Patricia Cornwell's Advice on Insecurity by Jessica Strawser
When I was invited to contribute to this group, I was immediately hooked by the name. Because I'm insecure about my writing? Well, yes. But also because I’ve come to see that as a good thing.
Interviewing bestselling writers for Writer’s Digest has always been one of my favorite parts of my day job, and my phone conversation with No. 1 bestselling crime writer Patricia Cornwell was no exception. I was a bit nervous, though. She’d worked in a morgue; she flew a helicopter. What could someone like that know about insecurity?
And then, she told me this:
"I think a little insecurity is a good thing. I’ll be honest: When somebody has written their first novel and they tell me how fantastic it is, I know it’s probably not very good. It’s usually the person who says, 'I don’t know, I’m not sure what I think, but I’m afraid to do much else to it because I don’t want to ruin it,' and then you look at the thing and go, 'Now that is really special.' So it’s not bad to be a little insecure. It makes you work harder and pay attention.
"When people tell me, 'It must be so relaxing to fly a helicopter,' and I say, 'If your pilot says that, do not get in!' …When you sit in [your writing] chair, that should be your cockpit. You should be hyper-vigilant, and alert, and a little bit nervous about what you’re doing, and you’ll do a good job."
To this day, when I start to doubt myself —alone in my writing room late at night, my children asleep upstairs, my screen aglow in front of me— I hear Cornwell's voice. And I take comfort in the fact that feeling that way might just mean I'm on the right track.
Jessica Strawser is the editorial director of Writer's Digest magazine, North America's leading publication for writers since 1920. Her debut novel, Almost Missed You, is forthcoming in March 2017 from St. Martin's Press. She loves connecting with fellow writers on Twitter @jessicastrawser and @writersdigest and on Facebook.