Monthly Wrap: Faking Confidence

by Susan Henderson on May 9, 2008

Just want to mention quickly that today is Mr. Henderson’s and my 16th anniversary. Twenty-one and a half years if you count the high-drama dating.

He’s so skinny here. I think the stress of wedding planning far outweighed any stress that came after it. (And if he disagrees with me, our Thai dinner is off.)


I liked reading your answers to this month’s question and having a look inside a single drawer or pocket of yours. The tiniest corner of your home can say so much about you, and it was fascinating to see you through the lens of what you hold on to. I think this is why, when I visit someone, the first thing I do is poke around – I see what’s on the wall, in the candy dish, on the bookshelf. It’s like cutting right to the heart of someone, where all the interesting stuff lies.


I was tempted to come here today and talk about the process of editing this book. I could show you the piles of things left undone – letters I have yet to respond to, phone calls I meant to return, blood tests I didn’t follow up on, prescriptions I never filled. The piles around the house show the practically insane focus I’ve kept on my book.

I started typing a little something about what my edits were like, but it was hard to know where to begin. This latest round of edits only scratches the surface of what I’ve done to this book and what this book has done to me. And as I typed, I could feel my throat seize up and my rib cage squeeze tight – because, right now, even remembering hurts.

Instead, I’m going to show you a corner of the bulletin board in my office.

For me, confidence is a slippery thing. I can’t hold onto it for long.

But it’s key because my writing is no good when I’m hesitant or criticizing myself as I go.

So how do you sustain a belief in yourself and in your work when it’s not your nature? When you’ve collected more rejection slips than acceptances? When, despite working day after day, you just can’t get it right? How do you not get eaten up by self-loathing?

This was at the root of my struggle throughout. And to finish this book, I had to find my will to fight, to believe I had something to say and that I was the one who needed to say it.

Back to the bulletin board. Every day before I went to work on my book, I pinned something up that would keep me going. Some days it was a fortune from a cookie, some days it was a horoscope that said everything I’d been working so hard to achieve would soon materialize. Some days, I pinned up nice things that big-shots said about my writing.

An important book. ~ Sessalee Hensley

A literary masterpiece with commercial appeal. ~ Kirkus

Some days, I simply put up notes like, You’re closer than you think.

I suppose it would be better if my confidence came from within. But for now, it’s mostly external. Mostly fictional, too. I made up every quote that kept me going. But whatever gets you through – right?


Thanks so much for everyone who played here this week, for a great literary discussion between Lance Reynald and Anthony Tognazzini, and for all of you who linked to LitPark: Koreanish, Lynn Alexander, Making It Up, Lance Reynald, Five Star Literary Stories, Wish It Were Fiction, Anthony Tognazzini. I appreciate those links!

See you first Monday of next month. Write your heart out until then.

{ 76 comments… read them below or add one }

Nathalie May 9, 2008 at 7:59 am

Happy anniversary!
Enjoy your time away from the edits.


Kimberly May 9, 2008 at 8:07 am


You can add this to your board… (pure non-fiction)

kmw: “She’s going to be famous…”
drmdzh: (beaming) “I know!”


Gail Siegel May 9, 2008 at 10:40 am

As a complete aside, thanks to Litpark, I got to meet Nathalie in Rome in March, when I was in Italy on writing business. We spent a whole day poking in and out of churches (her photographs are amazing) and had a delicious lunch in the old Jewish Ghetto (yummy arthichokes.) Thank you, Susan. Thank you LITPARK. And THANK YOU, Nathalie.


Aurelio May 9, 2008 at 11:01 am

Happy anniversary to you and Mr. H!


Aurelio May 9, 2008 at 11:04 am

Were those the small fried artichokes? We had those in a restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto when we were in Rome, and if that’s what you’re talking about, they were amazing!


terrybain May 9, 2008 at 11:19 am

happy ann, H’s.

I sometimes make it through a shallow patch by admitting how awful I am and trying to make up my mind to be okay with that. Other times I just get up and make myself a coffee. But best of all is to lay on the floor in the living room. It will not be long before either a toddler or a dog reminds me just how much I’m loved. Love doesn’t cure everything, but it sure as hell helps.



SusanHenderson May 9, 2008 at 11:57 am

Today I’m just totally and utterly free-falling. It’s just one of those days. I erased everything else I typed. Anyway, thank you so much for all the good thoughts and for being here. I’ll answer everyone’s posts when I’m feeling better.


Gail Siegel May 9, 2008 at 1:00 pm

They didn’t seem very small to me, but they were totally crispy. Nathalie is the expert. I will ask her to respond, and maybe she can link to her photos…


Nathalie May 9, 2008 at 1:01 pm

And thank you right back at you for visiting. It was a grand day out.
(and thanks to Susan)


Nathalie May 9, 2008 at 2:00 pm

The pictures are there.
No picture of the artichokes, though…
(That’s an EXCELLENT excuse to come back)


Nathalie May 9, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Italian artichokes are smaller than normal globe artichokes but still look big because they are spread out like flowers.
No pictures, sadly, but I had planned to go in the centre to revisit some of those churches I saw with Gail over the weekend, so possibly I could force myself to have one of those again and take a photo…


Aurelio May 9, 2008 at 3:00 pm

These artichokes I had you could eat whole, rather than just the soft parts of the leaves, as they were not fibrous. Man, it makes me hungry just thinking about them. I also had the absolute best gnocchi ever in Rome.


Betsy May 9, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Holy moly, that is a long, long time! Congrats!


SusanHenderson May 9, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Thank you, Nathalie!


SusanHenderson May 9, 2008 at 8:59 pm

You really said that? He really said that?

Oh, I’m meant to ask you if you want Doors tickets.


SusanHenderson May 9, 2008 at 9:00 pm

I am so hungry for artichokes right now.


SusanHenderson May 9, 2008 at 9:01 pm

Thank you!


SusanHenderson May 9, 2008 at 9:02 pm

Love and dogs helps very much, you’re right. It would also help if I were more even-keeled and thick-skinned, but that I’m not.


SusanHenderson May 9, 2008 at 9:04 pm

Yeah, and he still makes me laugh every day, so not bad at all.


Marianne Villanueva May 9, 2008 at 9:07 pm

Hi, I just discovered your site, so this is my first time to post.

How do I fake confidence? Well, I have a “day job” as a composition teacher in Foothill College. It’s a community college, and students there run the gamut. I am not an academic, in fact my only qualification is that I graduated Creative Writing from Stanford. But, I found that the students embrace my unconventionality.

Until this quarter, when I had two lazy students who were disruptive in class and reported me to the Dean with false allegations. So, the Dean, who is new to his position, hauled me in for a “formal meeting” a few days ago. There he totally laid into me, calling me “unprofessional,” “rude” to my students, telling me I “threw a paper back in a student’s face” etc etc. It took ALL MY COURAGE to hold myself together.

So, I came home, took a deep breath and — would you believe, that was possibly all I needed to get started on a story? Because it was a real kick in the pants. Also, I have decided to act like a robot for the remaining six weeks of the school year, reserving my “real” self for my imagination and my writing world. Hope I can do this “play-acting” stuff for six weeks. After school ends, I will fall apart. I’ve never NOT worked, not in my whole life. Work has been my “buffer” from the harsh realities of the writing life.


RustyB May 10, 2008 at 8:32 am

Happy Anniversary!

I just fake confidence; if you fake it long enough it becomes second nature. 😉


Kimberly May 10, 2008 at 8:54 am

Of course I do! Lemme know dates and times.

(oh, and yes, we did – it was the *beaming* that was especially adorable)


Kimberly May 10, 2008 at 8:58 am

Hot damn, do I miss Rome! Nathalie – those photos are gorgeous! Thank you for those… wow!


SusanHenderson May 10, 2008 at 9:19 am

A few announcements – some friends with good news:

This isn’t a direct link because it’s a pop-up, but political cartoonist, Jimmy Margulies, has some pieces highlighted on MSNBC today: (then go to The Week in Political Cartoons)

The fabulous Josh Kilmer-Purcell has a new book coming out on Tuesday. It’s called CANDY EVERYBODY WANTS, and you can read more about it here:

Neil’s book is the next pick for the NPR book club. Not a new book, either:

And just to give a public shout-out to an old friend I’ll be hanging with on Friday: Hey, Kevin!

(That’s him on the right, with the Fruit-Loops-colored tie: )


SusanHenderson May 10, 2008 at 9:23 am

The fake-it-till-you-make-it team, all right!


SusanHenderson May 10, 2008 at 9:23 am

Marianne, Welcome!


troutbum70 May 10, 2008 at 11:01 am

I not sure it’s fake confidence. Maybe we just let the fear and self loathing win from time to time. I am in constant struggle with self doubt and I know there is nothing that I can not do. I have a hard time with praise for my writing, I am such a harsh critic of myself that I think people are just being nice. It holds me back. I love artichokes, so when in Rome. Hope you had a good anniversary.


Nathalie May 10, 2008 at 2:54 pm

I hope you are feeling better today, Susan.


Xujun May 10, 2008 at 3:03 pm

Belated Happy anniversary, Sue! (I was on the road yesterday.)

Speaking of confidence, I’m very much like you. I have more self-doubt than confidence. What keeps me going, therefore, is not confidence but the attractiveness of challenge. Not sure if I’m making sense here…


Nathalie May 10, 2008 at 3:05 pm

Well, Rome is still there, waiting for you to come back…


Nathalie May 10, 2008 at 3:05 pm



Brad Listi May 10, 2008 at 8:32 pm

I feel I must issue a belated happy anniversary!


Nathalie May 11, 2008 at 11:43 am

Did they look anything like this?
This one was a little smaller than that we had with Gail – possibly because the leaves were less spread out.


SusanHenderson May 12, 2008 at 8:09 am

Thanks, Brad! Are you still going to be covering the Denver convention?


SusanHenderson May 12, 2008 at 8:10 am

May 31st and June 1st. Let me know if you want one or two. Also: yay!


SusanHenderson May 12, 2008 at 8:12 am

I am putting Rome on my to-do list. And that artichoke, too.


SusanHenderson May 12, 2008 at 8:31 am

Well said, Xujun. It’s funny, we talk a lot about self-doubt around here, but there’s something in each of us that keeps on in the face of defeat, and maybe that’s the more interesting story.


SusanHenderson May 12, 2008 at 8:34 am

I’m feeling much better. I napped that mood off and am getting much better at regrouping. I have this fear of disappointing people, among other issues, so turning in my edits was bound to dig at me. Thanks for checking in.


SusanHenderson May 12, 2008 at 8:35 am

Love this discussion, and see Xujun’s response.


Aurelio May 12, 2008 at 10:17 am

I think so. It’s been a while. If I’m remembering correctly, the restaurant was called Da Giggetto?


Nathalie May 12, 2008 at 10:50 am

It still is !
It’s still the best known place in the Ghetto and that is actually where I took Gail! (although the picture was taken next door at Taverna del Ghetto, which is also very good).


JessicaKeener May 12, 2008 at 4:47 pm

Congratulations for 16 years! What a gorgeous picture.

As I wrote here not too long ago, self-doubt plunged me into dark, mucky tunnels and sabotaged forward motion in my writing. Eventually, I wore myself out. I just can’t torture myself in that way anymore or certainly not with the same conviction. Sounds odd to say it but it’s true. These days I just keep on. Maybe I’m under a weird spell –or maybe I’m learning how to have faith.


Sbain May 13, 2008 at 12:37 am

Does this mean if you are only posting monthly that you won’t go dark in the summer?

Well, happy late anniversary and happy book edits and happy day after Mother’s Day.

Hating to toot my own horn, it’s much easier to toot when it really isn’t about me. There is a beautiful new book out called Honoring Motherhood: Prayers, Blessings, and Ceremonies. And there might be a poem of mine in the winter section, but more importantly, the book speaks volumes about mothering and does not shy away from loss.

Check it out here:

And while it is chock full of essays and poems by people like Maya Angelou, George Eliot, Robert Frost and Sappho, here is a taste of perhaps my favorite one by a girl named, Sophia Waldenberg, age 8

It was a crisp cool morning at the city.
My mom and I saw the bakers busy at work.
As we entered the bakery
we heard the birds singing
through the thin windows,
and the coins jingling in my pocket,
like jingle bells at Christmas.
My mom held my hand
and we walked to the case full of treats.
As I put the coins on the counter, she handed me
a steaming cinnamon roll with a fork. I took a bite.
In the bite I could have tasted my mom’s heart.
In that sweet bite I also tasted
the warm brown sugar,
I felt the soft dough on my tongue,
and smelled the warm cinnamon.
As if Love walked in the bakery
and said What do you know?
and I said,
This mom.


terrybain May 13, 2008 at 12:50 am

Lovely, of course, but I knew that already.


SusanHenderson May 13, 2008 at 8:44 am

This is was my Mother’s Day card from Green-Hand:

I love how you always read to us. You spend time with us reading great books. It’s nice to spend time with you each night. It’s fun just to be with you and I’ll always remember it.

I am so proud and happy you finished your book. I can’t believe your “done”! You must be relived and so happy. I think it will be a great book. Again I say I’m so proud for getting through it.

After your book, you took us out to dinner. You got us a great dinner. You got us ice cream. You let us get lots of candy and we had a great time. You were so happy and I hope you are now.

I remember when we spent time together at Cony Island when I had my first ferris wheel ride. You held me the whole time. I remember being scared. After I wanted to go on again with you! I hope you remeber too.


SusanHenderson May 13, 2008 at 8:47 am

Can’t wait to read your poem! And how wonderful is this? This is your little Sophia writing this?! Wow.

And right. LitPark will be the first week of every month and no months off. That works way better for me, and hopefully it works for all the regulars, too.


SusanHenderson May 13, 2008 at 8:49 am

Ha! I love that perspective, that it’s just too hard to keep up the bad mood and self-torture!


Sbain May 13, 2008 at 9:21 am

No, no, not my Sophia but at 7 years old, since she heard the 8 year old Sophia’s poem, she’s been working hard at her own poetry.

In the meantime, 10 year old Carver’s continual question to Terry is, “Papa, why is it taking you so long to write a book? I could write a book faster than you.”

Maybe many of you have this experience with your children–that is, they think it’s just taking too, too long to write.

And I LOVE that I can edit my own posts now!


Carolyn_Burns_Bass May 13, 2008 at 11:20 am

Sue, I’ve learned so much about publishing from your journey. Having a book shiny and smooth on a bookstore shelf is one of my longtime hopes, a destination that’s been on my trip-tic for more than half my life. My journey has been much longer than yours and my destination is still far out there on the horizon. Still, reading how each word has affected you, how each round of edits has wrenched your soul, gives me hope.

Doubt is fear of reality; self-doubt is fear of your real self. Your real self rocks, Sue-baby.


SusanHenderson May 13, 2008 at 6:10 pm

Aw, you’re sweet. Thank you, Carolyn.

And I’m glad to hear it helps to just show the whole journey as it plays out. I think it takes the guess work and the shame and the isolation out of it, as much as that’s possible.


SusanHenderson May 13, 2008 at 6:12 pm

My kids seem to understand and appreciate more than anyone how long it takes to write, sell and edit a book. It’s my grownup friends who are shocked and confused by the whole thing.

I didn’t know the posts were edit-able now – yay for Terry!


Tish Cohen May 13, 2008 at 6:31 pm

I’d love some always-there inner confidence. But it’s rarely there, if I’m honest. I write notes, too, to keep me going. I have a note-covered poster board leaning against the wall by my computer and when I feel myself in that downward spiral, I practically mash my face into it.

Maybe I need a little self control, too.


Tish Cohen May 13, 2008 at 6:46 pm

P.S. Happy Anniversary!
P.P.S. Today I finished the first draft of my book. Same thing – piles of tests not taken, haven’t had my hair trimmed in seven months, only the freezer-burned crap nobody wants left in the freezer.


SusanHenderson May 14, 2008 at 8:25 am

I know the last thing you guys think you need is another website/writers networking site, but Red Room is especially cool so I thought I’d mention it here. Everyone from Maya Angelou to Khaled Hosseini is over there.

And me, too:


SusanHenderson May 14, 2008 at 8:27 am

Thank you, and, man, am I excited to hear you finished that first draft! P.S., Tish, if you want to house sit in Hawaii, drop me a note.


SusanHenderson May 14, 2008 at 8:27 am



jodyreale May 15, 2008 at 8:55 am

Happy anniversary, and congratulations on the big finish. (Note to self: buy bulletin board. And bacon maple bars, stat.)


SusanHenderson May 15, 2008 at 2:20 pm

Thank you, Jody! Have to say I’ve never been tempted to get a bacon maple bar, but the bulletin board is something else.


SusanHenderson May 15, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Remember the six-word memoir book that went on the be a NY Times Bestseller? Well, they’re at it again, so please submit something. Here’s the info about the newest idea called SIX WORD MEMOIRS ON LOVE & HEARTBREAK:

We’re already taking submissions, and it comes out next February, just in time for Valentine’s Day. Next we’ll be collecting six-word memoirs by and for teens, and producing a straightforward sequel stuffed with great six-word memoirs by celebrities and regular folks. We’d love to have you, our proven writers, take part in these new projects. Stop by to share these and a variety of other stories. End up in a book, on a calendar, or even a pickle jar, and spread your love of true stories ever farther.


SusanHenderson May 19, 2008 at 4:30 pm

When I was an undergraduate, my college had the highest suicide and murder rates my freshman year, so my memories of that time are mixed to say the least. But I was very proud of CMU’s picks for this weekend’s commencement: Al Gore and Randy Pausch, both colleagues of my dad, and outward-thinking men.

Also, spent last Monday with a CMU pal I hadn’t seen in a long while. I’ll link the photo here even though it couldn’t be blurrier. Long ago, both Kevin and I wanted to be biomedical engineers. Now he’s a VP at Goldman Sachs and I’m something that is hard not to describe as “unemployed.” Was a very sweet, emotional reunion.

And P.S. You can watch the progress of my bangs growing out.


Heather_Fowler May 21, 2008 at 2:03 am

Oh, Susan! You are such a superstar!

Why is it that the most amazing people are always hardest on themselves?

Here is a secret: When I feel misery and self-doubt, I write someone a poem, or make them a drawing, or call a friend and compliment them. This is the only thing distracting enough to get me out of my mental (irrational, self-eviscerating I might add) worry-path. It helps. A lot. As does Prince. A wee bit of Prince (or other hiphop) and I’m golden. If even that doesn’t work, I find a ridiculous mantra or play the most gruesome version of the thankful game you can imagine… And then, if all else fails, there’s vodka. This must be used sparingly. If not sparingly, it must be used abundantly. Also, I have pacts with very good friends where we can essentially request praise and reinforcement with nearly no words required such that a glow fest can liven our egos and hearts. These paces are good. Even better if you can use a code word to avoid ever having snivelled or admitted self-repulsion… And then there’s that other thing between adults, too. You know? That thing adults do? It’s very hard to have self doubt when you edit after that…

Well, a few ideas from one with numerous coping strategies…. All necessary. xoxo!! H


SusanHenderson May 21, 2008 at 7:16 pm

Thank you, sweetie. And good timing. On a day I was ready to tear into myself, this little note from you made me think twice about it.


Heather_Fowler May 21, 2008 at 10:11 pm

Think about ten times before you do that. Then ten or a hundred and fifty more. I was just telling Aurelio the other day how absolutely in awe of you I am: beauty, brains, emotional honesty, an amazing giving spirit–you’re a warrior, Susan! Life should bow to you. Dom it into doing so. 😉

All affection,


JamesRSpring May 22, 2008 at 1:00 pm

I’m reporting you to the police. That photo looks like child porn. What were you guys, like, eight?

Regardless, happy anniversary.

Re: doubt… Sometimes I want to shake you and rattle your head until you see what we see.

It is staggering to me how subjective and arbitrary some editorscan be.

I am friendly with one woman who is particularly fierce with her writers. One day, after a a few drinks, I said to her, “I could hand you typed pages of Faulkner and you would tear them to shreds.”

One more sip of the cosmopolitan, and then the answer.

“I know.”

Your book will find its way to the right place, with the editor. And I predict that one day soon, I will be hearing your dulcimer tones reading to me on NPR.


Marc Acito May 23, 2008 at 2:14 pm

LOVE the wedding dress. Reminds me a a frothy meringue.


SusanHenderson May 23, 2008 at 9:47 pm
SusanHenderson May 23, 2008 at 9:48 pm

Before the wedding, my mother in law told me the sleeves looked like I was lathered in calamine lotion.


SusanHenderson May 23, 2008 at 9:49 pm

Very sweet, but mostly I appreciate the shot of your chest hair.


SusanHenderson May 23, 2008 at 9:52 pm

You are like the little angel that sits on someone’s shoulder in cartoons.


Heather_Fowler May 26, 2008 at 12:52 am

I should frame this remark. Or commemorate it somehow. I have always wanted to be the good cartoon angel. Why, oh why, has no one noticed this before… *note to self: Frequent horns showing distract from feathery wings? Ponder at a later date…*



lance_reynald May 26, 2008 at 2:12 am



jodyreale May 26, 2008 at 10:55 am

Whenever I’m down in the mouth about my chosen craft, I feel better realizing that at least I didn’t go into politics.


SusanHenderson May 26, 2008 at 11:27 am

Ain’t that the truth!


SusanHenderson May 26, 2008 at 11:29 am

I’m so captivated by this video because I think it’s marking an era, or a “something,” at least, just as the O.J. trial did. And just as Princess Di’s death via paparazzi-stalking did. Single events that speak volumes about society at a particular moment in time.


lance_reynald May 29, 2008 at 12:29 am

amen to that, sister.
(sips martini)


SusanHenderson May 31, 2008 at 8:03 am

Just a note to those of you who’ve written or called recently. I’ll try to get back to everyone by the end of the weekend, but I have to say it’s doubtful, so please be patient. I’m big-time into my third round of edits. Plus Bach-Boy is doing his tribute concert to The Doors today and tomorrow and there is not an extra hour of any day right now. (If I get some good footage, you’ll see it here soon.)

Hope to see everyone here Monday for a new Question of the Month and a sneak peek at this month’s guest. xo


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