Three Types of Self-Confidence That Will Help Your Writing Career (and How to Boost Yours)
This post was originally published in March 2017 and updated in November 2020.
What’s holding you back from writing?
A lot of writers say their biggest problem is “finding time” … but sometimes the underlying problem is really a lack of self-confidence.
Maybe other priorities keep crowding out your writing.
Maybe you feel that there’s not much point writing because it’s so hard to get published.
Maybe you enjoy writing but you secretly worry you’re not very good at it.
All of those problems can show up as “I don’t have time” when really, you might find that you could make the time if only you had more confidence.
Self-confidence doesn’t mean having an unshakable (but potentially unwarranted!) certainty that you’re an excellent writer. It’s more about being able to value yourself and your writing, and being able to put your writing out there into the world without feeling unduly anxious about doing so.
As I see it, there are three types of self-confidence that you can develop as a writer:
- Confidence in your writing itself – the nuts and bolts of the craft
- Confidence in your ability to get things done – seeing projects through
- Confidence that your writing is worthwhile – it’s important and it matters
#1: Confidence in Your Writing
As a writer, it’s obviously important to feel a certain confidence in what you’re doing. If you’re a freelancer, you want your writing to be of a professional standard – not necessarily amazing, but certainly competent. If you write fiction, you want readers to enjoy your stories.
To boost your confidence in this area:
- Remind yourself that you are good at writing. How can you be sure? If you’ve had work published, if you’ve been paid, if you’ve been shortlisted in competitions, if you’ve received positive feedback … anything like that.
- Keep working on your craft. Read good blogs about the “how” of writing (try the excellent Helping Writers Become Authors, which focuses on fiction and Craft Your Content, which focuses on non-fiction).
- Swap work with other writers. You might do this in a peer workshop setting, as part of a course, or simply as a private arrangement with a writing friend or two. Receiving (and using) feedback before putting your work out there into the world can help you be confident that you’ve made it as good as it can be.
- Save any nice reviews or testimonials. As you progress as a writer, you’ll hopefully be getting at least some reviews (of your books) or testimonials (from freelancing clients). If you blog, you might get comments saying “this was just what I needed to read!” or emails thanking you for your writing. Keep at least a few of these somewhere safe, so you can read over them when self-doubt creeps in.
- Remind yourself of past successes. I record “achievements” each month and it’s great to be able to look back over these and see what I was up to a few years ago. Even on bad months, I can always find something to record – and looking back over time helps me see how small successes add up.
#2: Confidence in Your Ability to Get Things Done
Even if your writing itself is very good on a craft level – you can turn a beautiful sentence and put together a well-structured article – it’s hard to feel confident if you struggle a lot to get things done.
One of the biggest problems I hear about, after “finding time,” is “procrastination”. If you find yourself procrastinating a lot, this can be both a symptom and a cause of a lack of confidence. It works something like this:
- You’re feeling unconfident about your project-in-progress so you put off working on it…
- The more you put that project off, the larger it looms in your mind, until it seems nearly impossible to start…
- You start telling yourself “I never finish anything” or “there’s no point even starting” or “I’m rubbish at focusing” … and this knocks your confidence even further.
On the flip side, if you’re good at doing the things you set out to do, this can help you to value your writing. For instance, if you decide that you’ll write for two hours every Saturday from 7.30am – 9.30am and you stick to it, this helps you make genuine progress, and shows you (and the people around you!) that you’re serious.
To boost your confidence in this area:
- Make and keep your writing commitments. To begin with, make small focused commitments, like “I will write from 8pm – 9pm on Wednesday evening this week”. I find it helps to tell someone else (try your partner, friends, or Twitter followers) to help you feel accountable.
- Get organised. I know that’s not something you can do overnight, and I know some writers are more naturally organised than others … but if you can move towards being more organised, it really will help you get things done.
- Take a time management course or buy a good book. A great one to start with is Get Everything Done (and Still Have Time to Play) by Mark Foster. It’s a succinct guide to time management with lots of helpful exercises and techniques. If you want a comprehensive system, Getting Things Done is a very popular one. Another great option is Michael Hyatt’s Free to Focus, which takes a more holistic view.
- Commit to finishing. Choose one project, preferably a smallish one like a short story or blog post. Focus on finishing that before you tackle anything new. If you’ve started projects that you no longer have any interest in, finish them by deciding to let them go: close down that old blog, or abandon that half-finished poem for good.
#3: Confidence that Your Writing is Worthwhile
This is a tricky sort of confidence to address, but I think it’s sometimes the most crucial type.
If you’re going to get far as a writer, you need to have a certain confidence that your writing – not just writing in general, but your writing – is worthwhile.
You need to be able to believe (at least some of the time!) that your writing matters. That it’s important.
For some writers, though, this type of confidence has sadly been seriously dented – perhaps very early on, or perhaps through a particular negative experience. This could look like:
- Parents saying “writing’s just a hobby, you need a real job”
- Classmates mocking your writing or laughing at you for wanting to write
- Colleagues telling you that “you have to be famous to get published anyway”
- A teacher or tutor being unduly critical about your writing
- An unsupportive spouse who rolls their eyes at your writing and clearly sees it as a bit pointless
- Literary friends who clearly see your type of writing as hackery
This type of confidence might take some time to rebuild. Please rest assured though that your writing does matter. It’s an important, perhaps crucial, part of who you are … and you don’t yet know what effects it may have in the world.
To boost your confidence in this area:
- Join a writing group or meet regularly with other writers. This is harder in person right now due to Covid, but you could try an online group or forum like my Writers’ Huddle site.
- Subscribe to a writing magazine. Here in the UK, Writers Forum, Writing Magazine and Mslexia are all great ones. A magazine subscription is a fairly small financial commitment that brings you a steady stream of writing inspiration and handy tips.
- Read writing-related blogs regularly. Blogs are free, so you’ve no excuse here! If you’re not already a regular here at Aliventures, don’t forget you can get posts direct to your inbox – click here to find out more.
- Set aside some special time for your writing. This in itself can help you see your writing as important and worth doing. You might try a day-long or overnight retreat, or simply a two-hour “artist’s date”, as Julia Cameron recommends in The Artist’s Way.
Even Well-Established Writers Sometimes Struggle with Confidence
Please don’t think that a lack of confidence in any way suggests that you’re not a good enough writer. Lots of excellent writers still go through times of low confidence or even outright writers’ block.
In fact, worrying that you could (and should) be a better writer can actually be an indication that you’re already pretty darn good: this is part of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
It’s perfectly natural to feel a lack of confidence at times. Maybe you’re struggling to get a new technique to work for you, or something in your plot or your structure just isn’t quite coming together. Keep writing anyway: there’s no better way to learn.
Watch out, too, for how confidence shifts along with your mood and/or your energy levels. If you’re anything like me, you might have some days when you feel like you could tackle almost any challenge, before breakfast … and other days when you’re pretty much convinced that you’ve spent the whole of your writing life somehow fooling everyone, and you’re about to be exposed as a terrible writer.
Here are some practical things you can do:
- Schedule time to write and use it.
- Keep learning about the craft of writing, and put what you learn into practice.
- Surround yourself with other writers – in person (if the Covid restrictions in your area allow it), online, through blogs and through magazines.
- Remind yourself that your writing does matter and that it’s worth doing.
Don’t let a lack of confidence stop you. Keep writing, even when it feels tough … and you’ll soon find that you start to get your confidence back.
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.
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