“[E]xude confidence. If you lack it, think hard on why. Go find that problem, seek it out, and solve it. It’s OK to be confident … Confidence is often mistaken for bitchiness. If that’s the case, I’ll take it.” – Kelsey Hanson, founder of Vocal Design (Hustle Economy, p. 83)
What is your lack of confidence costing you?
Because it’s very easy to say, “Oh, I plan on being a successful writer someday – I’m just not confident enough yet,” before tucking your goals away and, let’s be honest, letting yet another lame excuse slow you down.
I can’t say for sure whether or not I’ve used this excuse myself, exactly. When I was very young, maybe. I have struggled with self-confidence in many areas of my life, but with my writing, it’s always been different. I will never forget the look on my college newspaper editor-in-chief’s face when I walked into her office as a sophomore and said I wanted to join her newswriting staff.
This isn’t something that seems all that surprising – unless you knew me then. Shyness wouldn’t even begin to describe it. Who was this person, walking up to a senior and basically saying, “Hey, I think you should give me a reporting job even though I haven’t technically applied for one.”
I can’t explain how I knew that was the right thing to do – speak up about a step I knew I needed to take in my yet-to-exist writing career. But I knew that a lack of confidence wasn’t going to bring me any closer to getting a real writing job after graduation. I needed to do something. I suppose, in a sense, I needed to be assertive for the sake of my future … even though it probably came off a little strong.
This happened several times in the two and a half years I was a part of our paper’s writing staff. My senior year, I proposed to exchange my position as a campus life reporter for a semi-weekly health column. I have that section of my portfolio to thank for most of the writing I did (though without pay) the summer after I graduated.
And it never would have happened without a little confidence. Or, bitchiness, I guess.
This isn’t to say that being bold will always get you what you want, especially when it comes to writing. Certainly not. I’ve written a handful of very long email proposals – really good ones – that have been shot down within hours of hitting send. It happens.
But if you don’t try – if you always let this or that hold you back – you’re always going to stay in the exact same place you are right now. If you do advance at all, it will be very, very slow.
Gathering up enough confidence to just “go for it” still terrifies me. But in an environment where editors expect you to bring new ideas to the table daily, we have no choice but to “go for it” whether it’s comfortable or not.
Everyone has different reasons for struggling with confidence. I earnestly believe I am a skilled writer – it’s what happens when you do this consistently for as long as I have – my iffy relationship with confidence is rooted in my anxiety, and for the most part, the only thing I can do about that is run headfirst into everything I do and cry about it later if I have to (you think I’m exaggerating, or being funny … nah).
But maybe you’ve just been told one too many times that you’re not good at anything. Or you have recurring nightmares about walking through a crowd and everyone you pass is holding a copy of your manuscript, laughing at you.
I don’t know. Only you know why you feel the way you do. It’s up to you to figure out how to overcome just one or all of your barriers to confidence as a writer. The best advice I can give you is to just go for it. It’s scary – I know. My knees were probably (noticeably) shaking as I talked to that editor about giving me a job. But I honestly don’t know where I would be today, writing-wise, if I hadn’t taken a chance and asked. It’s almost never going to be easy. But it will reward you in much greater volumes than it will burn you.
Some people might think you’re too pushy. They might even call you – gasp! – entitled. Well, let them. You know what you need to do, the chances you need to take, to make it in this business. Some will take your confidence the wrong way. Expect that. But keep moving forward. As long as you’re doing this for the right reasons, and going about it the right way, you’ll be glad you went against all your instincts, screaming at you to not press send, and earned yourself the right to succeed.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.