Last week we discussed the issue of self confidence for writers. Most creative people and certainly every writer I’ve ever known–and most of the ones I’ve read books by–have struggled with their self confidence. It’s hard to stay confident in yourself when you spend a few years around people who are constantly saying that you’re worthless or useless, and even harder when your work gets rejected.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to give you what I hope is a comprehensive guide to building your self confidence. Most of my advice will be designed to give you confidence in your writing, but having confidence in one area of your life always helps you become more confident in other areas of your life.
You might not believe you’re going to be the next big thing when you walk away from this blog post, but frankly, you probably won’t anyway. What you will believe is that you can have a successful writing career. And in this business, especially if your true passion is writing novels, sometimes that belief will be all that keeps you going–which means you need to foster it and strengthen it with every chance you get.
The best way to start fostering self confidence in your writing career is daily practice.
Every writer starts out writing at least partially garbage. Most of us start out writing almost completely garbage. Nobody I’ve ever heard of has produced a perfect first draft that became successful without any editing, and if somebody told me they had I probably wouldn’t believe them. Writing, especially when you’re talking about longer projects, doesn’t work that way. I might only do minimal editing on most blog posts–even the ones I get paid for–but when I’m trying to tell a story in a world I created with my characters? The editing process tends to take a few years.
The more you write, the better your writing will become. This will happen faster if you deliberately do writing exercises to build specific skills, but will still happen even if you just write the thoughts going through your head. Writing regularly is the best way to develop your skills–and actually improving your writing skills is one of the best ways to build your self confidence.
Once you start writing regularly, you’ll also find that ideas come more easily. Suddenly you’ll realize that there’s inspiration of one sort or another everywhere you look. The world will become your oyster as you start to notice small details that spark story ideas. Every writer has days when the ideas come a bit slower, but if you get into the habit of looking for them every day, these days will become fewer and farther between.
Editing your work is also an important part of this process. All your favourite books were edited at least once, probably closer to half a dozen times. Editing makes your work more enjoyable and can even make it publishable. Thoroughly editing your own work is also a great way to discover your weaknesses and strengths and learn how to improve your work. In every edit you will find lessons that can be applied to the next book.
Having a writing routine that you hold yourself to no matter who tries to interfere helps you feel more like a real writer–and get more work done. And even if it’s only a paragraph or two, if you’re writing every day you’ll have a pretty impressive body of work in two years. With daily writing, it’s only a matter of time before you write something you think is worth sharing with other people.
Do short, simple projects between more intense ones.
Some projects are more intense than others. A 300 page novel is more intense than a short story–unless that short story involves heavy research or a traumatic event from your past. A speech you’re going to present in front of a hundred people might feel more daunting than an article you email to a magazine editor.
When you get through one of these projects, you deserve to celebrate. But taking more than a couple days off can do more harm than good. Personally when I take more than a couple days off–unless I planned it in advance–I feel extremely guilty. Hell, I usually feel bad taking two days off in a row.
But you can’t work constantly on the heavy projects. You need time to recover between novel drafts. You need to let things sit for a while before you edit them, especially if you’ve put a lot of time and energy into the piece already.
What you should do–after a day or two of celebration–is some light writing. Maybe for the next few days you’ll only do your daily journal writing(if you keep a daily journal). Or maybe you’ll start working on a short story. Or a poem. Or a blog post–or several.
Experimenting with different styles of writing will help you develop new skills and stay disciplined about your writing schedule. If you choose to write some blog posts–whether for your own blog or as submissions to blogs you follow–or some articles about things you find interesting, you can also start building an author platform or even a freelance writing career.
While there are lots of tricks for boosting your confidence, the one thing that will boost your confidence the most is actual success with your writing. Whether that means people reading your work or people actually paying you for it is your decision. Either way, writing daily and working hard to build your skills and reputation is one of the best ways to build your confidence.
Every positive, thoughtful comment I’ve gotten on this blog has helped build my self confidence just a little bit. Every spike in readers has done the same. The fact that I can now confidently say I work full time as a freelance writer and online marketing professional helps me believe that someday my novels will be published too.
If you’re feeling really down about your writing, maybe it’s time to start a blog or write an article that you’re willing to share while you continue editing your novels. You might be surprised how many people like your writing when you post something short online.
Do you have a regular writing routine? Do you blog or write articles somewhere online? Share your experiences, thoughts and questions in the comments below.