How to Have Confidence in Your Writing: Eight Powerful Tips
Whenever I ask Aliventures readers about their writing goals, projects, and struggles, one theme is always sure to come up:
A lack of confidence.
It can be so hard to have confidence in your writing. Maybe you feel like you’re not good enough to be a successful writer. Or perhaps you struggle to stay focused and you’re worried you don’t have the self-discipline to see a big writing project through.
So is it essential to have confidence in your writing? And how do you develop that confidence?
How Confident Do You Need to Be?
All writers, at every level, struggle with confidence at times. Joanna Penn (a New York Times bestselling author) talks very candidly about her own self-doubt on her blog:
I still feel the self-doubt, but it’s not crippling anymore, it’s just something that I acknowledge. I let it sit with me, and put my work out anyway because there’s a part of us inside, as writers, where if we don’t write, we’re going to cripple ourselves in other ways.
I think most writers would agree that you don’t have to feel 100% confident (or even 50% confident) in order to write. The trick is not to let a lack of confidence stop you.
Of course, that’s easier said than done … and that’s why I want to share some powerful tips for building your confidence in your writing.
Eight Powerful Tips for Building Your Writing Confidence
1. Set Small Writing Goals And Meet Them
If you want to write but never manage to find the time, that’s going to knock your confidence. It’s easy to end up thinking that you simply can’t write: that you don’t have the discipline, or the time, or the support you need.
With writing, as with so many things in life, it’s very tempting to set big, grand goals, like writing a novel or building a full-time freelancing career. And those are great things to work towards (and they are definitely achievable). But when you’re trying to build your confidence, it’s good to set smaller goals that don’t seem so far off.
Set yourself the goal of writing for 30 minutes without getting distracted. Or set yourself the goal of completing a 1,000 word short story. Focus on small, achievable goals – and you’ll be able to build your confidence with a string of successes.
2. Focus on Completing Your First Draft
No-one’s first draft is perfect. (In fact, Hemingway reportedly said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”) When you’re initially working a writing project, you want to focus on simply getting thorugh the first draft.
You can edit as much as you want after you’ve got that first draft down, but until you’ve completed a full draft, you can’t (and shouldn’t!) try to judge the quality of your work.
Completing a first draft might not be easy – but it’s pretty straightforward. Just keep writing, one word after another, and you’ll get through. If you get stuck, by all means pause … but don’t give up completely.
3. Get the Support of Fellow Writers
Your friends or family members, however well-meaning, might not “get” what it is to be a writer. They may offer unsolicited advice about what genre or style they think you should write. They may be politely baffled by why you even want to write.
Or it might be worse than that. Your loved ones – the people who should be cheering you on towards your dreams – might be truly unsupportive when it comes to your writing. Perhaps they see it as a waste of time, or even as a threat.
Whatever your situation, you need the support of fellow writers: of people who truly get it. Ideally, that will be through personal connections in a writing group (whether online or offline) – though if that seems like too big a step, even reading writing blogs and books can help you feel connected to other writers.
4. Think About What You’re Giving Others
One way around a lack of confidence is to try to take yourself out of the equation. Not that you aren’t important – your writing matters and so do you! But by focusing on your readers, you may find that your self-doubt fades into the background (at least a little).
What does your writing do for others? Perhaps you write blog posts or articles, sharing experience and advice that others could hugely benefit from. Or maybe you’re a novelist, short story writer, or fan fiction writer, producing stories that entertain people and take them out of their (perhaps difficult) lives for a little bit.
All of those are wonderful things to do. Your writing is a gift to your readers. I’m sure you can think of things you’ve read that have made a huge impact on you – even if not every single word was perfect.
5. Take a Step Back if You Get Stuck
It’s easy to lose confidence if you get stuck with your writing. You might try pushing forward, only to feel that your piece really isn’t coming together. Maybe you force yourself to write – and yet it’s getting harder and harder to put the words down, because you know something’s wrong somewhere with your project.
This is the point at which a lot of writers give up. They’ve done what they think they’re supposed to do: they’ve kept on writing, even as their doubts build up. And it seems like there’s nothing left except to quit their project altogether.
Don’t give up. But do step back. Listen to that sense that something’s wrong in your project. You might want to go back to doing some planning or exploratory writing, to try to figure out what needs to change. Trust that you’ll find the solution … even if it takes some time.
6. Work on Your Weaker Areas (if They Matter)
All of us have areas of writing that come more easily and naturally to us than others. I enjoy writing dialogue – but I really struggle with descriptions and I find action scenes tricky.
Consciously improving your weaker areas can help with your confidence. If you deliberately practice them, you can at least get to a point where you’re competent. (And you don’t have to be outstanding at everything!)
Of course, this assumes that your weak areas matter. If you know your characters tend to be a bit flat and one-dimensional, that may not matter if you’re writing fast-paced thrillers where readers are more focused on the plot.
7. Acknowledge Your Inner Critic
A lot of writers talk about the “inner critic” or “inner editor” – that little voice inside your head that critiques the things you write. Maybe you feel like, every time you type so much as a sentence, you’re already criticising it.
Your inner critic isn’t an enemy. That ability to reflect on your writing and to spot the flaws is really useful when it comes to editing your work. It’s just not very helpful when you’re trying to get through the first draft.
Rather than trying to suppress your inner critic entirely, tell it, “Not yet.” Some writers like to think about shutting the inner critic in a box during the drafting process so that you can let it out once you’re ready.
8. Keep the Positive Things People Say About Your Writing
Has anyone ever paid you a compliment on your writing? Whether it was a message from a delighted client, an email from a fan who enjoyed your novel, or a lovely review of your non-fiction book, hold onto it! Save it somewhere safe so you can go back and re-read it in the future.
When you’re feeling low on confidence, reading over the things that other people have said about your writing can really help boost your spirits.
Also, don’t assume that people are just “being nice” and that they don’t really mean it. I know it’s easy to think that if they’re someone known to you personally. But trust that they won’t have said something unless they truly believe it.
Having confidence in your writing isn’t easy. But the more you write, the more confident you’ll become. Plus, you’ll find that even if you aren’t fully confident, it doesn’t have to stop you writing.
Need some help focusing when you write? This can be a real challenge, especially when you don’t feel confident. Supercharge Your Writing Session, with accompanying printables, is designed to help you focus when you sit down to write.
It’s just $8. (Even better, you can grab all four guides in the Supercharge Your Writing series for $20, saving $12.)
Plus … you buy anything from me (even if it’s only $8), you get free lifetime membership of my private Facebook group, the Aliventures club. It’s a lovely community of all sorts of different writers where you can share your triumphs and struggles. We’d love to encourage and support you there.
Head on here to check out Supercharge Your Writing Session.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
Can You Call Yourself a “Writer” if You’re Not Currently Writing?
The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-it-Yourself Tips)
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.
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I knew I would be sharing this post half-way through. Thanks for the encouragement :).
Thanks, Brittany — glad it helped, and I really appreciate you sharing it. 🙂
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
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.
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.
Hurrah, glad to help, Jackie!
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..
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.
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 L. Oliver’s last blog post ..The Magic in Roses
Thank you, Jennifer! So glad it helped you. Keep writing …
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…
Thanks, Cathy! 🙂
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
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).
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! 🙂
Keep battling, Cally … and yeah, a lot of good writing advice applies in plenty of other areas too. 🙂
Thanks Ali – I really needed to read this today. You will hear from me soon!
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. 🙂
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!
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…
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.
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. 🙂
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!
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! 🙂
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
Thanks, Tony. 🙂 And great point about judging your writing by your own standards… ultimately, your opinion is the one that matters!
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.
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…
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!
Yep, that’s my plan! 🙂
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.
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!
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!
Thanks Tiff, so glad to help! Hope you can build up your confidence again — wishing you all the best of luck.
Thank you for this. 🙂
Nice post, this was very helpful. thks.