Do you sometimes wonder if everything you’re writing is complete garbage? Are you afraid to submit your work because you don’t think it’s good enough? Afraid that you’ll never find an editor willing to give you a chance? Not confident you have the stamina for self publishing?
Every writer struggles with these feelings, and there’s a pretty good chance you struggle with self confidence in more than one area of your life. You might not believe you can ever get a promotion at your day job, or that you’re not the kind of person who can attract a good romantic partner, or that you’re not smart enough to understand physics or learn a new language.
Discovering who you are and what you are capable of is part of the human experience. We all struggle with our self confidence at some point. When you mess something up it’s easy to slip into the belief that you’re a failure. The bigger your mistake, the easier it gets.
For writers, this is even easier. As writers we are constantly exposed to rejection. At some point we all have to face it. Most writers go through dozens or even hundreds of rejections before even getting their first publication. With all of that rejection going around, it’s easy to start believing your work is worthless.
So how do you build the self confidence necessary to keep going? How do you foster the belief that someday you will be successful? How do you convince yourself that all this work is worth it, that it will lead you somewhere great in the end?
Start by realizing that the path to self confidence will likely be a lifelong journey.
Every setback, no matter how minor, has the potential to completely derail your self confidence. Every rejection has the power to make you question whether or not you should continue writing at all. And that doesn’t just apply to setbacks in your writing career. A bad break up, lost job or even just being passed over for promotion can seriously damage your self confidence.
For those of us who struggle with actual mental illness, this is often even more difficult. I can now comfortably say I make a living through a combination of online writing and marketing–last week I got a new job I’ll hopefully be able to gloat about in public soon–but just the other day I had a bit of a meltdown because I’m stuck on a short story and I started to wonder if I’ll ever get any fiction published.
Of course I’m still trying to work through the story because I love it and I’m confident I can make it something magnificent–even if I have to rewrite the last bit five times–but I also know I’ll have more meltdowns when writing gets tough in the future. Even when my first short story is published, even when my first novel is published, I will always fear rejection for future stories. Editing will probably always be a struggle, but I know in the end it will be worth it.
If you truly want to make a career out of writing, you can do it. You might never be famous, but you can make a living writing. In fact, if you’re willing to write different things, there are dozens of ways to make a living writing.
The key thing you have to remember is that it isn’t easy to be a professional writer. It’s particularly difficult to be a professional fiction writer. You will struggle. There is a reason why the starving writer stereotype exists. It’s because every writer struggles at some point, whether it’s for two months or for ten years or their entire life. J.K. Rowling once lived on welfare. Stephen King lived in a trailer park.
Professional authors struggle with their self confidence too.
Have you ever heard of “imposter syndrome”? It’s when successful authors who are making a good living doing what they love feel like imposters talking about their success. They feel like they haven’t really done anything special, that there’s no reason for anybody to admire them.
Often imposter syndrome comes with the fear that their next project will be a failure. Many writers who are enormously successful with one book freeze up writing the next out of fear that nobody will like it. A fair number of them have discussed it publicly, whether in speeches or in articles, but the author whose description of this feeling impacted me most powerfully was Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love. If you need some powerful inspiration, you can check it out here.
When you get published, you will be afraid of poor sales. You’ll be afraid that you won’t get a second contract. If you’re extremely successful, you might not be too worried about getting the contract, but you will be worried that fans of your first novel will hate your second.
If you want to enjoy a long, successful writing career you need to treat rejection and setbacks as learning experiences. Realize that as painful as the hundredth edit might be, every edit really does make your work better. Consider rejection a chance to find a better place to publish your work.
Are you struggling with your self confidence right now? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below–and don’t forget to come back next week for some practical advice on boosting your self confidence.
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