Struggling with (and Regaining) Confidence in Your Writing

sara-letourneauEvery writer’s toolbox is unique, containing the techniques, reference books, personal library, and lessons or “best practices” we’ve acquired over time. But there’s one tool that all writers need despite their target audience, genre, or years of experience. It’s just as important as talent, industry knowledge, and a strong work ethic – and for many of us, it’s the most difficult tool to master.

Yes, I’m talking about confidence.

Writing requires us to have a degree of belief in our abilities. It asks us to be vulnerable on the page and in sharing our work. It encourages us to invent believable settings and create characters that live and breathe like real people do. It beckons us to tune out our inner editor when necessary and trust our intuition so we can work with a clear head and an impassioned heart.

confidence, self-doubt, procrastination, struggling with story

Yet sometimes, despite all our efforts, our confidence in our craft implodes – and our writing world seems to explode along with it. And when it does, we question ourselves. We might even think we’re incompetent at what we love doing most, or feel alone in our struggles. (Or, in many cases, we’ll experience both.)

Here’s the reality, though: You are never alone in your battle with writer’s doubt. Ask any writer, published or not, and chances are they’ll each have a tale or two (or more) to tell on this subject.

My Ongoing Struggle with Confidence in My Craft

Earlier this year, I received beta-reader feedback on a manuscript I’d been working on for 4 years. Most of the readers generally liked the story, but they also noted several plot and worldbuilding issues that needed to be addressed. Immediately I realized how their feedback would strengthen the story. But when I tried to envision how the scenes would play out with those changes… Well, my mind went blank. I couldn’t figure out how to revise the story further, even though I understood what needed to be done.

That, along with other sources of stress in my life at the time, sent me into an emotional tailspin. And it wasn’t the first time that my confidence in my writing had plummeted, either.

I’d like to say I’ve rebuilt my confidence in the months since then. And in some ways, I have. I’m working on a new WIP (which I’ve grown to love) with the intention of applying what I learned from this experience so I won’t make the same mistakes, and with the hope that eventually a lightbulb will turn on with the old manuscript so I can revise it with clarity and purpose. Yet some days, I find myself thinking, “I should have been able to figure out those revisions,” or “What if I’m still making those mistakes and I don’t realize it?” And then the carousel of doubts starts turning again.

 

If you’ve been struggling with confidence in your writing lately, please know that I hear you. Doubt can be a discouraging – even debilitating – mindset. And if you linger in it too long, it can become powerful enough to convince you to stop writing altogether.

I don’t want you to give up, and I’m sure you don’t want to, either. So, together, let’s pick ourselves up, dust each other off, and lean on one another as we find our way back to believing in ourselves.

Tailoring Your Approach to Managing Doubts and Rebuilding Confidence

Of course, there’s a catch when it comes to rebuilding confidence in our writing: No “one-size-fits-all” solution exists. Just as one writer’s process will differ from another’s, so will their methods in how they regain their poise and manage their doubts. If you haven’t figured out how to approach the problem or are looking for new techniques, here are some suggestions (from my own experience and from other writers’) that might help:

  • Sharpen your writing skills. If a particular aspect of writing (dialogue, description, foreshadowing, etc.) is troubling you, try studying that skill through workshops or blog posts and then practicing it on your own. Seeing an improvement in those areas can give you the boost you need.
  • Plan your writing session(s) in advance. Before your next sit-down, take a few minutes to jot down notes, organize your thoughts, and develop a “plan of attack” so you know exactly what you’ll work on. That way, you’ll stay in the flow during your writing session and be proud that you prepared for it.
  • Share your concerns with writing pals. No writer wants their peers to be discouraged about their craft. So if you have writer friends either online or in real life, talk to them about your situation. Their perspectives on your abilities as a writer, as well as any advice they offer, can help you see your story or circumstances more clearly.
  • Allow other writers to inspire you. Just as discussing your confidence issues with trusted colleagues can be encouraging, so can absorbing words of wisdom from writers who influenced you to become one yourself. Reading inspirational quotes or listening to motivational speeches can remind you of why you’re pursuing this craft and renew your enthusiasm for your current project.
  • Adopt a more positive self-perception. This might be the most challenging tip on the list, but it’s also the most essential. Self-criticism, doubt, and comparing yourself unfavorably to other writers can crush your motivation – or, worse, convince you to quit writing altogether. Hyper-focusing on the negative only fosters more negativity. Instead, take pride in your accomplishments and strengths, and look forward to improving on your weaknesses and reaching your goals.
  • Take a day off from writing. Sometimes all you need is a break. Give yourself a day or two off to exercise, socialize, read, or engage in other hobbies you enjoy. (My go-to activities on an “off-night”? Yoga, journaling, and mandala-coloring.) Doing so will allow your mind to “reset” so you can feel refreshed when you return to writing.
  • Switch to a different writing project. If you’re stuck on your WIP, taking a break to work on something else (a blog post, essay, short story, etc.) can do the trick. Whether it’s for a few days or several weeks is up to you. But by continuing to write, you’ll also continue to mature as a writer while your subconscious ruminates on the old project. And who knows? Maybe the breakthrough you need will come when you least expect it.

Regardless of what caused your confidence to waver and how you bounce back, just remember that the surest way of recovering from writer’s doubt is to keep writing. Perseverance is just as important as confidence and everything else in your toolbox. And if you have the courage to believe in yourself and persist, even when things aren’t going well, you might be surprised with how far that attitude can take you.

When was the last time you struggled with confidence in your writing? How did you overcome it? What other tips would you add to our list?

sara-_framedSara is a fantasy writer living in Massachusetts who devours good books, geeks out about character arcs, and drinks too much tea. In addition to WHW’s Resident Writing Coach Program, she writes the Theme: A Story’s Soul column at DIY MFA and is hard at work on a YA fantasy novel. Find out more about Sara here, visit her personal blog, Goodreads profile, and find her online.
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26 Responses to Struggling with (and Regaining) Confidence in Your Writing

  1. Pingback: Twelve Questions to Determine the Themes of Your Writing Life - DIY MFA

  2. Pingback: TopPicks Thursday! For Readers & Writers 08-24-2017 | The Author Chronicles

  3. These are great tips! Confidence is definitely a struggle for me. XD

    • It’s definitely a struggle for every writer. I’m glad this post is resonating with so many writers, whether they’re commenting here to say so or sharing the post on social media. It’s both heart-warming and validating. 🙂

  4. E.E. Rawls says:

    After getting feedback from beta readers about my WIP, my confidence plummeted for a while. I had to take a break away from writing, and focus on things I enjoyed, like reading, going for walks, going down to the beach. Afterwards, I felt ready to tackle the WIP’s problems.

    • Good for you, E. You realized you needed some time and distance away from it, and you gave yourself just that. How have you found the revision process for the WIP since then?

      Also, going to the beach is a wonderful remedy to most problems. 🙂

  5. sjhigbee says:

    I very much hope you will return to The Keeper’s Curse – I really enjoyed the m/s which is very readable and a great world. I would also suggest yet another tactic that I use when I feel a bit battered – which has recently happened to me – is to flick to the Acknowledgements for all the best-selling books that you’ve read and enjoyed. Invariably, the author thanks x or y who pulled apart their early drafts and helped to make it a whole lot sharper and more readable in the process… So if it’s good enough for them, going back to the drawing board and having yet another go will be good enough for me…

    • Oh, I haven’t ruled out coming back to that story, Sarah. It’s just that when you’ve worked on a WIP for a few years and see the validity in the feedback you receive but struggle to visualize how to apply it… It’s hard to know what else to do but give yourself some time away from the story. So I hope this break will help the story in a way – and help me, too.

      I hadn’t thought of that: reading the Acknowledgements section of books you’ve read. And I know off the bad that I’ve seen at least a few examples of what you’re talking about. It’s definitely a good way of reminding ourselves that most – if not all – authors have experienced similar struggles with their work.

  6. JOHN T. SHEA says:

    Many thanks for this article, Sara. You could be talking about me. I think my carousel of doubts is rocket-propelled sometimes! I’m a world champion comparer, perfectionist and ‘what iffer’! But not always. Sometimes I remember why I first decided to write when it was not in school or homework, and the pleasure it brought and still brings at times. I stop comparing my insides with other people’s shiny outsides.

    • Sara L. says:

      You’re welcome, John, and thank you for taking the time to comment. 🙂

      It’s so easy to get sucked into the comparison game, isn’t it? Just goes to show how difficult it is to break that cycle, now matter how long we’ve been dealing with it. But remember why we love our current WIP or writing in general can certainly help. In fact, one of my IRL friends who dabbles in writing on the side said something very similar when I was struggling with similar doubts last year… And knowing why you love your craft so much can squelch out that fear for a little while.

  7. What a timely and timeless post. Thank you for the advice. I feel as though I’ve been putting off my WIP for eons because I’ve not known how to approach the holes in the story and plug them. Recently, I took a big step back. I attended a world-building class, signed up for coaching with an editor, and have gone back to the drawing board. I’m going to tend to the setting before even looking at the plot. But before that, I’m going through recommended reading so I can get a vision of what I really want my book to achieve. And I’m taking away my self-imposed pressure.

    The editor said something that really stuck with me when we were in our first session: She pointed out how hard I’d been working and how seriously I’d been taking it. And she told me to remember to have some fun! Making things up is a creative & cathartic process, but it’s also a joyful one. So I’ve switched focus for the moment. Rather than being fixated on mending what’s wrong, I’m looking at what’s right and developing it. And I plan to have some fun in the process!

    • Sara L. says:

      Wow. I was thinking about you yesterday, Sara. (Visited your new site, in fact – it’s beautiful!) So the timing of your comment is a bit coincidental. 😉

      I love your editor’s advice about a) focusing on what’s right instead of what’s wrong, and b) having fun throughout the process. (The first one especially is something I need help with.) It sounds like you’re taking all the right steps to get not just your WIP, but your creative writing in general, back on track. Take that new mentality, and what you’ve just learned from your editor, and you’ll get there. I’m sure of it.

    • JOHN T. SHEA says:

      I sometimes think my WIP has more holes than a Swiss Cheese. But a Swiss Cheese is SUPPOSED to have holes! Mind you, so should manuscripts really. It’s a sign of how hard we’re trying.

      I find walking good for plotting (my WIP, not to take over the world, although…) and I plugged a few plot holes walking late tonight. Of course, plugging one hole tends to reveal others, but I’ll get there in the end!

  8. This is a struggle for all of us at one time or another. Though I know it’s not healthy to compare myself to others, it’s just human nature, and that rarely results in anything positive. So I think what you’ve shared today is always timely, Sara. Thanks for sharing your own personal struggles in this area :).

    • Sara L. says:

      You’re welcome, Becca. I just felt the need to be real, I guess, in this latest post. It’s hard to feel comfortable with being in the position of giving advice on writing when you don’t feel so confident with your own craft. I’m just glad that it’s resonating with readers, and giving everyone a chance to share their own experiences and know it’s OK to be vulnerable on this subject. 🙂

  9. Great post Sara–this is such a struggle for all of us. It doesn’t matter what I accomplish, I always think instead about the dropped balls, the things I should have done better, the items I had to skip because I had no time, energy, or couldn’t juggle everything well enough. It sucks away all enjoyment in achieving goals, I tell you.

    But then I remember what I wrote so long ago to writers struggling with all of this: to let go of things I can’t control, and focus on what I can. And, to appreciate I am a work in progress, and each step forward may not be perfect, but I am moving forward. This isn’t a race, and we all have to appreciate the journey as much as we do the goals.

    Thanks for this much-needed reminder to let go of doubt. I know I need to stop feeling like I’m failing because I’m not doing more or being further along. Much needed right now. <3

    • Sara L. says:

      *hugs Angela because writer group hugs always help*

      I have that same problem, Angela. Instead of focusing on my accomplishments and the progress I’ve made over the past few years, I look at my shortcomings and trip-ups. I compare myself to other writers who are further along on their publishing path or are stronger in certain areas of writing, networking, etc. than I believe I am and then beat myself up for it.

      That’s where your advice (letting things go and focusing on what you can control) comes in handy. I love it. And it’s so true. Patience is just as important as persistence when it comes to writing. In fact, they’re two of what I like to call the Three P’s of Writing (passion, patience, and persistence). And if we remember to be patient with our process (which is easier said than done, of course), we can learn to enjoy our journey a little more.

      And you’re not failing, Angela. Not by a long shot. 😉

      • Thank you Sara. I know logically I am not…none of us are. I think it’s because I am a perfectionist, and so when I fall short (which is always because perfectionism is a fool’s errand) it gets me. I do self-talk myself and try to let it go, because I would never project this onto someone else for their efforts, so it’s stupid to internalize it. 😉

  10. Celia says:

    Confidence – how elusive as I struggle to revise my draft. I’ve tried revising two other novels in draft, and struggled mightily. They didn’t seem ‘improved’ afterwards, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, thought the stories were shallow etc.etc.etc. I keep writing stories, and I love doing that part… it’s the revisions which are my huge stumbling block, and confidence-drainer. Currently my 2/3rds revised novel is with a writer friend, and I’m looking forward to her feedback, as I continue the last third revisions. And I continue to search out resources, tips, books, articles, blogs… whatever seems to make sense to me. Thanks for your posts and One Stop for Writers as well. I >think< I'm learning!

    • Sara L. says:

      I’ve dealt with that downward spiral before, too, Celia. When I was editing my previous WIP last year, I specifically remember one time when I got so frustrated with a particular that I thought, “Why can’t I get this scene right?” and then “The whole chapter stinks” and then “What if the whole manuscript is terrible?” :S And when that happens, the best thing you can do is take a break and do something that clears your head. Maybe one or more of the suggestions in this post might appeal to you?

      Hey, we’re all eternal students of the craft of writing. So you’re not alone. 😉 I hope your writer friend’s feedback will help you with your revisions!

  11. After self-publishing five novels, receiving many, many positive reviews and getting perspective on the negatives (taking what I can use and leaving the rest – you can’t please everyone), I had hoped I would learn not to bleed self-confidence but it is an ongoing struggle. A person told me the other day that the fourth book in my Crater Lake Series is her least favourite. Wow – I felt gut-punched. I wanted her to tell me why, chapter and verse. She was unwilling to say much more. I love the very practical suggestions in this post. It’s all about balance.

    • Sara L. says:

      Very true. Our stories (or poems, essays, etc.) aren’t going to please everyone. So in that respect, it’s important to learn which feedback is valid and which ones we should ignore. But yeah, when you think you’ve built up your confidence enough and then something tears it down again, it hurts. I hope some of the suggestions in this post will resonate with you and help you believe in yourself and your craft again.

      As for favorites and least favorites: Remember that every reader’s opinion is subjective. Someone else who enjoys your work might say that fourth Crater Lake book is his/her favorite in the series. 😉

  12. Heather Marsten says:

    Thank you. This was a word in season – I was given some feedback that is true, but for a bit the task seemed daunting. You are right about attacking my manuscript with a plan in action and taking a bit of time off to sort out my thoughts.

    • Sara L. says:

      That sounds like a good plan, Heather. It will give you a chance to clear your head and look at the feedback with fresh eyes when you’re ready. I wish you the best of luck with that next round of edits!

  13. Patrick Witz says:

    Funny that this subject came to the forefront… I went into a writers short story critique sessoon floating on an enthuastic cloud and came out with my inner writer hailed upon and bruised. Their comments and suggestions were valid, but I drove home regardless under a less than confident dark cloud. It took me two weeks of book cover creativity distraction before venturing back to rewriting that story. I sometimes use the technique of putting a manuscript in a drawer for a couple weeks to allow a fresh perspective on the writing. It worked, the bruise healed, the confidence returned, got a fresh perspective and now the re-written story and I are ready for critique round two!

    • Sara L. says:

      That sounds a lot like how I felt when I got stuck with incorporating beta comments in my previous WIP. And I agree: giving yourself some distance (or time away) from a manuscript to work on something else can help see your next steps more clearly. It sounds like that method worked really well for you in the end, Patrick. Best of luck with the next draft. 🙂

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