I think many writers struggle with lack of self-confidence in their ability to write great novels. Not surprising since in the first place there are many outstanding writers that have gone before and also the simple act of writing is a far more complex and subjective endeavor than producing widgits on an assembly line. These two jobs take different gifts.
But I came across a couple related quotes from James A. Michener that I wanted to pass along:
"...unless a young person feels intuitively that he is at least as good as some who have gone before, he has small chance of excelling them."
"Without a solid self-confidence to sustain them, I do not see how young people will have the courage and determination to undergo the disappointments of an apprenticeship in any of the arts or the will to protect themselves if they do succeed in becoming professionals."
--both quotes appear on p. 327 of James A. Michener's The World Is My Home: A Memoir.
He is speaking here of healthy self-confidence, NOT arrogance.
Now I can hear writers arguing, "Yeah, but how many writers have you heard who have picked up another author's work, put it down and said 'I can write better than that!'" We've all heard writers say that. In fact, we've probably said it ourselves.
But do we REALLY believe it? Self-confidence comes and goes but many struggle with it. We see the great body of literature that has already been and wonder "how can I compete with that?"
But we must be confident in our calling. Unlike Michener, who describes his literary success as involving lots of luck, I believe there is a more definitive plan in place. Nevertheless, that does not prevent lack of confidence. Because sometimes we can lose sight of what drove us to write in the first place.
I don't know why I started looking for information on Michener. I've never even read his novels. Perhaps because I found an audio interview online, and also because he wrote a different kind of novel and I'm presently struggling with how what I desire to write doesn't much match up with the market (ie. I prefer one long book to several chopped up books in a series).
But his words are sound. I particularly find it insightful that he stresses self-confidence, not only to sustain you until you get published, but to carry you through after you are published when you have to face all the trials and pitfalls of the published author's life.
Authors would do well to take heed.