Every 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.
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 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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