The Prospect

One fall afternoon, several years ago, I was working the scoreboard for the JV football games as I did every home game. My son was a senior then and played on the high school varsity team, as was the case for most of the other fathers working the booth with me. We all volunteered our time and in return we received gate passes to every school sporting event. It was a nice arrangement and one I really enjoyed participating in.

Chuck, the father sitting next to me, controlled the 30 second clock and the two of us usually talked as much about the varsity team as the JV team playing before us. His son was an outstanding defensive lineman who led the team in every statistic; most tackles, most sacks, most recovered fumbles, etc. Chuck’s son was proud of his accomplishments, and everyone knew it. The father was proud of the son, and everyone knew it. Both of them were constantly being lavished with praise and high fives, all of it well deserved.

This particular afternoon our conversation veered toward our boy’s post high school plans. I told Chuck my son was probably heading to the University of Arkansas, and he replied that his son was also…if he received a football scholarship from there. At this point I fell silent. You see, Chuck’s son was a good player, a very good player, but he wasn’t scholarship material. Sure he dominated all the team statistics, but we played at an average size school in a mediocre conference. And physically the boy didn’t have the girth and/or speed needed to play that position at a division I college. Chuck’s son was the prototypical large fish…in a very small pond. And no, the boy was not a RUDY. There would be no recruiters scouting this prospect.

Looking back at that memory, it forces me to wonder about self-perception. When we look at ourselves, take the time to analyze who we think we are and how we stack up against everyone else, it’s really not like looking in a mirror. Instead, the reflection is refracted, like a straw sitting in a half-full glass of water that appears broken due to the bending light waves. There are so many factors that can skew our self-image, unconsciously painting ourselves in a more positive or negative light, rendering our self-assessment downright unreliable for some of us.

So, how can we trust what we see when looking inside? A writer’s self-doubt originates from there, sweeping across our moods like a mid-day summer storm.

Aren’t we all prospects, doing what we can to attract the attention of recruiters (agents) and land that scholarship to play for the college team (publishing house) of our dreams? I know that’s how I feel. But am I over-estimating my potential and better off applying to a local community college instead?

Can you tell that this has become a common theme with me recently? The closer I get to actually querying my manuscript, the larger this question looms. Is my work worthy? Do I belong in the club? Or am I like Chuck and his son, star-gazing into a refracted reality? But what about the positive comments I get from my beta readers and critique group, don’t they count for something? Then I remember all of the praise and slaps on the back Chuck and his son received, were those not sincere as well?

You really don’t need to answer any of these questions, or blow daisies up my shorts. I’ll have my answer soon enough. And when that happens I’ll adjust accordingly and move in whatever direction makes the most sense.

21 comments

  1. Hmmmm, it sounds like you're going through a typical writer's doubt period. I know there are some writers out there, where I read their stuff and I think "wow, this really is not good" but I tell them something positive about their work because otherwise I sound like a schmuck.

    Then, there are some authors who think they are AMAZING with stars, and they never doubt themselves for a second. There are also people who think they suck it up, but in reality are quite talented.

    I however, am not one of those people who have great faith in my writing, and I am constantly doubting myself. But here's the ray of hope (you've probably read it, it's from Nathan Bransford): Do You Lack Confidence in Your Writing?

    I do like your writing (at least, what I have read online) and I say, that you should swallow your fears and submit anyway! You'll never know if you don't try.

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  2. We all have doubt and unfortunately it doesn't stop there. My book comes out in three months and if it doesn't do well... I didn't even aim for an agent, just went for smaller publishers, and if this book doesn't cut it, there's not much further on the ladder I can slip.

    And I refuse to blow daisies.

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  3. Very thought-provoking post. :)

    I may have settled for a community college, but I'll be trying my best to transfer to a school of my dreams within another year. The same goes for publishing. Why settle for less when there's always a possibility for more? If someone else can achieve their dreams, then why not me, especially if I'm willing to put in the hard work?

    I agree with Tiana: you never know if you don't try!

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  4. I just can't get over the "blow daises up my shorts" thing. That's funny!!

    You know what I think! :0D

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  5. This is an interesting question and a great story, Don.

    However, the difference is that physical talent often has a limit, whereas I do not believe writing does.

    What I think you're really asking is, "Are we deluding ourselves?"

    If someone had told Chuck or his father that he was good, but not good enough for a football scholarship, would Chuck have done whatever it takes to improve his game? Or would he accept his limitation and give up and go to a JC?

    I know for a fact that your critique group has been honest with you-- and that's the real value of a critique group. The only way we can know if our work is good enough is to hear the truth from people you trust, or whose opinions you think gel with your work.

    And in this, you're way ahead of Chuck.

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  6. I know how you feel - I'm in the same boat at the moment.

    My son is a highly talented athlete & we worried about him becoming a Chuck. Sadly, I think we overdid it. He's never been as confident as he should be. He could have been a big fish in the bigger pond, but never felt confident enough to try some things. But he's healthy, happy and a wonderful kid, so I guess we did something right too. :)

    It's a fine line to walk!

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  7. We'll all never really know until we put ourselves out there and find out. Good luck - I'm cheering for you :)

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  8. good stuff, and clearly everybody feels this way~ You gotta take a deep breath and jump. Good luck! :o)

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  9. I feel this way all of the time, so you're not alone, my friend. Not alone.

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  10. I think Sierra hit it on the nail. As writers, we can continue to improve out game (writing). I think we also need a smattering of humility to balance the courage it takes to move forward.

    Despite our doubts, we also need to remember the courageous plunge we've already taken to eke out those first words of prose. (Hugs)Indigo

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  11. Totally get this feeling. I think everyone with any sense of self-preservation feels this way. It's definitely a difficult journey for the writers in us, but if it's your passion, and you love it, you owe it to your efforts to see it through. I've enjoyed your writing, and chances are, someone in a position of power will enjoy it too. We all struggle with doubt, but KEEP on keepin on! You just might be worthy of that scholarship ;)

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  12. Chase Daniels... is there much more I need to say. Shorter than the average QB, smaller than the average QB, had a few great seasons (sorta the college equivalent of Drew Brees,I can never spell his name so shhsh it). He was picked up late in the draft, benched and then he was tossed in an NFL game and proved he could hang with the even BIGGER dogs. Right? Refracted or not my point is, well I'm not to sure where I was headed with that, but 1. Drew helped me win fantasy football 2. MIZ-ZOU and 3. Even the smaller fish in a big pond can throw the perfect hail mary. AND sometimes the big fish shoot themselves in the leg at a night club. Just sayin'...
    So yeah, decode that deep thought for the day ;)

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  13. PIG SOOEY! Razorbacks! I'm glad your son is going to UA! I graduated from there. :) Good school with caring professors.

    Everyone has doubts about their abilities even some of my very published friends...

    I constantly doubt myself, but I go on...right now I'm checking my mail box and email daily. I'm expecting form rejections, but hey at least I've got something out there. :)

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  14. I havent' read your work, and even if I have, I am no expert, so cannot comment on whether your self-doubt is justified or not.

    But I do know one thing. A person who has self doubt is more likely to succeed than one who doesn't. Simply because if someone tells you what is wrong, you are more likely to process it than someone who is cock sure they are perfect.

    All the best. You will succeed- eventually, even if not right away.

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  15. I think it is normal (and to an extent healthy) to doubt your own work. To challenge it and view it critically. To have others read and comment on it, and to be aware of the fact that there is a chance you won't succeed. As you said, you will soon have an answer - but the answer will be whether the agents and/or publishers you query see it within their interest to work with your MS at this time. It isn't necessarily a reflection of whether your MS is good or bad, and the first rejections (if they come) will not necessarily indicate that there will be more rejections.

    Your analogy is good, but there is one major difference. This kid would need a scholarship soon. He was finishing high school, ready to head off to college. He might have become a better player if he had a year more of constructive criticism, hard work, more training. But he didn't have time for that.

    You, on the other hand, have that luxury (or curse - depending how you see it...). If none of your queries lead to anything, you can continue working on this one particular MS, or you can start a new one. You have the opportunity to go your senior year over again if you don't get the scholarship the first time.

    Good luck!

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  16. I am right where you are in this. Although I'm sure you are a bit further along, I can see the query wars on the horizon and I am so full of self-doubt! But, I guess we just have to try, right. There is a yes or no answer to everything and we just have go.

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  17. I'm right there with ya, DL. I think it has something to do with being so close to querying. I hope ;-)

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  18. That's just Fear trying to scare you. Trying to talk you out of your dream.

    Tell Fear to shut up.

    Writing is like any other endeavor - the more you practice, the better you get. Fortunately, we don't need girth or speed to win. We just need to keep writing.

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  19. This is a very honest post that I think every writer can relate to --whether you're already in the publishing club or not. Self-doubt is a part of the game... unless you're so over-confident that you have delusions of grandeur. And personally, I'd rather suffer from self-doubt than be delusional. Once you sign that publishing contract, you'll see that it will bring about a whole new set of questions -- Will my book stack up to the competition? Will I sell that second book? Will the reviews make or break me? It's just a part of the process that you have to get used to. Don't let your doubt get in the way of your dream. You're very talented and it would be a shame if you kept that talent locked up within your questions. And remember, behind every great writer is typically a stack of rejection letters. If you're rejected during the query process, consider it a rite of passage. Good luck & keep us posted about your journey!!!


    PS: With over 400 followers, you're obviously doing something right! I'm sure agents/editors will be impressed that you already have an audience.

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  20. Oh boy. That was a downer post. ;)

    But I know what you mean. I thought I was almost ready to query (not mentally ready though). But then I got some awesome feedback from an agented writer (and talented critter) to help me strength my novel. She thought it had strong potential, but there were things I could improve. And she was right (about what I could improve). So now I'm hyped to make the changes . . . . but I'm also realistic about my chances of landing an agent and book contract.

    Sounds like we could be querying at the same time. ;)

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  21. Sierra / Erica / Rayna / Suzanne ~

    I want to apologize to the four of you and everyone else who has read this post (who I've personally e-mailed). I didn't mean for this to come off sounding as such a downer, but reading it with a new set of glasses tells me that it is just that. I come off sounding like a doubting Thomas. I set off the fire sprinklers when all I needed to do is dampen my own spirits, and that was wrong.

    I'm sorry.

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