Talking Yourself Down and Talking Yourself Up (aka: Fighting the Two-Headed Dragon of Insecurity)

April 26, 2016 | By | 17 Replies More

2960747Insecurity, covered with writhing, glinting scales, is a dragon – a truly frightening creature. But here’s the worst part: the dragon has two heads.

The battle against the beast begins the moment you put your fingers to the keyboard with serious intent. Your intent is to be a writer. A writer in the wool-stocking, coffee-gesturing, perfect prose-composing, awesome smartness you imagine all writers possess. The dragon opens one sleepy eye. He blinks indulgently and, immediately, you wither into your own thoughts: Is this paragraph clunky? Is this character likable? Does the motivation ring true? What if I suck?

Time to talk yourself down. It’s the only way to continue. The weapons vary from writer to writer, and the war will be waged in your own mind, but you must fight…or the dragon will win.

When I decided to quit dabbling and actually start writing, I sought out posts and articles dealing with the care and keeping of this particular dragon, and consumed them whole. I needed to celebrate my progress rather than determining I still wasn’t good enough. I needed confirmation that other writers (already published, successful writers) were still entrenched with their own swords drawn because this battle wasn’t new.

The weapon with the most rubies on the hilt and the shiniest blade, for me, was this: a small but mighty phrase by novelist and blogger, Chuck Wendig. His words were “once in a never.” I swung this phrase into the dark corners where my insecurity crouched, exhaling sulfur, leaving me no room to breathe. Here was my battle cry: “Most people write a book (even a bad book) once in a never!” I could finally pat myself on the back for how far I’d come. When I start worrying that the book won’t sell or my classmates will gossip at the reunion that it was rotten, I tell myself, “So what? Most people publish a book once in a never.”

So I finished my book. I am on my way to publication. And, yes, I’m a little giddy. Okay, over the moon. I’m confident I’ve slayed the dragon because I have a contract, a cover, a title, and business cards. But there’s a small puff of smoke and then flame. The second head yawns, revealing a jaw full of dagger-sharp teeth. The insecurity wrinkles a ridged brow, sensing my weakness, because now I have to answer questions about my craft, about the book, to real people – readers.

I want to sound interesting, but what if I’m not witty or unique? I want people to read the book, but what if they find it simple? Or boring? My first line of defense has been, and continues to be, self-deprecation. “Yes, I wrote a book. It was so much fun, so rewarding, you know? But it won’t win any literary awards.” OR “The book is women’s fiction. It’s uh, about women, nothing too complex.” OR “Here’s a business card with a picture of the cover on it. You can throw it away if you want, I have thousands.”

“Stop!” I tell myself. If I can’t talk sweet about my own book, who will? I must be able to talk myself up! I wrote this book with my whole heart and the world should know I love it.

But here’s the truth: I’m still struggling with this, even more as I creep toward publication. Because somewhere in my brain I believe if I reveal all the flaws about my book in advance, readers will know that I know it’s not perfect, and then they can’t criticize. I’m hedging my bets. Of course, this is all wrong. This is like dropping the diamond-encrusted blade on my own foot, leaving the dragon to nibble on my limbs.

9781496705624So, time to talk myself up. But this time I’ll be talking to an audience. It’s so daunting to toot one’s own horn without seeming braggy, to post about achievements, to approach people I’ve long admired from afar and ask them to be my friend, to see me, to buy my book. Here’s my advice, and it’s so simple – take a deep breath and just do it. Hold on, that’s catchy. Someone should use that to sell shoes.

But here’s what I discovered (am discovering). Other writers are so encouraging, so helpful, and so real. I can’t believe this community! I’ve never had a group of co-workers who support me like my writer friends, and most of them are people I’ve never met (in person). I’ve received critical feedback, advice, a place to lay my head on a virtual shoulder – all through my critique and Facebook friends. I was afraid to reach out, but when I did I was received with open arms.

I have yet to receive feedback from actual readers (aside from my betas), nasty reviews on Goodreads, or to talk about my book in front of an audience. But it’s coming. I’m rehearsing my log-line so when people ask me about the book I don’t start with, “It’s no big deal, really…”

Instead I’ll say, “Imagine a century-old house, the walls full of secrets. My book is a braided story about five women who inhabit this same historic home across the decades. Their stories, loves and losses bind them to a place they all call home. You should totally read it. And I’d love to visit your book club.”

And I won’t stammer or blush (much). The dragon will rest. At least for a minute or two.



Ella Joy Olsen lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, in a century old brick bungalow with her husband and three children. She spent nearly a decade on the Board of Directors for the Salt Lake City Public Library system (andeven more years browsing the stacks), and is a member of Women’s Fiction Writers and the best book club ever, (SLC Bibliophiles).

Her debut novel,  –ROOT, PETAL, THORN  releases September 2016

Visit Ella Joy Olsen online:

Twitter: @ellajoyolsen

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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, How To and Tips

Comments (17)

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  1. I absolutely love what you wrote, especially the ending logline you came up with. Not only is it creative and interesting, I love that you mentioned talking to their book club, etc. It is what we need to do – be confident enough to put ourselves out there and not feel like we are running naked down the highway. 🙂

  2. Just came across this. Great encouraging piece, Ella, particularly to those of us in the trenches, hoping to have our words read by total strangers one day. I love the premise of your book about the five women connected by a house…Enticing cover.Looking forward to reading it.

  3. You have a good way of putting it. It takes so much courage and persistence to even finish a book, polish it to a high gloss, and get it to publication. Then you have to keep the faith and learn how to talk yourself up without overdoing it and sounding pompous once it’s on the shelves all the while dealing with reviews and sales numbers. It’s no wonder those that make it in this profession tend to be bull headed dragon slayers. You have to be!

  4. India says:

    This is a wonderful read. Good Luck with your Book, launching it and flying with it, tether that Dragon.

  5. Beth Havey says:

    Dear Ella,

    Congrats and love this piece. I love the premise of your novel and there are many others who will love it and read it. I will always regret I did not follow through with you after our one phone call. Swing that sword–and wishing you the best, Beth Havey

  6. wow, did this resonate! My dragon bites at me every day, as I question what i am doing, slogging away at my manuscript. You persevered, and made it this far, so a well deserved congrats!! Sometimes I like to read amazon reviews of others’ books, just to see what people say, and I quake at what might be written about mine. I like to think at age 50, I would understand you can’t please everyone. Maybe it’s time we embrace who we are as women, all the insecurity and doubt and flailing, for it makes human. And great storytellers. 🙂

    • Ella Olsen says:

      It’s so daunting to put yourself out there day after day! Talk yourself down and talk yourself up! My ARCs are being sent to reviewers this week and I’m trying to get work done. Talking myself down…

  7. MM Finck says:

    Could I love this article more? NO. I nodded, related, empathized, repeated… Thank you so much for writing this piece.
    PS I didn’t know you had three kids! 🙂
    PPS I LOVE the logline! This book is going to kill. What’s your pub date? Want to be interviewed?

    • Ella Olsen says:

      Hi MM,
      Your compliments mean so much! I love following your story about pre-publication, as well. It’s so nice to have comrades in arms! YES, I’d love to be interviewed! The pub date is August 30th. BTW, Barbara had requested an ARC to review – but my publicist can’t mail to Spain (or send a PDF due to company policies about piracy).

      Yes, three kids. Oldest graduates from high school in June. I’ve been nostalgic (weepy) for the last month, and it might get worse.

  8. Loved this and congratulations on doing the once in a never! And yes, women are too self-deprecating, self-apologetic, self-reducing. Best of luck with the launch and all the fantastic shining glory of your amazing accomplishment. Beautiful cover by the way!!!

  9. Ella,

    Awesome article! I can totally relate, having been slaying my own dragons for a couple of years now. It doesn’t seem to get easier. But it’s all worth it.

    Good luck on your book. I look forward to reading it!


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