Artists of all stripes seem riddled with self-doubt. Part of that is because we so closely identify with our work that a rejection of our work is felt as a personal rejection. Learning to be a confident writer, not even all of the time but at least some of the time, requires a shift in how we think of ourselves and our work.
Your Confidence Doesn’t Have To Correlate With “Success”
Being confident in your ability to write doesn’t have to directly correlate to financial success. Confidence is easier when our skills are recognized by awards or achievements, but they don’t have to be. Define for yourself what financial success looks like. Do you need to make seven figures off your writing to find confidence?
Here’s the honest truth. When your personal confidence about your writing, your art, is defined by an outside circumstance or situation you have no control over — you’re fighting a losing battle. You can’t control if people will buy your book. You can write the best book possible, learn marketing, and do everything right. Does that feed your confidence or do you need to make it onto a bestseller list to be confident? Really think that through.
Our Work Is A Reflection Of The Artist But Our Work Doesn’t Define Us
Whether you’re writing, performing, painting, dancing, acting — we must bring so much of ourselves to the art that it can feel as though we are one with our art. We become our characters, we see things as they do and feel as they do — there’s no other way to be authentic. But when we step away from the laptop, we have to separate our self-worth from how others perceive the work we’ve created.
I grew up in a rural township with a small soccer league. At a certain age, I couldn’t play with the boys or afford to travel to a city to play in a girl’s league, so I became a referee. I refereed small children, teenagers, house league, competitive, and even men’s league games. I got yelled at a lot because it seems yelling at the ref is just what you do.
You can’t cry. You can’t stop the game and insist they apologize because their remark was unkind, unfair, or point out they don’t know the rules. And the next day when you run into that player or the parents at the post office, everyone would nod and smile and “how’s school” or “how’s work” and it was like the game never happened. It wasn’t personal.
Are you able to receive criticism about your work (whether it’s kind or unkind) without spiraling into a bucket of ice cream? Will it sting? Of course. The comment might linger, if there’s truth to it consider it, but you have to learn to shake it off and get back to writing.
Give yourself permission to produce something that stinks every once in a while. I had an editor send back a piece I’d written as not good enough. He shrugged it off. “Not everything can be top drawer. You wouldn’t be human if it was.” I reworked it and he loved it and published it. Stay humble.
Part of what I love about writing is that I’ve never learned it all. There is always more to learn. Even with my deep point of view course, each time I run it I often include new info I’ve learned because I’m always striving to be better. Do I cringe when I read my early work? Yeah, sometimes. But it’s part of learning. Don’t ever become so arrogant that you stop reading craft books or blogs, or interviews with other authors. Read – everything. We’re all learning from one another and helping one another to get where we want to be. Be teachable. Having the confidence of knowing that if something isn’t working but you can figure it out is art-changing (instead of life-changing – get it bahahaha. K – so it wasn’t that funny.)
Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses
This requires a bit of humility because you often can’t learn what your weaknesses or strengths are without soliciting feedback. And sometimes that feedback can sting. But instead of letting it crush you, learn from it. My personal weakness is description. I write very sparse. My beta readers are constantly telling me they can’t picture a setting or a character. That’s something I have to actively work on getting better at. Every writer is weak at something. Know what it is and work on it. Your weakness may shift or change the longer you write and the more you study to fix another weakness. This isn’t a one and done kind of career — it’s a learning arc with pain points along the way you have to work through.
Take Care Of Your Health
Confidence is directly tied to your personal health. If you are always working in the fringe hours of the day, chances are good that you’re tired. Take time to rest and refresh. Fiction is an imitation of real life, so make sure you go out and experience some life so you can write about it. Get out of the writing cave often and live. Be mindful of your back and neck, your elbows and wrists. It’s really hard to write well if you’re in pain and I have so much respect for those who write through injury or long-term illness.
Routine And Creativity
Your mileage with this advice may vary, but learn when your best creative hours are. Are you more alert and creative in the morning or evening? Guard your creative hours. Guard your creative mind space. Maybe that means you have to write in a coffee shop to get some peace from your kids, or you put a lock on your office door for a couple of hours a day. Maybe you turn off your phone or wifi and remove the temptation to surf the internet when you should be writing.
How does this play into confidence? I’ve found that when I do this (the steps above) I can get into my creative zone faster and maintain it longer. There’s no lost time staring at a screen. Also, my confidence rises because I know I get into that head space when I need to. There’s no writer’s block, there’s simply writing time. Experts say you only have about six hours of creative time in a day. Guard how you use those six hours.
Doubt Will Creep In
Even the most confident writers have seasons when doubt creeps in. That makes you human, don’t beat yourself up over it. Being a confident writer doesn’t mean you’re confident ALL THE TIME. My problem is that I know if I just set that manuscript aside for a bit, I’d know so much more than I do now. I hate closing the final page on a book because I’m never convinced it’s my best work. Is that perfectionism? Maybe. Whatever aspect of doubt that creeps in for you, push through it. Keep writing even if you’re convinced the work is terrible. First drafts are allowed to be terrible. No one publishes their first draft (or at least, they probably shouldn’t).
Your turn. How do you push the doubts and fears aside and keep writing anyway?