Friday, July 22, 2011

Can Optimism Be Unhealthy?

I think my eldest daughter inherited some of my unhealthy optimism.

You see, there's a coloring contest at the library.

She did a great job of coloring the bird (with a feather that spells READ on its head) and adding her own artistic details of a tree and a bench in the background, as if the read-bird is strolling through a park. Very cute.

But here's where it got scary.

"I'm going to win the contest," she said. "And the winner of the contest is going to get a slip-and-slide, so we'll have a slip-and-slide ... And Anna's is really good, too, so she'll win the younger division and I'll win the older division and we'll--"

"Hold on," I said. "Your picture is great, honey, but you have no idea who the judges will choose. You shouldn't get your hopes up so high."

My eldest shrugged and walked away, which translated: I still think I'm going to win this coloring contest. That slip-and-slide is mine.

I'm glad my elder daughter is confident. I cringe, however, at her over-confidence. I want her to embrace some reality. Find a balance.

And speaking of balance, I need to find it in my writing life, too!

This week I found out I did not win a writing grant I applied for. I didn't even get honorable mention. I also found out I didn't win a writing contest I entered. I didn't even place in the top 25. I feel a little like my daughter holding up her bird picture going, "Hey, what's wrong with mine?" 

At the moment my optimism is wearing thin.

Of course I'll keep writing and submitting, because if I start hiding my work, then I've given up.

Even though I'm disappointed, I haven't thought of quitting. Earlier this week I sent off a submission to a magazine and today I entered another writing contest. Both may well turn into more disappointment, but eventually, EVENTUALLY I should be good enough to be published, or at least noted. (right?)

So maybe my daughter's unhealthy optimism isn't such a bad trait. She'll be disappointed if she doesn't end up with that slip-and-slide, but it won't ruin her. It might just make her try harder when the next coloring contest comes around. And that will be a good thing.

We don't give due appreciation to the things in life that come too easily.

What do you think: can over-confidence be a good trait in a writer? Is that what makes us keep trying, keeps us pushing for our elusive goals? Are over-confidence and optimism even the same thing-- two sides of the same coin? How do we make sure our optimism is the healthy kind?

Totally unrelated: Here's the raspberry trifle I made for our family reunion last week. It was gooey, gooey good. Despite loss and rejection, there's always TRIFLE, so chin up all you discouraged writers out there!


  1. Ah, chicken counting (as in "before they're hatched"). I'm really, really good at that.

    I think Orson Scott Card said you have to simultaneously love and hate your work. You have to love it and think it's the best thing ever, else you'll never write it and never send it out. But you also have to hate it and see all its flaws, else you'll never revise and when it's rejected, you'll be broken into tiny bleeding bits.

  2. My husband is convinced that all querying writers are painfully optimistic, and I think I agree. As you pointed out, you'd never submit your work if you didn't think it stood a chance, maybe even a good chance, of winning/getting picked up by an agent/landing a book deal. Pessimistic people wouldn't even try.

    This optimism does make for some tearful nights, though.

  3. Firstly...I need the recipe for that trifle.

    Secondly...I think over-confidence is a good thing as long as we don't let the failures get us down. Stepping back and looking at the big picture is key. Every writer is working extremely hard and does not have overnight success. So little failures should just make us stronger and want to fight for success even more.
    It's like that Christina Aguilera song "Fighter". :-)

  4. Confidence is important, but determination is more so. It sounds like you have a good balance of both traits, which is admirable.

  5. Mmmm, that trifle looks good. And did you say something else? . . .

    No, I think like you said, there is a balance, but at the same time, the disappointment will come all on its own and everyone necessarily learns to deal with it. So why rush to get rid of that optimism?

    Then again, I think that we need to be critical enough of our own work to really improve it. That said, I'm rooting for your daughter to win!

  6. we will never get there w/out an unfailing belief in ourselves. it is essential.

    recently, i pulled out some of the rejections on "LOVE" and it reminded me of this very thing. It only takes that one "yes" amid a sea of "um, no's".

    hope summer is treating you well...the trifle is lovely :D

  7. I think Adam made a good point about simultaneously loving and hating our work. I know I've been in that spot quite a few times.

    I'm sorry about the contests and the grant, but way to get back on the horse. One of the biggest things I've learned about contests is that they aren't really good measures of your work. It's about what the judges like best, so it's extremely subjective. Keep on keepin' on!

  8. I had a similar experience with one of my sons. He's still expecting his winning letter in the mail from Carls Jr. for their coloring contest. *sigh*

    I think optimism is a great thing, and don't see it as cocky at all. If the over-confident writer doesn't see anything wrong with their work, then that's a problem. But it seems to me most of us writers are the opposite...confident to a certain degree, and willing to learn.

    I'm sorry to hear about your recent disappointments, but I'm so glad to hear you won't let that stop you.

  9. I have to side with optimism. There's so much yuck in the world, why not hope? Here's hoping you win that next contest *lifts bowl of trifle*! :)
    My Blog

  10. Writers have to be the most optimist of people or they would never write! The competition is severe. As Adam Heine (first commenter) says above, quoting Orson Scott Card (one of my favorite authors): you have to not just love what you write but also be able to see its flaws. This isn't easy to do!

    But I've always said, if I don't write, I'll never get the chance to send anything out to be either accepted or rejected. Over the years I've had some successes, and now, at age 71, a memoir published. All things are possible, so don't give up!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Memoir, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

  11. Oh my gosh, that trifle looks heavenly! My mom made a trifle for a wedding this weekend, but I didn't get to try any. Trifle is one of my favorite things in the world.

    I think I'm the opposite. I need to work more on my confidence. I'm always my own worst critic and sometimes that leads me to not get things accomplished cause I think they're going to be horrible anyways.

    I ought to work on being more confident, because yeah, I think confidence is a good thing for a writer. We need to be self assured in our own talent and our own situation so that we don't get torn down with critiques, but instead we use them to better ourselves because we know that we have the talent and ability to improve. Confidence means room for improvement. Confidence means a good work ethic and a willingness to change because you know you can.

    At least that's what it means to me. :)

  12. I'm not sure if optimism and over-confidence are the same thing for me. I think I try to be optimistic about things, try to hope for the best, but I'm not necessarily "confident" about said things. Like, wow that would be SO cool if I win this thing, but not, I'm GOING to win this because I'm awesome. lol.

    Keep at it!

  13. Haha- Maybe I can send you my query and you can tell me I win and send the the recipe for trifle? And in return, I'd be happy to announce you a winner and send you the recipe for warm chocolate melting cake. Deal?

    I like the thoughts Adam gave from Orson Scott Card. I love and hate all too readily:)

  14. I know exactly what you mean! My daughter entered a PBS writing contest and despite the gazillion entries, was sure she'd be the one. I spent weeks saying stuff like "Well, you know there are lots and lots of other kids who..." and "you can't tell what the judges will be looking for..."

    Basically, the same bogus stuff I tell myself when querying.

    The good news is, though she didn't win, my daughter was quite happy with the certificate of appreciation all entries received. (If only I could be so easily pleased!)

    Great post!

  15. Wow, that dessert looks amazing. Mmm...

    I think optimism and confidence are important for writers--as is perseverance. Interesting to think about--good questions.

    I'm sorry about the grant and the contest. You have a great attitude, though! Keep going! Keep writing and submitting!

    P.S. - I hope she wins that slip-and-slide! :)

  16. I'm overly optimistic. When rejections poured in years ago, I was hurt, but I got back on my feet and kept writing.

    Hmmm, trifle. :)

  17. I love over-confidence. It gets you in the door more often than not. And keeps you playing. Glad you got back on the horse. Contests are a tricky thing bc so much depends on who enters. Hang in there.
    And yay to your daughter! Girls need overconfidence because it will be knocked out of them slowly in junior high so better to start with more than her fair share.

  18. I am perennially optimistic and I hope your daughter retains that optimism. It's wonderful to see yourself winning, achieving ... it's what dreams are made of, and helps us to forge a way to that dream.

    Olivia, never give up! Some day you will have that slip and slide.

  19. I'd say this is a good sign that you're doing something right. My parents believed we could do or be anything as long as we were willing to work for it, and I'm grateful to them for that. There will be people who try to tear her down, but a person who believes in herself can weather the disappointments.

    She has a better chance of winning that contest than someone who gives up before they start.

  20. That's really sweet. I don't think there's anything wrong with her optimism, it's better than being really worried and stressed out, no? :o)

  21. I'm so sorry about the contest and the grant, but I'm cheering you on!

    I think optimism is a great thing; it keeps you going when things seem hopeless. But you're absolutely correct that over-confidence can be very destructive, especially if you fail.

  22. Aw, she's cute, isn't she?
    Rejection and disappointment are part of life, I guess, and if she's able to deal with that, then she's on a winner.
    I think writers have to be optimistic and have a tough skin too. But keep submitting, Amy. You've got to keep valuing your work, otherwise you can't expect others to, and they will, eventually.
    Chin up, trifle looks yummy!

  23. I so agree with Miranda. Optimism is the confidence that lets us try something. Determination is what takes over when we fail the first time. And then keeps us going from there.

  24. I just want to know if she won the slip and slide?? :)


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