How to Have Confidence in Your Writing – and Yourself

by Ali on January 9, 2012

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Photo by fantastic London & Surrey family photographer Antonina Mamzenko 

Thank you so much for the fantastic response to last week’s post, What Will You Write in 2012? I had a great time reading through your goals and projects for the year.

I’ve answered quite a few questions in the comments there, but I wanted to pull out three from Julie’s comment to tackle today.

How do you win the battle of silencing the self-critical voice that paralyzes you if you listen to it? How do you find your self-worth and value what you have to give? How do you keep going when you feel stuck?

I’m going to give my take on each of Julie’s questions; I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

How do you win the battle of silencing the self-critical voice that paralyzes you if you listen to it?

You win with every word you write.

You win by reminding yourself that first drafts are always far from perfect.

You win when you acknowledge that voice, but carry on regardless.

You win whenever you remember a time when someone praised your writing, or thanked you for your words.

It’s not an easy battle. And in fact, you don’t need to defeat that voice or silence it for good. You just need to get the first draft or two written – then you can let that self-critical voice back in.

When you’re writing, the voice is your enemy; when you’re editing, it’s your ally.

How do you find your self-worth and value what you have to give?

You’ve got the right to express yourself. You’ve got unique stories to tell – a set of experiences, thoughts, ideas, that are unique to you alone. That’s valuable, even if you only ever write for yourself.

But … you’ll find that other people can help you see that value more clearly.

That might be comments on your blog: Thank you for writing this, it came at the perfect moment for me.

It might be reviews of your book on Amazon: I couldn’t put this down. I loved it!

It might be a friend who needed your help writing a piece of copy: I couldn’t have done it without you.

Focus on what you can provide for other (a gripping read, an inspiring blog post, a helping hand) and you’ll learn how valuable your words are. We all have the ability – and, I believe, the responsibility – to give what we can to the world, through our writing.

How do you keep going when you feel stuck?

Imagine you’re walking and you come to a thicket of brambles. Your coat snags on them. If you keep pushing forwards, you’re going to get yourself even more stuck.

Instead, you need to take a step back. You have to look for a way round that thicket – or for tools to help you get through it.

It’s the same when you’re writing. Feeling stuck (as opposed to feeling lazy, which happens to me a lot ;-)) is often a signal that you need to take a mental step back.

Has your project gone off-course? You may need to cut out a tangent from your blog post, or a misplaced chapter from your book.

Does your project need to change shape? Your novel might actually be a series of linked short stories.

If you’re not sure why you’re stuck, try journaling about it. Thinking things through on paper is what we writers do – and it’s a great tool for problem-solving.

 

If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Brittany January 10, 2012 at 5:02 am

I knew I would be sharing this post half-way through. Thanks for the encouragement :).

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Ali January 10, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Thanks, Brittany — glad it helped, and I really appreciate you sharing it. :-)

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John Richardson January 10, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Freewriting is very helpful when you are stuck or having a tough time getting started. Just set a timer for 5 minutes and start writing about whatever comes to mind. This works well and often produces great ideas.
John Richardson’s last blog post ..The Failure Checklist

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Ali January 10, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Great tip, John — thanks for adding it! I find free-writing a nice way to get back into things if I’ve not been writing for a while.

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Jackie Ponderosa January 10, 2012 at 3:19 pm

These three topics are exactly what I’ve been struggling with, and your answers were extremely helpful. Thank you, Ali, for inspiring and teaching me.

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Ali January 10, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Hurrah, glad to help, Jackie!

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Cygnet Brown January 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm

I look at my inner critic as an ally rather than an enemy because the inner critic is helpful during the editing process. However, she is not good to have around when writing new material, so I simply tell her to sit down and be quiet while I’m writing, and she’ll get her chance to do her thing later. It works, most of the time anyway.

A couple of years ago I wrote for EHow and I discovered that the things that I wrote about that I thought everyone knew, everyone didn’t know. I learned that I had a lot to share, a lot more than I thought. Just because I know it well, doesn’t mean that everyone else does.

To keep going when I’m stuck, I do what you suggest here. I pull away from the task at hand for a little while. I do something on my to do list other than writing. I feel like I’m getting a break from writing when I’m cleaning house. The beauty of it is that I then see writing as a break from cleaning house when I go back to it. Keeping activities enjoyable makes the task at hand much easier..

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Ali January 10, 2012 at 6:31 pm

I love your approach, Cygnet — both to the inner critic and to taking a break. And it made me grin that you use housework as a break from writing and vice versa. If I’m ever feeling lazy about writing, I tell myself “You can either write or do housework…”

It’s so often the case with writing that we don’t realise the value of our own experience. Whenever I hear about other writers’ lives, I’m fascinated by all the wonderful things they’ve seen and done — but I’m sure that to someone with a totally different background from me, my life would seem intriguing too.

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Jennifer L. Oliver January 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Wonderful post!
I may just print this one out and stick it to my board. When the little, self-doubting voices start to whisper to me, I can just look up and remind myself that I can overcome those doubts with every word I write!
Thanks for sharing this, Ali.
Jennifer
Jennifer L. Oliver’s last blog post ..The Magic in Roses

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Ali January 10, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Thank you, Jennifer! So glad it helped you. Keep writing …

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Cathy Baker January 10, 2012 at 6:17 pm

I’m with Jennifer! This post will printed out and kept close by for future reference. Thanks for the great advice, Ali.
Cathy Baker’s last blog post ..If You Write for God…

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Ali January 10, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Thanks, Cathy! :-)

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Alison Elliot January 10, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Awesome advise Ali, the kind of thing one can’t hear often enough when those barking dogs of discontent start circling round the creative mind, dosing it with serious spit!!

I keep a lil sticky on the board next to my desk to remind myself that these bad dogs do NOT have the upper hand here. It says; I AM winning WHY? Becaue I have faith, courage and enthusiasm!!!! And no matter what (especially on those days I don’t believe this at all), I make myself remember. . . THIS really is BIG TRUTH!!
Alison Elliot’s last blog post ..Techniques Too Cleanse, Shield and Clear the Energy field – Part 1

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Ali January 12, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Thanks, Alison. Sounds like a great sticky — I think visual reminders are really important. I have a photo of me with a notebook as my desktop background on the computer — helps remind me how valuable writing is to me (even when it feels tough).

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Cally Jackson January 10, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Thanks for this post, Ally. I’m battling this at the moment in a broader sense than just my writing. But the philosophies about how to persevere are the same. Philosophies I need constant reminders about at the moment. One step or word at a time! :-)

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Ali January 12, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Keep battling, Cally … and yeah, a lot of good writing advice applies in plenty of other areas too. :-)

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Alex Blackwell | The BridgeMaker January 11, 2012 at 12:22 am

Thanks Ali – I really needed to read this today. You will hear from me soon!

Best,

Alex

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Ali January 12, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Excellent news! I was about to add “Email Alex” to my diary, because I thought I might need to give you a friendly writing-coach nudge. ;-) Glad to hear that you’ll be in touch soon. :-)

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Laura Kroeger January 11, 2012 at 12:27 am

My friend Evelyn gave me great advice the other day when I was whining about how I often procrastinate starting a project. She reminded me that I’m good at what I do and my client regards everything I do as good from the get-go because she knows that I’m the writer and she’s not. Just by realizing that my client thinks of me (who? little ole me?) as the expert and is automatically receptive to what I write made me feel motivated. So folks, remember: we are the writers! A lot of folks out there can’t write. Hate to write. So they look to us to do it. So enjoy being thought of as the “expert” and write!

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Ali January 12, 2012 at 6:22 pm

That’s such a great point, Laura. And acting confident doesn’t just help you feel good, it also helps you serve your clients better. There are so many people who hate writing (though I find that hard to understand!) and they’re often extremely grateful for a writer who can simply take it off their hands and get the words down for them. You don’t need to be the next Shakespeare to do that…

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marketing expertise January 11, 2012 at 1:05 am

You win with every word you write.

This sentence is so poignant – it really says it all!

It reminds me of Steve Pressfield’s book Do the Work, in which he describes creative work as a constant battle against the innate fear of self-doubt living with in us all, constantly whispers in our ear, telling us we’re not good enough and that our work is worthless. You never win the war, but you win each battle with every project you compel yourself (in the face of your self doubt) to complete.

I’m dyslexic. I didn’t learn to read or write until the 3th grade (after being deemed unteachable), but ultimately graduated from college with a BA in English Literature and make my living working as a marketing and communications writer.

Your confidence all always wane in moments of self doubt, it’s unavoidable. Your self worth will always plummet when confronted with a perceived failure, it’s human nature. Will – You have to will yourself to ignore those voices and put your failures behind you. In the end, your will to succeed catalyst for your success.

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Ali January 12, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Thank you — I’m glad it resonated for you. And I agree that self-doubt crops up with a lot of work (well, *important* work) — though I think writers are especially prone to it.

I’m sorry to hear about your poor experiences of reading/writing as a child. My mum works with dyslexic school pupils, so I’m aware how difficult the school system can sometimes be. It’s fantastic to hear that you didn’t let that horrid “unteachable” label hold you back and that you got an English Literature BA, and that you’re making a living with words. :-)

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TrishaJenn January 12, 2012 at 2:51 am

Thank you Ali!

“You win with every word you write.”

I agree with Marketing Expertise, this sentence is the kicker for me too. There are days when I keep telling myself I should work on some blog posts, or write a chapter in my novel that I’ve been thinking on for a week…and I just never sit down and actually write it because I’m afraid it will be worse on paper than it is in my head. In reality, anything on paper is far better than something that is kept out of the world and confined to solely rolling around in my mind.

Thank you for the encouragement, and the reminder to always keep encouraging comments from people who have read our work or used our skills as writers. An old boss of my used to tell me how much he liked my writing style, he even created a staff newsletter just so that he could get more writing out of me. Remember that helps me check that criticizing voice in my head. I CAN write. And I can write WELL.

:)
TrishaJenn’s last blog post ..Christmas Reads – 5 Books!

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Ali January 12, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Thanks, Trisha! (And my little inner critic told me that sentence was too glib, so there you go — I’m glad I told it to keep quiet now.)

I know just how you feel about getting things onto paper. I’ve realised that my blog posts and my novel chapters will *always* seem better in my head — but they can’t do anyone any good if they never come out of there.

That’s such lovely praise from your old boss; a great way to counter the critical voice. Keep writing! :-)

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Tony Fuentes January 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm

What I’ve found helps keep my inner critic at bay is doing exactly as you said Ali, give them separate jobs. Lock him/her in a closet while you draft, than let him loose when you edit!

Not only that, I find it helpful to have my own list of standards for what I consider “good” writing. If my idea of good writing is to be passionate, succinct, funny and direct – then I use those elements to determine if my writing is “good enough.”

It really helps me click on that “publish” button with confidence.
Tony Fuentes’s last blog post ..Life’s Sweet Spot + What I Wish I Knew In College

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Ali January 19, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Thanks, Tony. :-) And great point about judging your writing by your own standards… ultimately, your opinion is the one that matters!

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Barbs January 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Hi there Ali

You have such a baby face – so young looking, yet so wise and indeed helpful. I am currently stuck and now belong to the Writers Huddle and thank you, I am working my way through my “stuckness” and will come out with a fresher approach and motivation at the other end. Gratefully appreciate your efforts to help others like me.

Sincerely Barbz

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Ali January 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Yeah, I think I look about 16! I’m actually 27. ;-) I still get ID’d when buying alcohol sometimes, and here in the UK, our legal drinking age is 18…

Thanks so much for the kind words. :-) I love being able to help and support fellow writers; I’ve had some fantastic mentors and teachers in my own writing life, and I feel the best thing I can do is to help others in my turn…

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Barbs February 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Sounds like a good problem to me! When you’re 87 you’ll only look 76 or even younger, now that’s something to look forward too! Ha ha!

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Ali February 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Yep, that’s my plan! :-)

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Amy April 5, 2012 at 1:10 pm

I just stumbled on your blog, and this advice is wonderful. Thank you. I feel like I have so many ideas and thoughts to share but my lack of confidence is crippling. “You’ve got the right to express yourself” is going to be my new mantra from now on.

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Ali April 5, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Thanks, Amy — I’m really glad this was helpful for you. And please do adopt that as your mantra. :-) I know how tough it can be sometimes, but the more you write and the more you share your writing, the easier it becomes. Good luck!

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Tiff Milner July 16, 2012 at 3:43 am

This was brilliant :) It really helped me to push on forwards to develop and see how I perhaps could grow my confidence back. Very informative and you know what you’re doing, thanks for writing this!

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Ali August 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Thanks Tiff, so glad to help! Hope you can build up your confidence again — wishing you all the best of luck.

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Anna December 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Thank you for this. :)

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