How to Recover Your Writing Confidence (Even if You Think You Never Had Any)

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(Image from Flickr by hans s)

No writer I know ever feels totally confident about their writing.

A lack of confidence is absolutely normal (or at least, as normal as writers get…)

In fact, a little bit of self-doubt can be a very positive thing. It encourages you to:

  • Revise and edit your work thoroughly
  • Seek a second option before publishing your writing
  • Continue learning and practicing as you develop your craft

However … a real lack of confidence can be a huge stumbling-block for would-be writers.

If you find yourself constantly revising and tweaking, or if you cringe every time you show a piece of writing to a friend or publish a blog post, or if you work always sounds stilted and guarded … then this post is for you.

When You Were Young…

I titled this post how to recover your writing confidence.

You might have felt pretty unconvinced by that – perhaps you’re sure that you never had any confidence at all. But I’m certain that at some stage of your writing life, you did.

Perhaps it was when you were very small. You learnt to form letters and words, and though it was hard just to write each letter, you persevered.

Perhaps you were in primary school. You wrote a story, maybe in the style of an author you enjoyed. (All my early stories were Enid Blyton rip-offs…)

Perhaps you were a teenager. You might have written for the school newspaper. Maybe you wrote poetry or song lyrics. You probably knew that you weren’t perfect – but you still felt pretty confident in what you were doing.

At some stage, you enjoyed writing. It hardly crossed your mind to feel anxious about the process.

But then, something happened. Maybe it was gradual, or sudden. But you lost that confidence.

Who Took Your Confidence?

You might have simply lost confidence over time – perhaps you didn’t write for so long that you’re now worried you’ve forgotten how.

In many cases, though, your confidence was taken (probably not deliberately!) by another person or group of people.

Teachers Can Drain Your Confidence

Several of my coaching clients – and several of my writing friends – have suffered a huge blow to their writing confidence as a result of negative feedback from teachers.

Now, I’ve been fortunate enough to have known many excellent teachers (my mum included!) who are great at being encouraging and supportive, and who really help their students to improve their writing.

Unfortunately, not all teachers are so good. The fact that someone’s a teacher or lecture does not mean that their opinion is gospel truth – but many students take it this way.

You might have had your essays harshly criticised in school or at university, or you might have had a piece of creative writing critiqued very negatively. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything about your writing. Another teacher might have judged it very differently.

Your Peers Can Drain Your Confidence

Some writing groups are fantastic, and I’ve been lucky enough to be a member of two very supportive, constructive ones.

Occasionally, though, fellow writers aren’t very constructive in their feedback. Perhaps you’ve been unfortunate enough to have received a really critical, unkind review of your work; maybe you had a lot of criticisms but no suggestions on how to improve.

Writing is very subjective – and some people may not “get” your work simply because it’s not the style or genre that they would write.

Other writers may have their own agenda. Sadly, some people feel better when they put others down – whether that’s in person or, more commonly, online.

Your Loved Ones Can Drain Your Confidence

I wish this one didn’t need to be included.

Sometimes, your loved ones aren’t encouraging or supportive of your goals (even if they intend well). They might not understand why you want to write, and they may not realise how important your writing is to you.

Maybe your partner or a friend said something that made you feel that your writing wasn’t worthwhile. This might not have been a deliberately nasty comment … but one that really hit home:

  • It’s almost impossible to get published, isn’t it?
  • You’re always scribbling away. Are you ever going to finish anything?
  • It’s just a pipe dream.

Or perhaps they never really said anything … but you somehow felt that they didn’t really understand you. Writing wasn’t important to them, and that made you question whether it was really important at all.

Five Little Steps to Help You Recover Your Confidence

No-one else “owns” your confidence. However you lost it, you can take it back.

Here’s how:

#1: Play Around With Words

Write something for the sheer pleasure of writing. That might be a haiku, a blog post, a humorous rant, a piece of flash fiction, a letter, a journal entry … anything you want. You might simply want to come up with a list of words.

#2: Write Regularly – Several Times a Week

It’s much easy to feel confident when you do something frequently. If you rarely write anything other than emails, build up a regular writing practice. Set aside time on several days each week (perhaps Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and write.

#3: Show Your Writing to Someone You Trust

Once you’re into a steady writing habit, choose a piece that you’ve written and show it to a close friend or relative who you know will be supportive. Simply ask them to read it – you don’t have to ask for any feedback or for their opinion (unless you want to).

#4: Write for Public Consumption

Now, write something for anyone to read. That could be a blog post, or something much shorter – perhaps a “note” on Facebook, or even a comment on a blog or a news site. Alternatively, how about sending a letter to a magazine?

#5: Work to Improve Your Writing

Real confidence comes from feeling a sense of mastery. So don’t just write, learn about writing. That might mean reading a book, taking a course or even going to a writing-related conference.

 

I know that a lack of confidence can be crippling – but it’s not insurmountable. Good luck! And if this post has brought up any questions or worries for you, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

Further reading

The Four Essential Stages of Writing – if you find yourself running out of steam part way through a project, check you’re not missing one of these essential stages

Find Your Writing Voice – By Starting With Your Heart – once you’ve figured out what you really want to write about, it’s easier to be confident (and to write well)

 

Thanks for commenting! I read all comments, and reply to as many as I can. Please keep the discussion constructive and friendly. Thank you!

38 thoughts on “How to Recover Your Writing Confidence (Even if You Think You Never Had Any)

    • I think this is about being objective … seeing that, hey, your writing actually IS pretty good when measured against some sort of norm.

      (If you want to avoid any accusations of jerkishness, you could try judging your writing against the average standard online…)

  1. Hi Ali
    After reading your writing around the web for a while now, I thought it was about time I checked out your blog.
    Great post by the way, I find it comforting to know that even experienced writers sometimes suffer from lack of confidence. I definitely agree that loved ones aren’t always the best for building or maintaining confidence. They can sometimes say quite harmful and negatives things without realising.
    I appreciate your 5 steps. I particularly like number 2, writing more regularly definitely helps with confidence levels.
    Cheers
    Thea

    • Thanks Thea, and welcome!

      I think it’s rare that loved ones ever *intend* to be hurtful, but the writer’s ego can be a pretty fragile thing — and sometimes a thoughtless comment can feel very cutting.

      Hope you stick around on the blog 🙂

      Ali

  2. I think writing regularly and using blog posts, online forums and Facebook notes is a great way to make sure you’re writing little and often.

    I’m dreadful at updating my blog even though I’m constantly full of ideas, it’s just a question of putting in the time.

    I think it’s also important for writers to look around at the vast range of people out there with great work – everyone with a desire and passion to write has just as much right to feel confident about their work as anyone else, and they shouldn’t forget it 🙂
    Jeni’s last blog post .. The Modern Dilemma

    • Finding the time is a tough one! It comes up for so many people that I’m working on a (free) ebook on “How to Find the Time to Write” at the moment… watch out for that in a week or two 😉

  3. I like that you term these 5 little steps, because they are all very simple things anyone can do. And yet they’re also huge steps that can transform the way you write. The discipline of writing every single day, no matter how small is one act in particular that makes a huge difference – it not only gets your confidence back up but it’s what builds your blog following and gets books written! I have played around with different approaches to blogging — three times a week, just weekdays etc. For me the difference between blogging six days a week and three or four is significant. Who knew that if I wrote more I’d get more people? 🙂
    Fiona Leonard’s last blog post ..Ghana Guide to Business- First Buy A Snake

    • Thanks Fiona! I think it’s crucial to experiment and find a writing rhythm that works for you (and, in the case of bloggers, for your audience) — I tend to write one or two blog posts each week here on Aliventures, though I publish a lot of posts elsewhere too.

  4. Local writing groups are also great. I am so grateful to the people in mine. They are encouraging as well as being helpful. I’d also recommend Toastmasters as a group of very encouraging people. I got out of writing after a bad divorce, but Toastmasters got me back into it.
    Liz’s last blog post ..Prompt 9- Love Always Makes Time

    • I’m hoping to join a local Toastmaster’s group once my hubby’s work schedule is less hectic … I’ve heard many good things about them as an organisation. 🙂

      • It’s a great organization. I’ve worked through all the award levels, so my current challenge is writing speeches that can win at a high level in the semi-annual contests. I’ve already started my speech for next February’s International Speech Contest 🙂 There is a real skill involved in writing a contest-winning speech. I love the challenge!
        Liz’s last blog post ..Prompt #11: Leadership

  5. Thanks Ali, for this encouraging post, it blessed my day. I have loved writing for most of my life beginning with my third grade teacher reading one of my papers aloud to the class heralding it as a great story! I’ll never forget that day, because to me it was just a fun thing to do and to be rewarded for something fun was a gift.

    I too have learned that most people think I am quirky with my writing. I am always carrying around books, tablets to write on, have my special pen, and I take my lap top just about everywhere. I love to blog, email, write letters (the old fashioned way), fb, twitter and usually have several ideas going at once. What can I say? I am addicted and writing is my hobby. I would love to make a living with it some day and am presently venturing out into the unknown world of having something published. But, getting published isn’t my goal for writing. Writing is like breathing. I can’t go long without it and I communicate more effectively through this medium. It is an extension of me!

    I am who I am and furthermore I like who I am. Glad God made me this way. Writing brings me joy and is one of the greatest gifts I could have been given.

    God bless you as you continue to encourage others in their venue of writing!

  6. Hmmm…I didn’t think I had a problem with confidence until you mentioned tweaking. I tweak and revise a lot! and it takes a lot of time. Most of the revising and editing has to do with grammar.

    This post has made me think. Thank You!
    Broderick’s last blog post ..Losing 50 Pounds

  7. Thanks again for another great post! I find your tips – all your tips! – very helpful. I always thought I had to figure it out on my own and realised that’s just stupid. Already my confidence is growing steadily, an amazing feeling.

    You’re inspiring!

  8. For the past one month I’ve been writing and editing, but I couldn’t post any of them as I felt they weren’t good enough. Hopefully I’ll get out of this inferiority complex phase soon. Thanks a lot for this post! 🙂
    Sneha’s last blog post ..The Drumroll Before Tada

  9. Ali,

    Thank You. Once again, you are right on the money: on your mark, get set, go. Fab post, to be sure.

    Writers tend to be readers. If you want to be a writer, you should read anything you can get your hands on, provided what you read interests you. Sometimes, it is also helpful to step out of your comfort zone. In fact, some of my best ideas have come from watching Saturday Night Live on TV and reading MAD magazine.

    Would you believe it?

    But that’s the way the mind works. It can make sense out of seemingly disparate elements and create something entirely original. That has happened to me, such experiences, well, more than once. Quite often, actually.

    Hang around with people who don’t put you down personally and do not put down your writing. Artists tend to have fragile egos. Artist also tend to have a heightened sensitivity to critical appraisals, especially if such comments are unwarranted, unsolicited and hurtful. There are a lot of critics out there who don’t have a word of praise.

    So, I am pleasantly surprised that you have found yourself the right company: a group of supportive, encouraging writers. That gladdened my heart when you shared that information with your readers. Those of us who are writers need that sort of encouragement. We need a pat on the back and people who believe in our abilities and give us a sense of confidence. Writing can occur in splendid isolation, but it helps to surround yourself with kindred spirits.

    Cheerio.

  10. that’s an important post every blogger should read Ali
    There are also trolls who appear out of no where leave negative comments then leave
    they can also affect the writer’s confidence
    keep it up Ali 🙂

  11. Great advice Ali! I’ve been blogging for a year now and it has done wonders for my writing confidence. It is amazing how many things…some little…can drain a writer’s confidence over the years. Your post provides good inspiration that it is not too late undo and reclaim our voices.

  12. Thank you for writing this post, truly. I have been struggling with the decision most artists face. To follow your heart or follow your mind. Over time I have convinced myself that my skill is not special enough to justify nourishing, and stopped writing in order to pursue a more lucrative career. This has inspired me to rediscover my voice and happiness. Stumble Upon brought me to your site- the Internet works in mysterious ways!

    • I’m so glad you found the post, Jenna! Do keep up the writing … that probably doesn’t mean quitting the day job (a non-writing source of income is usually a very good idea), but try to find a bit of time each week simply to indulge! 🙂

  13. Thank you for this article. It has showed me that the loss of confidence is natural and can be countered.
    I am suffering from this “drain of confidence” by my own GP teacher. My approach is avoiding her lessons entirely. I know that it is a rude to do so, but i feel she is very unfriendly to me and she only prefers some of my classmates who can write better than i can. Do you have any advice for my situation? I actually feel more confident when i stop going to her class.
    Anw, great article.:)

    • That sounds very difficult … is there anyone you could talk to about the situation? Could you get transferred to a different class, for instance?

      Don’t let a teacher knock your writing confidence. None of us are born able to write, and teachers should be there to help us improve — whatever stage we’re at.

  14. I’ve always loved writing and dreamed of having a published book. yet now I’m certain it’ll never happen. I started writing something, read it back and decided it was crap. I can’t write. I’ve read other things I’ve wrote but never had this reaction to this extent. this particular writing was the same quality as other things I’ve wrote so I’m confused. long story short my dream is crashing around me and I’m torn between writing a story that’s been floating around my head or never writing again. the story idea is good in my head…. I wouldst want to ruin that

    • Christina, this is something that I think every writer struggles with. When you have an idea in your head, it seems so perfect — and of course as soon as you start getting it down, that perfection vanishes and becomes reality.

      Ernest Hemingway famously said that “the first draft of anything is shit” and I think a lot of authors would agree that their first drafts are far, far from what they envisage for the finished piece.

      Don’t worry about ruining your good idea. Start writing anyway. You can rewrite it again and again if you need to, and you don’t have to show it to anyone before you’re ready. It’s only by actually writing that you’ll become good enough to do it justice. Please don’t give up!

  15. I used to write and finish books. Not books copied from another author’s style. They were my own original stories. They were bad, but I used to write them for the love of it and actually finish them.

    Now, I have a ton of stories sitting around. And my current project is a fan fiction work. Not exactly impressive. I keep wanting to write “Penumbra,” the sci-fi novel I’ve started, but it’s all stuck in my brain and not coming out. You’re right that I’ve lost confidence in my writing. But not for the reasons above. I want to be good, but I know I’m not, and I have these stories in my head but rarely have inspiration to spew out the prose. So I’m not sure I really fit in the audience you’re addressing, but I know I want my confidence back. Is there hope for a writer like me?

    • There’s nothing unimpressive about fan fiction (not to me, at least). I think creating a story that’s true to someone else’s characters (and, often, setting) is really tricky. I can’t do it! Though I’ve certainly read and enjoyed my share of fan fiction. 🙂

      Are you putting too much pressure on yourself with Penumbra? I sometimes have to give myself permission to just play … even if it means not producing anything. I get a notebook and scribble down ideas and “maybe” ideas (alternative possibilities, potential directions, things I’m exploring, or not yet ready to commit to). I find chocolate helps too. 😉

      Don’t worry about the prose not being there yet. That’s what second (and third, and fourth) drafts are for. You’ll also find you improve as you keep writing, particularly if you can get feedback along the way. Hang on in there, do keep writing (and fan fiction counts)!

      • Oh, god, if only I could afford chocolate! Or anything for that matter. College student budgets are a pain in the neck.

        I downloaded your eBook on the two-year novel and have been sort of working toward that. Except I keep deciding to research and not actually doing the research. I have a feeling it’ll be January and I won’t have my research done yet. Or the language I want to create for my alien race.

        Maybe you’re right. Too much pressure. Maybe I should just play around and see what works best. I’ve been cooking up this novel for so long that I expect it to be great, but maybe I need to just give myself permission to do awfully at first.

        Thanks for you encouragement—and for your acknowledgment of fan fiction as writing practice! There are few I know who do likewise.

        • It’s so easy to pile on the pressure, especially at the not-quite-started stage of a project. I think playing around is a great way to get started. (You might like today’s post, by the way — “Is Writing a Novel a ‘Someday’ Dream for You?” (http://www.aliventures.com/novel-someday)

          I can’t say I really miss the days of college student budgets! Hang on in there. At least writing is free… 🙂

  16. Ironically, John Steinbeck expressed several instances of self-doubt. I just read a blog post titled “How Steinbeck Used the Diary as a Tool of Discipline, a Hedge Against Self-Doubt, and a Pacemaker for the Heartbeat of Creative Work.” His book “Working Days” is the diary he wrote while writing “The Grapes of Wrath.”

    I think it’s interesting that even though he was an established author at the time, he still felt like he wasn’t a “real” author.

    • I think a lot of authors have deep-seated doubts, even if they don’t talk about them much! In some ways, it’s a bit sad to realise that those doubts never go away … but then, I think it also helps to recognise that all of us face them and that having a crisis of confidence doesn’t mean anything about the actual quality of your work.

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