When you sit down to write and the words don’t come out the way you want them to — or they don’t come out at all — do you know why?
Sometimes you’re just tired or stressed or overwhelmed and aren’t in the right headspace for writing. That’s completely understandable. But other times there are things going on inside your head that aren’t as easy to recognize — therefore making them that much harder to work through.
Of all the barriers that writers face when trying to do work and achieve their goals, issues with confidence, fear, and self-doubt are some of the most common.
While it’s important and helpful to acknowledge that you are having a hard time writing because you lack confidence, it’s even more important not to let yourself use this as an excuse for not getting your work done.
We do this a lot without realizing it — letting a problem become an excuse instead of seeking out a solution that allows us to keep writing. But there are already so many things in your everyday life that are going to try blocking your productivity — many of them completely out of your control. Don’t let the barriers you CAN do something about continue standing in your way.
Can a writer who isn’t confident become more confident? How — and why does it matter?
Everyone struggles, at least a little bit, with issues related to confidence. Some find it more difficult to overcome than others. For many, it’s one small thing — an insecurity related to an element of their appearance or the unconventional way they pronounce their a‘s. For others it’s a habit they can’t shake, like stuttering every time they try to stand up and give a speech.
When it comes to writing, confidence is an absolutely essential part of your success. Even if you don’t have it, you have to pretend you do. The same way you have to “talk yourself up” in a job application, you have to make an agent or editor believe you have the confidence required to pitch and write content on their behalf.
This isn’t a bad thing, either — having to act like you’re more confident about your writing than you actually are. Sometimes you actually become more confident the more you act the part. It’s the trick I started using when pitching to editors and now I’m not [quite as] scared of it anymore. Yay!
A writer who isn’t confident can always grow. If there is something you don’t like about yourself — a habit or certain traits, for example — you can set a goal to work on improving upon those parts of you. For a writer, “not having confidence” is not a permanent fixture. Over time, you can work toward feeling more confident in the things you are writing, submitting, and publishing.
This often starts with “writing what you know” in the sense that you build a foundation of confidence by writing about things that you know well and that interest you. If you’re confident about your knowledge of a particular subject — Star Wars, let’s say — write about that. Get really good at writing about that. And if you want to, eventually — with some buildup of confidence behind you — you can branch out into other areas.
This takes time and effort and a willingness to take some risks. But the more you venture outside your comfort zone, the bigger your comfort zone gets, and the more your confidence will grow.
We lack confidence because of other people’s words. And only we have the power to change that.
Whether you see someone else’s published work and read it and start to wonder why you can’t write “as good as they can” or someone you trust says to your face that you will never be a successful writer, outside influences can have a huge impact on how we feel about our own work and potential.
But it’s not up to other people to convince you that you CAN write as well as so-and-so or that you ARE capable of being a writer. Do you need or could you benefit from some kind of support system? Of course you could. Writing itself may happen in a vacuum, but writers cannot thrive if they try to exist in one.
Even if you do have friends or family or a handful of internet acquaintances that can support and encourage you and cheer you on, in the end, you’re the one who has to stand up and say, “Okay. I’m not totally confident about what I’m writing or revising or submitting, but I’m going to do it anyway because this is what I want and I’m not going to let it stop me anymore.”
You have to just keep writing anyway. Even when you aren’t sure if anyone will ever read what you are writing. Even if you cringe and want to look away every time you have written something and dare to read it back to yourself.
If you let yourself, you could come up with dozens of reasons not to keep writing. The difference between writers who succeed and those who do not is that successful writers write even when they would rather not. They take reasonable amounts of breaks and indulge in self-care and they are smart about how they use their time (most of the time, anyway). But when it’s time to do the work, they find a way to sit down and do it no matter what.
You have to write if you want to be a writer. It is the one and only requirement you need in order to qualify for that title. Some days you’ll write well, some days you won’t. Some days people will praise your work and others they will tear it apart. If you don’t write and you don’t publish, you will never build up resistance to the unfavorable things that can happen, and therefore you will never learn how to tolerate them.
Start with one sentence. Just one.
Then writer another. And another still after that.
Write one word, one sentence, one page, one chapter at a time. it might be scary and you might feel anxious about the possible outcome. But let the fact that you’re writing — still, despite all these worries — is good. It’s worth celebrating. You should be proud!
It’s OK to start small and work your way up. Even if you wrote just one word at a time, that’s still better than nothing. It’s normal and acceptable to be scared or anxious or wonder if you’re doing it right. Just don’t let that hold you back. Write. You’ll feel much better about yourself if you put forth the effort and, at the very least, TRY.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.