposite. I almost always want to listen to someone pitch me an interesting idea or tell me about an interesting book.
  • ·      Every time I feel that desperate scream for validation escaping, I think about a time my words moved someone. The screenplay scene that gave a classmate nightmares, or the lovely passage a published writer called out when reading my work, or that one day when I found a paragraph so perfect that I thought someone else must surely have written it. This is real, I tell myself. That feeling that someone else must say I’m good is not real.
  • ·      I think about my women friends, incredibly talented, doubting themselves. Letting someone else tell them what to write, or how to write. Believing all the negative comments and none of the good ones. Of course they are mistaken—so likely so am I.
It’s okay to be wrong—I don’t have to be the first person to know I’ve made a mistake. It won’t kill me to fail in public. Not experimenting enough to fail and learn, now, that will cut me off from my creativity and leave me cowering in the corner, afraid to write the wrong word.

Let our confidence be reborn and become the strong twin to our competence. 

Please comment and tell me how you've learned to look to yourself for validation!


Edith Maxwell said...

Wonderful post, Mysti. I think you're on the right track.
When I'm writing and revising, I often doubt myself. "Nobody's going to want to read this drivel." And then I remember that I'm on my sixth novel, with five either published or in production by someone other than me. And I remind myself how happy I am when I'm creating fictional lives and stories, and making them the best they can be. And I keep on going.

Mysti Berry said...

Thanks Edith!

Lisa Hughey said...

I think this is an age old problem. Men have too much confidence and women not enough. :) I know a lot of people swear by affirmations. Writing them out and then saying them, either last thing before you go to bed or first thing in the morning. Maybe something to try!! Great post once again. Thanks Mysti!