(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.
#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.
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)